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  • Report
  • 13 April 2022

Funding for gender-relevant humanitarian response: Chapter 1



This study examines international funding for gender-related humanitarian programming. Based on quantitative analysis of funding data and qualitative research on the factors informing policy and decision-making, the report aims to understand the impact of Covid-19 on gender financing and wider trends in international humanitarian funding for gender-related programming. Specifically, it seeks to answer the following questions:

  • How much funding for gender-related programming was provided before and during the Covid-19 pandemic? And how much of this funding specifically targeted gender-related outcomes?
  • Has the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the diversion of funding away from or towards gender-related humanitarian programming?
  • Which donors provide the most gender-related humanitarian funding?
  • Where, and to whom, is funding for gender-related humanitarian funding channelled? Is more funding reaching local and national actors for gender-related humanitarian programming?
  • How can gender-related international humanitarian funding be better reported and tracked?
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Over the past decade the need to address the gendered consequences of humanitarian crises has driven a growing body of policy commitments. In 2013, the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies launched by a group of like-minded donors focused attention on the high levels of gender-based violence (GBV) in crises and the importance of preventing, rather than just mitigating, it.[1] In 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit agreed a series of commitments to action on universal access to sexual and reproductive health; GBV prevention; gender-responsive humanitarian programming; and compliance with humanitarian policies and frameworks.[2] While no explicit commitments to funding were made in the Grand Bargain agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit, a Friends of Gender Group comprised of Grand Bargain signatories has sought to mainstream gender equality and women’s empowerment across Grand Bargain workstreams.[3]

Wider global efforts to galvanise action on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls have gathered momentum since the World Humanitarian Summit, including by G7 members in 2018 in the Whistler Declaration on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Action.[4] There have been subsequent pledges to make gender equality a global priority and to mobilise international resources to prevent GBV and better meet survivors’ needs within the Global Compact on Refugees and within the 2019 UN Security Council resolution 2467 on ending sexual violence in conflict. In 2019, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and partners convened the Oslo Conference, its first ever thematic humanitarian conference on GBV. At the conference 21 donors pledged over US$363 million to GBV prevention and response.[5]

More recently, notable substantive action and further pledges have been made with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. These have included, for the first time, UN OCHA providing rapid-response funding for GBV prevention, channelling US$25 million to 11 countries through the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in 2020. Notably, at least 30% of this assistance had to be channelled through women-led national and local NGOs.[6] Most recently, in 2021, commitments totalling US$40 billion were made to resource women’s and girls’ rights through the Generational Equality Forum, which set a five-year course towards greater gender equality.[7] The financial pledges were made towards six Action Coalitions and the Women, Peace & Security and Humanitarian Action Compact was agreed.[8]

This body of policy commitments and financial pledges indicate both a growing awareness of the need for more concerted action to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls within humanitarian response and a strong rhetorical commitment to act and provide more financial resources. These commitments have of course been made in the context of an evolving context of humanitarian crises, not least the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has driven growing need, impacted how assistance can be provided and influenced the funding choices made by humanitarian actors.

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Gender, Covid-19 and the growth in humanitarian need

The UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview published in December 2021 estimated that a total of 274 million people will require humanitarian assistance and protection across 63 countries in 2022, an extra 39 million compared with the previous year.[9] The climate crisis, food insecurity and armed conflicts are, among other factors, behind this figure, the highest in decades. In protracted crisis contexts, Covid-19 has acted as an extra layer of disruption, deepening and expanding vulnerability and compounding pre-existing needs among those experiencing humanitarian crisis.

