In October 2012, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) launched the discussion paper, Lifesaving, not Optional: Protecting women and girls from violence in emergencies, which analyzed the obstacles to effective responses to gender-based violence (GBV)1 in humanitarian crises.

Lifesaving, Not Optional assessed the humanitarian community’s response to GBV in four emergencies –
in Haiti, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The report evidenced a systemic failure to prioritize GBV in emergency response and surfaced the following lessons:

  1. GBV was not prioritized as life-saving in emergencies, particularly during the acute phase of a crisis.
  2. GBV programs were scarcely funded at the outset of emergencies, accounting for less than 1-4% of the funding awarded in the four emergencies.
  3. GBV coordination and leadership within the UN system was weak. Funding constraints and weak leadership prevented coordination bodies from having a major impact on practice in the field.
  4. Donors, United Nations (UN) agencies and implementing organizations interpreted, prioritized and implemented existing guidelines inconsistently. There was a lack of consensus about what is urgent, and GBV was often considered too multifaceted or complex for concrete emergency response programming.

In an effort to examine progress in the field since our 2012 report, the IRC analyzed four additional emergencies –in Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Iraq, and the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) crisis in Sierra Leone. This paper assesses the response to these ongoing emergencies in terms of how GBV has been prioritized in funding streams, the quality of GBV coordination efforts, implementation of GBV risk reduction guidelines across sectors,2 and the delivery of specialized GBV services.

Progress: Where are We Today?

The launch of Lifesaving, Not Optional marked the beginning of a positive shift in high-level attention to
GBV in emergency response. The world has never seen a stronger expression of commitment than there is today from key donors, UN agencies and practitioners to prevent and respond to GBV in emergencies, including through increased funding and strengthened accountability.