A new analysis from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) finds that 15 million people in need, mainly women and girls, are currently left out of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) service provisions. Despite some minimal, but encouraging increases in the requests for GBV funding between 2020 and 2021, across the 10 humanitarian 2021 response plans available, the average GBV funding request is only 3% of the total needed, with less than $11 allocated per person in need of support. 

Despite the acknowledged GBV “shadow pandemic” driven by COVID-19, the IRC analysis further found that GBV funding did not grow proportionally alongside need nor COVID-19 funding requests, and in some cases, GBV funding requests actually declined. On average, overall humanitarian funding requests in conflict and crisis-affected countries increased by more than 19%, yet GBV specific-funding requests increased by only 1.2%, with three countries out of 11 analyzed showing there was a decrease in GBV funding requests. 

“We know that crises of any kind impact women and girls differently,” said Nicole Behnam, Senior Director for Violence, Prevention and Response, International Rescue Committee. “And while COVID-19 has brought increased rhetoric around the different ways women and girls experience a crisis, old patterns are still being repeated. Not only is GBV not adequately accounted for, but in some instances, we are seeing already limited resources being diverted to other areas, all in the name of COVID-19. We are especially concerned that, as humanitarian need increases overall, more women and girls at risk of GBV are being left behind as GBV still isn’t a priority in practice.” 

In response to COVID-19, the IRC adapted its programming to keep GBV services open and running. In many places, this required investing in remote services - such as using mobile phones instead of getting together in person - or cutting back on the number of women and girls in a safe space at one time. 

Because of long ingrained gender inequalities, the secondary impacts of COVID-19 have not only led to substantial increases in reports of GBV, but seen more women lose their jobs than men, spotlighted the disproportionate impacts of unpaid caregiving on women and girls, left 20 million girls at risk of not returning to school, and so much more. Yet, across COVID-19 response plans and recovery efforts, women and girls remain insufficiently accounted for. This stems from the fact that women are often under-represented when response plans are drafted and enacted. 

A forthcoming report from the Feminist Humanitarian Network, a global network of 48 members including the IRC, finds that despite local women’s rights organisations leading critical response efforts for COVID-19, women and their organisations have been prevented from taking a lead role in decision-making processes. Across the eight countries reviewed in the report, which was led by women’s rights organisations in the Global South, government response plans to COVID-19 still do not integrate women’s rights sufficiently. 

The meaningful participation of women at all levels--and of all backgrounds--is vital to not only combatting COVID-19, but to building back better, more inclusive societies. Women leaders of all backgrounds and settings need to be provided with the platform and resources to ensure their concerns and ideas are heard. For example, from March 29-31, the international community will come together for the first of two Generation Equality Forums. If these meetings are to deliver game-changing results for all women and girls, then resulting commitments must include those living in conflict and crisis-affected settings, who are once again at risk of being left behind

The upcoming G7 Summit provides an additional opportunity for renewed commitments to gender equality in humanitarian settings as well as for decisive action to support women’s access to COVID-19 vaccines and social safety nets. Including women refugee leaders in the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, is a tangible way to ensure these perspectives are included. 

High-level meetings, however, can only do so much. Local women’s organisations have the unique ability to reach and empower women and girls within their own communities on a daily basis. Without adequate funding to support these organisations, commitments made at the global level will make little difference to those on the ground. To enact lasting and meaningful change, governments can dramatically increase their partnerships with local women’s organisations and ensure at least 25% of their aid budget reaches local organisations.