While there has been an increased policy focus on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in humanitarian settings, and in particular on GBV, as humanitarian crises have worsened, gender-related needs have continued to grow. Covid-19 has compounded this situation. There have been rising incidences of GBV globally (not just within humanitarian settings) during the Covid-19 crisis – the so-called ‘shadow pandemic’ of GBV – while progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls has been reversed. The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and girls have been widely explored by literature and surveys published in 2020 and 2021 (Appendix 2: Bibliography) however, only a handful of publications have looked at how these factors manifest in a humanitarian context.[10]

Where research has focused on humanitarian settings, a number of impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are evident. Perhaps most widely reported are the rising protection risks and a worldwide spike in incidences of GBV. In this regard, women and girls living in humanitarian contexts have been particularly affected. An International Rescue Committee (IRC) survey of women from refugee, displaced and post-conflict settings across Africa found a significant increase in GBV: 73% of respondents observed a rise in intimate partner violence; 51% cited more cases of sexual violence in their communities; and 31% reported incidents of harassment and sexual violence when travelling to water points.[11] This IRC study also highlighted limited support for those experiencing GBV with resources channelled to address the health emergency.

Beyond GBV, loss of income and livelihoods and increased food insecurity have especially increased for populations living in humanitarian contexts since the pandemic, with women disproportionately affected. According to UN Women, 435 million women and girls would have experienced extreme poverty in 2021 – that is living on less than US$1.90 a day – an increase of 47 million on the previous year. The same source estimates that 58% of women worldwide who work in the informal sector lost on average 60% of their income in 2020, making women the main victims of the loss of livelihoods due to the socioeconomic fallout.[12] The 2021 UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report The State of Food Insecurity in The World alerted that the pre-existing gender gap in food insecurity became 10% larger in 2020.[13]

Other research highlights the impact on children and adolescents of school closures and loss of household income to support education, which are driving growing illiteracy rates in crisis settings.[14] Girls have been more severely affected, with gender norms in crisis contexts meaning male students are more likely to continue in their education.[15] With lower levels of school enrolment, girls became more at risk of forced marriages[16] and rising incidences of teenage pregnancy.[17] Finally, it is evident that the pandemic has also reduced access to healthcare[18] while the loss of income noted above has combined with increasing costs of and reduced access to hygiene and sanitary materials.

This report seeks to explore how the increased commitments to action on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, alongside the growing levels of gender-related needs in humanitarian settings, have impacted the humanitarian funding provided. The report examines how much funding has been committed for gender-related humanitarian programming, how this funding has been channelled, and how much is therefore reaching local and national actors. It also explores which are the largest donors of gender-related funding.

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Box 1.1

Defining gender in the context of humanitarian financing

This study applied the definitions of Development Initiatives’ Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) Programme.[19] Humanitarian assistance, in the context of financing data, is defined here as the financial resources for humanitarian action spent outside the donor country, based on what donors and organisations reported to one of the main reporting platforms for international humanitarian assistance, the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).[20]

The development of the report methodology was informed by the literature and definitions used by humanitarian and development actors, including definitions by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) gender equality policy marker.[21] Gender glossaries[22] were also consulted, including UN Women’s glossary of definitions.[23] This report aligns with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) definitions of gender equality, gender mainstreaming and gender-targeted action under the guidelines listed in the IASC Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action.[24]

Gender as a concept goes beyond women’s issues; it refers to the attributes and relationships about being male and female, which are socially learned and constructed in a specific context and time.[25] Gender equality programming refers to humanitarian action that “uses robust analysis of the different needs, roles, relationships and experiences of women, girls, men and boys in the assessment, planning, implementation and review of the assistance (including protection).”[26] GBV is used as “an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on power imbalances and socially ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between women, girls, men and boys.”[27] Gender mainstreaming, in the context of gender equality programming, refers to the consideration of needs and vulnerabilities of people affected by crisis, where the impact of policies and programmes on women and men should be considered at every stage of the programme cycle, from planning to implementation and evaluation.[28] Notes on the terminology used in the report can be found in Report methodology below and in Appendix 1: Methodology.

