The fight to end violence against women and girls is universal—and continuing. A recent UN report looking at women, peace, and security found that the world is experiencing a reversal of the generational gains in women’s rights.

Violence against women and girls in conflict and crisis

Gender inequality is particularly evident in places where violent conflicts, military coups, displacement and hunger are prevalent. Whenever and wherever a crisis hits, violence against women and girls increases.

The global COVID-19 crisis was just one example: In analysis by the IRC, 73% of women living in some of the most forgotten crisis settings reported an increase in domestic violence, 51% cited sexual violence, and 32% saw an uptick in child and forced marriage since the start of the pandemic.

Crises by themselves do not cause violence against women and girls, but they accelerate many of the underlying drivers, while public services and social networks collapse. An IRC report found that 1 in 5 women and girls have suffered sexual violence during crises.

Razia Sultana visits a Rohingya family in Ukhiya camp. Three women sit together on the floor of a home.
Rohingya activist and lawyer Razia Sultana campaigns for the rights of Rohingya women, running her own women's centre in Ukhiya camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh and helping to empower women in the camp to understand their rights.
Photo: Habiba Nowrose /IRC

The safety of women and girls is still not prioritised globally. In 2021, the UK made huge cuts to its global aid budget. This led to a significant reduction in the UK’s support for services for vulnerable women and girls and a gradual reduction in the proportion of aid funding going to women’s organisations.

Women and girls of ethnic minorities face multiple forms of oppression, which further reduce their power and choice. They are at increased risk of violence and face increased barriers to accessing support. Around the globe, the Black Lives Matter movement has thrown into stark relief just how critical it is, especially for women, and particularly women of colour, that we do not just get back to “normal,” but that we actively build back better.

Safety, particularly in times of crisis, is just the first step in the journey to gender equality.

Here are six ways we can help prevent gender-based violence

1. Increase funding to end violence against women and girls.

In 2018, less than 1% percent of humanitarian funding worldwide went toward programmes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. A study found that between 2018 and 2021, funding needs for programmes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence were not even met to one third.

Activist and lawyer Razia Sultana stands with women holding handwritten signs at her women’s centre in Ukhiya camp, Cox's Bazar.
Activist and lawyer Razia Sultana stands with women at her women’s centre in Ukhiya camp, Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Razia works tirelessly to ensure that the crimes against the Rohingya by the Myanmar military - particularly rape against thousands of women - are brought to justice.
Photo: Habiba Nowrose/IRC

The UK Government can make a difference to women and girls displaced by conflict and crisis by increasing funding for local women’s rights organisations and investing in lifesaving programmes, such as IRC Safe Spaces.

The root cause of gender-based violence is gender inequality. The Government should prioritise supporting gender equality in all their humanitarian action and work closely with local women’s rights and women-led organisations

2. Keep girls in school 

When girls in crisis countries enter school, many do not finish due to early marriage, teenage pregnancy, or the obligation to take on household chores. 43% of girls in Nigeria, 37% in the DRC and 40% of girls in Ethiopia are subject to child marriage. 

The recent COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in crisis-affected areas, and left 20 million girls at risk of not returning to school.

Girl in a classroom smiles whilst reading a book.
Widad shares what she has learnt at the IRC run safe spaces in Northern Lebanon where Syrian girls can get an education and receive emotional support to recover from the trauma of war.
Photo: Elias El Beam/IRC

The barriers to girls’ education must be addressed. These include gender-based violence and access to sexual and reproductive health services. Keeping girls in school gives them greater safety and security, better health and education, and more control over their life choices.

Two girls play on a swing outside the IRC's Women's Centre in Teknaf refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Rubijan and Nur Kaida play on a swing outside the IRC's Women's Centre in Teknaf refugee camp in Bangladesh, where girls learn about their rights and have space where they can be safe and play.
Photo: Habiba Nowrose /IRC

3. Champion women’s economic empowerment 

When women have economic opportunities, it can enhance their status in their households and communities. 

But the economic marginalisation of women is intensified by violence, crisis and displacement. Women affected by conflict and displacement suffer trauma and restrictions on their movement as well as unequal access to the labour market and financial services.

Um Abdo sits at her sewing machine making masks in Syria
Um Abdo in Syria used to make clothes before the pandemic, now she's turned her skills to creating masks that the IRC gives out to the community for free.
Photo: AHammam/IRC

Women everywhere require safety at work and freedom from discrimination, harassment and violence in order to safely generate an income. Women’s economic empowerment in contexts affected by crisis and displacement must address these intersecting barriers to economic opportunities.

4. Give women cash

Similarly, when women are given cash in an emergency it increases the freedom they have to make their own choices. The good news is that the use of cash is increasing. The IRC provides cash to women so that they can buy the goods and services they need.

We are also working with banks, governments and other financial institutions to arrange safe and easy-to-use options like prepaid debit cards and mobile transfers where possible.

5. Include women and girls in decision making

Women are often under-represented in leadership and planning around humanitarian crises. This means women and girls remain marginalised in crisis response plans and recovery efforts. 

The meaningful participation of women and girls at all levels—and of all backgrounds—is vital to safeguard progress on gender equality and promote more inclusive societies

Woman speaks down a megaphone to a crowd of women and children in Helowyn camp in Ethiopia.
Somali refugee Zainab is part of the Women’s Steering Committee in Helowyn camp in Ethiopia. She helps run services that raise awareness about women’s rights and safe spaces.
Photo: Martha Tadesse/IRC

To do this, we must begin changing our ideas of what leadership looks like and remove the barriers for women and girls to lead and participate in decision-making on all levels. 

We need to create more equitable leadership in crisis planning and response. Women-led groups working in their communities are essential in identifying and providing a platform for current and future leaders in conflict and crisis-affected settings

6. Engage men in the fight to end violence against women and girls

Two women and a man sit in a circle and share a conversation.
In the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda, the IRC-supported Togoletta women’s group involves men in their education and counseling services because they believe men need to learn more about women’s rights.
Photo: Esther Mbabazi/IRC

Change is not going to happen without engaging men to challenge gender inequality that is deeply rooted in societal attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, including stigma towards survivors of gender-based violence.

By engaging men in examining destructive notions of masculinity, gender and power, behaviour can change, as more and more male allies actively practise and promote gender equality in their daily lives. 

Male engagement in gender equality should always be guided by and accountable to the affected women and girls.

Four ways you can help create a safer world for women and girls

7. Speak out

We need to hold governments and humanitarian agencies accountable for their commitments to gender equality. They need to be more transparent about how much aid money is being spent to support the safety, resilience and wellbeing of women and girls—including those also facing discrimination on the basis of their age, sexuality or ethnicity.

Raise this issue with politicians and decision-makers. Call on the government to increase funding for initiatives that end violence against women and girls and help survivors recover.

8. Support campaigns

Support campaigns like the United Nations Unite Campaign to support refugee women and girls around the world. 

Each year, UN Women runs a 16 Days of Activism campaign against Gender-Based Violence from 25 November to 10 December. This year, the campaign theme is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”.

9. Get involved

Volunteer for local and national crisis hotlines or reach out to shelters within your community to find out how you can best support them. 

10. Give what you can

Support organisations and charities that work with local women-led organisations to tackle the root cause of violence—gender inequality—and not just the symptoms. 

Donate now to support the IRC’s work in more than 40 countries worldwide.