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Achieving gender equality in humanitarian action

Health staff at the opening of Celmadobe Primary Health Unit in Eyl, Puntland, Somalia. Photograph Credit: World Vision 2016

Health staff at the opening of Celmadobe Primary Health Unit in Eyl, Puntland, Somalia. Photograph Credit: World Vision 2016

Gender equality is a key priority for Ireland’s development and humanitarian programmes and is at the core of all of Irish Aid’s work. This is driven by a recognition that empowering women and girls and promoting gender equality are critical in tackling maternal and child mortality, reducing poverty and ensuring that countries develop sustainably. This includes addressing issues of Gender Based Violence (GBV).

During an emergency the vulnerability of women and girls is particularly exacerbated, with heightened risk of experiencing some form of abuse, including GBV. Ireland recognises the particular needs of women and girls in such contexts, noting that attention to gender equality must be an essential part of every humanitarian operation and that addressing the issue of gender based violence in emergencies is, in itself, a lifesaving action.

Ireland’s Humanitarian Assistance Policy ensures that issues of gender equality and protection are at the centre of planning, implementation and evaluation in any humanitarian response. Through its NGO partners, Ireland is advancing its commitments to ensure the protection of women and girls in all humanitarian action, supporting both gender mainstreaming through multi-sector interventions and targeted standalone projects, such as GBV prevention and response interventions.

World Vision’s Integrated Health, Protection, Water and Sanitation Project in Puntland, Somalia

In 2015 and 2016, World VisionIreland alongside its implementing partner, World Vision Somalia, championed gender mainstreaming in a year-long humanitarian project funded by Irish Aid, aiming to improve health care in Eyl, Puntland, Somalia.

The region of Puntland is very fragile, faced with armed violence, poor governance, poverty and harsh climatic conditions, particularly the effects of El Niño, which resulted in alarmingly high levels of food insecurity and the declaration of a drought emergency in 2016.

By paying close attention to gender equality, World Vision ensured that the individual needs of the most vulnerable people affected by the crisis in Eyl – in particular those of women and children – were given careful consideration in the design and implementation of the integrated project, which targeted 10 villages. Gender and protection were mainstreamed and integrated throughout trainings and in the provision of services in the water, sanitation and health components of the project.

World Vision’s health services offered safe motherhood, including ante-natal care (ANC), delivery, post-natal care (PNC), family planning, and emergency referral for severely malnourished children and mothers. Almost 3,000 pregnant women attended 3 ante-natal visits and over 2,000 had received a post-natal visit within 6 weeks of birth. Access to ANC and PNC services is an important contributor to the survival and health of women and their new-borns.

In Somalia, grandmothers play an important and influential role in child rearing, and so World Vision encouraged them to get involved in the project. Some 245 mothers and grandmothers were trained in hygiene, nutrition and exclusive breastfeeding, and increased their understanding of child and maternal health and GBV.

World Vision and Ministry of Health staff were also trained on Gender, Development and Child Protection. This allowed the staff to better create awareness during health education sessions at facilities and in villages.

As part of its water and sanitation intervention, World Vision constructed latrines that are accessible to men and women, ensuring that they were located within a safe walking distance from the health facilities. This made the latrines safe and usable for women, even at night.

World Vision specifically targeted GBV in this project by conducting community sessions on GBV, to raise awareness on its prevalence, root causes, consequences and prevention, in addition to factors increasing the vulnerability of women and girls. The sessions also focused on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and its immediate and long-term health-related complications and consequences. Women and girls highlighted rape and domestic violence as their key concerns but many also stated that they experience lack of respect and neglect by their husbands.

World Vision were keen to involve religious and community leaders in training and information sessions as these decision makers have an important influence in the community. The village elders and religious leaders in the meetings committed to addressing issues of GBV and FGM through campaigns and other means. The events reached 750 people from different community sectors. A high number of men and boys (40% of participants), including 60 religious and community leaders, chose to attend the training sessions.

The project reduced the vulnerability and suffering of mothers and children and improved the living conditions for men, women, and children in Eyl. Over 60,000 people now have access to greatly improved water, sanitation and health services, including maternity services. Involvement of key decision makers throughout the project’s design and implementation strengthened local capacity to address GBV and reinforced the community’s commitment to the protection of women and children. Through these efforts, gender-specific and child-friendly approaches will be embedded into community practice on a lasting basis.