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Report methodology

This report seeks to provide analysis on international funding for gender-relevant humanitarian programming by developing a new methodology to track this funding at a global level. The analysis draws on funding data from 2018 to 2021 reported to the UN FTS.[29] It includes GBV funding reported to the Global Protection Cluster,[30] complemented by a keyword search methodology applied on FTS funding flows. The keyword search scans financial flow descriptions for key words or phrases in three languages (English, French and Spanish) to identify those that are ‘gender relevant’.[31]

The study takes a broad concept of gender, focusing on equality and empowerment, and refers to women and girls as well as other gendered impacts of crises, including issues of sexual orientation and gender identity (see Box 1.1 for definitions).

In line with the IASC definitions[32], gender-relevant funding is split into that which is:

  • Gender-specific funding, which has a key focus on addressing gender-related needs and advancing gender equality.
  • Gender-mainstreamed funding, which seeks to implement programming in a way that is considerate of gender-related needs.

All GBV funding under the Global Protection Cluster is classified as ‘gender specific’ as sectorally it has a key focus on addressing gender-related needs. For flows outside of this cluster, the analysis defines two classifications of keywords: major and minor. Major keywords attempt to pick up flows with a ‘gender-specific’ focus. For example, ‘women empowerment’ and ‘sexual and reproductive health’ are defined as major keywords (or phrases) and thus a flow with one of these in the description would be marked as gender specific. In contrast, minor keywords attempt to pick up ‘gender-mainstreamed’ flows that consider differing gender needs in programming, but where gender-related needs are not the key focus. For example, if a flow description contains ‘women and girls’ as standalone (e.g. does not contain ‘men and boys’) it would be classed as a gender-mainstreamed flow.[33] Following classification of flows with major or minor keywords, the largest identified flows on the FTS (over $10 million) are checked manually to ensure they are correctly categorised as ‘specific’ or ‘mainstreamed’.

Funding identified through the keyword search methodology is split into ‘specific’ and ‘mainstreamed’ according to the logic outlined above for major and minor keywords. GBV funding under the Global Protection Cluster is included as gender-specific funding, labelled in the analyses and charts as ‘GBV funding’.

In addition to this quantitative analysis, interviews with 23 experts in gender programming and financing and a literature review of over 100 publications were conducted (Appendix 2: Bibliography).

The body of this report presents the findings from this analysis of gender-relevant international humanitarian assistance over the period 2018 to 2021. It explores the total volumes of gender-relevant assistance provided. For funding specifically targeting GBV and gender needs, it examines which donors are contributing the most funding, the locations where this funding is being targeted, and which actors are the primary recipients, including the extent to which local and national actors can access this type of resources. Finally, it concludes by examining how gender-relevant humanitarian funding is currently being reported and tracked, and the improvements that could be made to ensure greater transparency.

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Box 1.2

Mainstreamed funding

For funding identified as ‘mainstreamed’, the extent of programme activities specifically focused on gender equality or delivering gender-related outcomes is unknown and is likely to vary in extent between programmes. For such mainstreamed funding, the volumes referenced in this report indicate the overall budgets of such programmes and not the specific amount of funding necessarily targeting gender.

Mainstreamed funding is visualised in the report in the first analysis on total global aggregate volumes of gender-relevant funding. All subsequent charts illustrate only gender-specific funding, where a significant proportion of funding was seen as targeting gender-related needs. As for mainstreamed funding, the volume references indicate the overall budgets of projects. While for gender-specific projects a large proportion of funding is expected to target gender issues, it is unlikely that all funding targeted gender issues in every case. Therefore, gender-specific funding is likely to be an over-estimation. Previous case study analysis by UN Women and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has also pointed to the potential over-reporting of funding for programming supporting women and girls.[34] Readers should be aware of the potential for such over-reporting to be present in the data analysed for this report. Aggregate volumes are therefore likely to represent the upper range of actual funding.


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    The current efforts around the call to action have incorporated new policy debates in the humanitarian sector, such as the need to tackle the root causes of GBV by working across the humanitarian–peacebuilding–development nexus in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG 5 on gender equality, in protracted crises. For more on the call to action, see:
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