Women’s leadership in humanitarian crises

Ismene took on a leadership role following Hurricane Matthew


Women’s leadership in Haiti

Ismene, left, worked with ActionAid on protection and engineering during the response to Hurricane Matthew in October 2016

"I am a civil engineer and a social worker. And I am also a militant feminist!" she told us. "Today I am supervising the building work at the site of the Abricots' Women’s Friendly Space. I supervise the building overall – seeing what progress has been made, what problems to address, evaluate their work."

After a catastrophe there is often more violence, especially gender-based violence and sexual violence. There is also more discrimination against women. Therefore it’s very important that women know how to respond."

"I don’t see myself as a ‘symbol’ when I work as an engineer. I am just doing my job," she says. "Yes, it’s important to do more work in this area so that we see more women engineers. But I concentrate more on doing the job than focusing on my gender."

How we work to advance women’s leadership in emergencies

  • We promote women's engagement as leaders so that their voices are heard directly at all levels of decision-making.
  • We work with women's organisations to promote protection in disasters, including providing safe spaces for women. Safe, inclusive, women-only spaces offer more than just refuge: they can foster women’s leadership, agency, and collective capacity to challenge violence and abuse in times of crisis. 
  • Most of our emergency responses include cash grants or livelihood programmes which increase women’s access to resources. Where women control resources, their status and influence in the community increases. 

This approach helps to create long term change in transforming gender relations in communities. By opening the space for women's leadership alongside men, our approach supports women’s empowerment and the transformation of women’s positions in households and communities.

Luijah, who has worked for ActionAid for 10 years, coordinates the Food for Assets programme in Kenya.

Alice Oldenburg/ActionAid

Women leading food distribution in Kenya

Luijah has worked for ActionAid Kenya for 10 years.

She coordinateed the Food for Assets programme which helped approximately 1,800 families during the East Africa food crisis. The programme supported the most vulnerable women by providing them with food rations for their families, in return for working 12 days a month on projects that help the community.

“I feel great about being a strong female leader in the community," Luijah says. "With Food for Assets, women are becoming more empowered in their household, they are managing the food. Men used to be in charge of the money so women didn’t have control."

Women ran all aspects of the programme, from Luijah's role in managing the food distribution, to the committee of local women who logged the work carried out and measured out the food and also a complaint committee within the communities to handle any issues.

“I’ve seen lots of changes in the communities, women want to work and gain independence. Women are more empowered and able to support their families."

ActionAid’s pledges on women in humanitarian leadership

At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, ActionAid pledged to increase our support for women's leadership in humanitarian responses in the following ways. 

Funding and building capacity of national and local organisations

ActionAid commits to provide increased support by way of direct funding and capacity building to national and local NGOs by 2020.

50% women in leadership

ActionAid commits to ensure at least 50% of leadership positions in humanitarian contexts are held by women by 2020, and that at least 50% of staff at all levels are women by 2020.

50% women making decisions in their communities 

ActionAid commits to ensure that women participate in all decision making processes, and that women will make up at least 50% of rights-holders engaged in community processes that ActionAid leads by 2020. 

50% women’s organisations as implementing partners

ActionAid commits to ensure at least 50% of its implementing partners in humanitarian action are women-led or women's organisaitons by 2020. 

Increased participation of local organisations in co-ordination 

ActionAid's staff will be accompanied by local organisations at coordination groups in emergencies. ActionAid will also advocate for the inclusion of these organisations to ensure they have a seat at the table in collective response processes. 

Ending gender based violence in communities 

ActionAid endorsed the Call to Action on Protection from GBV in emergencies in 2016 and commits to integrate women-led community based protection mechanisms as part of its core humanitarian response programming by 2020. 

Increased funding to local and national women's groups

ActionAid commits to increase funding and capacity development to local and national women's groups as equal partners in our humanitarian action. 

Humanitarian gender responsive programming

ActionAid commits to ensure all of its humanitarian programming is gender responsive by 2020.

Top image: Malati, a women’s rights coordinator for ActionAid Nepal, addresses local women in Panga after the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. Srikanth Kolari/ActionAid

Page updated 17 June 2024