Participation + Protection: Vital Links for Women
By Kathryn Paik, Technical Advisor, Women and Girls
Gender-based violence (GBV) knows no social, economic, or national boundaries. It is a symptom of deep-rooted, systemic gender inequality that keeps women, girls, and other marginalized people from exercising their human rights as equal participants in social and economic life. This is exacerbated in crisis and conflict settings.
One of the drivers of gender inequality — which so often leads to GBV — is the devaluing of the contributions that women and girls make to the community, and in their own homes. This perpetuates a narrative that women are not equipped to be decision-makers.
At the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), we know this is false. And, we can prove it.
Recently, WRC collaborated with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on a project to enhance women’s participation in governance structures in displacement camps in five countries (Ecuador, Iraq, Nigeria, Philippines, and South Sudan). This was part of a global project aimed at reducing women’s and girls’ risks of GBV. The project’s main objective was to improve our understanding of how increased participation of women and girls contributes to enhanced protection.
In the first phase of the project, we assessed how displaced men, women, and at-risk groups such as women and girls with disabilities and adolescent girls participate in camp life and camp decision-making processes.
Following this initial assessment, we explored strategies that could provide ways to increase women’s and girls’ participation and improve their feelings regarding overall safety in the camp. These strategies were subsequently developed into community-designed interventions. These included enhancing knowledge on issues such as their right to protection and livelihoods, and skills and leadership training.
We learned that before any efforts are made to increase women’s participation in decision-making, it is critical to understand the community’s power structures. Only then can we understand the opportunities and challenges women and girls face in being included in meaningful decision-making. We also learned that women’s and girls’ capacity to build peer support networks and boost their self-confidence are the building blocks of participation, all of which are critical elements that contribute to their resilience.
We found, too, that when we expand opportunities for greater participation of one group that is less represented in community decisions, opportunities also open up for other marginalized groups, including adolescent girls, persons with disabilities, and ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. When these groups are given the space to voice their opinions and meaningfully participate in decisions, there is a greater likelihood of a more equitable, inclusive, and safe community.
It is on all of us to seek every possible opportunity — in both formal and informal spaces — to strengthen women’s and girls’ capacities to participate and to lead.
So how can we, as the humanitarian community, do better?
WRC and IOM, in collaboration with the Global Camp Coordination Camp Management Cluster, have developed an online platform to provide resources and tools to enhance the participation and inclusion of displaced women and girls, and to share common learning. The platform enables practitioners to better understand the local context and work alongside women and girls to learn how they perceive their participation within their daily lives. It gives them tools to work with women and girls to design strategies to build their networks, skills, and self-confidence to safely voice their concerns. Using the tools available on the platform, practitioners can partner with existing local women’s, adolescent/youth, and disability groups, which can advise on programming approaches and how to better reach marginalized individuals. Ultimately, they can support longer-term strategies that carefully consider the norms that shape a community’s power structures and address the root causes of gender inequality.
None of this is easy. But these are necessary steps on the road to gender equality and greater safety for displaced women, girls, and other marginalized groups.