By Nisreen Alami
Nisreen Alami has recently completed an assignment as gender advisor to a humanitarian team in Palestine. The aim of her assignment was to work with humanitarian partners to mainstream gender in their programming and to ensure that the humanitarian response both contributes to gender equality and effectively responds to the needs of men, women, boys and girls.
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the prevailing policies restricting mobility, freedom and security of Palestinians has had a huge toll on the whole population. More than half of the population is vulnerable to food insecurity (2.3 million), and daily restrictions on freedom of movement, construction, water and energy affect people’s livelihoods, access to education, health and basic infrastructure. Land confiscation to expand illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories exposes Palestinians to physical threats and losses. The long-standing failure to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict results in repeated cycles of violence. The last such cycle can be seen in the war on Gaza during July 2014. This resulted in large numbers of fatalities and injuries amongst civilians, the destruction of large areas of Gaza, and the displacement of almost half a million people (with 100,000 expected to remain displaced in the foreseen future). It also resulted in the destruction of public facilities including schools, hospitals, universities and water and sanitation infrastructure. The absence of state institutions (whether Palestinian or Israeli) that are mandated to protect the rights of civilians creates a legal and administrative vacuum that sanctions impunity for human rights abuses, exacerbating the vulnerabilities of the population.
Gender inequality presents a unique set of challenges to the effectiveness of the humanitarian response, as humanitarian actors usually consider this as falling outside the scope of humanitarian efforts. Barriers to Palestinian women’s access to income, assets, property rights, and mobility remain unchallenged by humanitarian interventions. Interventions in Palestine are mostly based on the male breadwinner assumption, with little recognition of the burden this poses for men as having the sole responsibility for large households. With available data mostly highlighting formal economic participation, humanitarian interventions generally do not recognize women’s invisible economic role, including their informal and unpaid work (such as agricultural labour), or the biases that restrict their access to land and economic opportunity. While the prevailing conditions are key drivers of social problems, the dearth of protection measures and services for gender-based violence (whether legal, health, security or psychosocial), especially in Gaza, receive little attention in humanitarian programmes. Interventions on psychosocial support often overlook gender and age specific concerns, despite variance in the experiences of boys and girls at different stages of their childhood. They also overlook available evidence on the particular vulnerabilities of adolescent girls and boys.
Budget analysis of the humanitarian response using the IASC gender marker data for the three annual programming cycles (2011-2013) confirmed those challenges. Over this period, out of the 303 humanitarian response projects implemented (with a total value of $ 873,263,761), only 10 projects, amounting to 6.34 million, had gender equality as their principle objective (0.72%). Following a similar trend, the funding mechanism for emergency response up until 2013 had not supported any projects by women’s organizations (although this has significantly changed in 2013 and 2014).
To address these challenges, my work during the 2014 programming cycle focused on: strengthening systems of planning, funding and accountability at the institutional level; building an evidence base to give visibility to gender concerns in advocacy and programming work; and providing technical support to humanitarian partners to ensure adequate response. More specifically my work included the following:
1) Strengthening institutional collaboration between UNOCHA and UNW on gender related coordination. This included facilitating regular flows of information for complementary agency roles, in order to mobilize action amongst partners.
2) Facilitating effective participation of gender advocates in shaping the humanitarian response, including through the convening of consultations with national women’s organizations, members of the UN Gender theme group and international NGOs.
3) Building capacity of humanitarian partners operating within the cluster system (e.g. GBV, Food security sector, protection, education, health and shelter) on gaps in gender equality programming and ways to address those challenges.
4) Integrating gender data and analysis in OCHA’s information management systems in order to improve availability of quality gender analysis and address gender-related gaps in data collection tools.
5) Advocating for women’s needs and priorities in the emergency response following the war on Gaza.
6) Providing support to strengthen accountability mechanisms on gender-focused programming, including monitoring implementation, the use of gender sensitive performance indicators, and meaningful application of the gender marker in projects.
7) Advocating with donors for increased financing for gender equality programming, in addition to providing support to improve country funding mechanisms such as the Emergency Response Fund (ERF)
It is anticipated that this work will be continued over the course of 2015.
For more information: