Image by UN Women/Christopher Herwig
  • Report
  • 19 March 2020

Gender-based violence and the nexus: global lessons from the Syria crisis response for financing, policy and practice: Executive summary

Executive summary


This report aims to contribute to discussions of how the international response to gender-based violence (GBV) in crisis settings can be strengthened through greater alignment and coordination between humanitarian and development funding, policy and delivery mechanisms. It explores how humanitarian and development actors each approach GBV – looking at GBV policy, financing and coordination from both perspectives – as well as the areas of connectivity. The report looks in depth at the regional response to the Syria refugee crisis as an example in which the international response has sought to strengthen the linkages between humanitarian and development approaches and where addressing GBV has been a priority. Here are the key findings of the report.

Neither humanitarian nor development approaches to GBV are fully equipped to address the complex challenges of GBV prevention and response in crisis settings. Although humanitarian policy recognises the need for a holistic approach to GBV prevention, risk mitigation and response, in the context of limited resources, humanitarian agencies prioritise immediate needs such as health and case management services for survivors of rape and sexual violence. Efforts to move toward more holistic, long-term approaches are hindered by humanitarian funding, planning cycles and systems that are poorly suited to this. Development assistance can potentially address a wider range of GBV issues within the context of longer term efforts to empower women, but its focus on GBV is often limited or absent in crisis situations.

Both the level and quality of funding to address GBV in crisis settings is insufficient to address needs and fill gaps in response. GBV is underfunded within humanitarian response, and despite increases in multi-year funding, especially to UN agencies, international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) still lack access to flexible, multi-year funding required for longer term, adaptive programming to address GBV. Although GBV is a growing area of development assistance, this is not being channelled at a sufficient scale to crisis contexts. Many new nexus financing mechanisms do not adequately integrate gender equality in general, and they don’t for GBV in particular. Finally, there continue to be challenges with reliably tracking development and humanitarian finance to GBV in crisis settings, impeding efforts to hold donors accountable to commitments.

The transition from humanitarian delivery of GBV services, dominated by UN agencies and international NGOs, to a development approach is not as simple as shifting to government-led delivery. Although working with the public sector to improve the quality of GBV services across sectors including health, education, law enforcement and justice is crucial, the gap in trust in public services to address women’s protection concerns is massive in many contexts. The prevention and response to GBV requires a strong and ongoing role for non-state actors, especially women-led organisations, in both the short and long term. Furthermore, women’s safe spaces that have offered a model for GBV prevention and response in humanitarian contexts continue to be relevant and should be adapted to development contexts.

In the context of the Syria crisis response, the main focus of efforts to work at the nexus has been for humanitarian action to shift towards a longer term, developmental approach to GBV – not for new humanitarian–development partnerships to be formed. This has been enabled by factors including the increase in multi-year funding, strong partnerships with national women-led organisations, facilitated by progress with localisation, and the capacity of national institutions. Crisis response plans in Jordan and Lebanon have provided entry points to strengthen GBV services for both refugees and host populations; however, if this is to be sustained, more work is needed to strengthen national ownership and shift away from dependence on humanitarian finance. Development finance for GBV is not being mobilised at the scale required to meet this need.

The report makes a number of recommendations for strengthening responses to GBV in crisis by enhancing nexus approaches.

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Coherence of policy and strategy focusing on GBV

  • Both humanitarian and development actors should align their support with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 targets to end violence against women and eliminate harmful practices in crisis settings. To achieve this, development actors must recognise the relevance of SDG 5 to crisis contexts and increase their engagement on GBV in crisis; humanitarian actors need to take greater ownership of SDG 5 by including its targets within humanitarian response plans.
  • All actors should align their support to GBV prevention and response with the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda. Development and peacebuilding actors must ensure that GBV and women’s protection is prioritised within WPS action plans; humanitarian actors should link their support to GBV prevention and response with the wider WPS agenda.
  • Development actors should expand funds and programmes that focus specifically on GBV to include crisis-affected contexts. They should also integrate GBV risk mitigation, prevention and response across all relevant sectors of development support in crisis contexts (e.g. health, economic recovery, security and justice sector reform, education, and disaster risk reduction).
  • Humanitarian assistance should enable UN agencies and international and national NGOs to continue to move towards long-term and holistic approaches to GBV in protracted crises and other contexts that allow for this, while also incentivising partnerships and collaboration with other actors to address issues that are beyond the mandate or reach of humanitarian agencies.

Improved financing to end GBV

  • Donors should increase flexible, multi-year funding to GBV within humanitarian and refugee response plans – and overcome the bottlenecks to multi-year funding reaching international and national NGOs – to enable humanitarian actors working on GBV to take a longer term, adaptive approach that fills gaps across the humanitarian–development–peace continuum.
  • Development donors and funds focused on GBV should scale up and expand their remit to include crisis-affected contexts. In particular, the Spotlight Initiative on GBV, a joint EU and UN initiative that focuses only in development settings, should expand to include crisis-affected contexts and the World Bank should increase its finance for GBV in crisis contexts.
  • ‘Nexus’ finance mechanisms, including the Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF) and EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (EUTF), should integrate clear actions and targets related to gender equality and GBV risk mitigation, prevention and response across all sectors of support and increase transparency, tracking and reporting of financial support for gender equality and GBV.
  • The UN agencies with the mandate to track funding in crisis settings – the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) − should agree reporting requirements for humanitarian funding on GBV that include, at a minimum, cluster/sector and sub-cluster/sub-sector disaggregation of funding and appeal coverage. This should be coordinated with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) so that it can be harmonised across the country GBV dashboards to produce comparable data across different contexts.
  • The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) should improve the accuracy of data on ODA spending on GBV in crisis settings by increasing reporting under multiple purpose codes (e.g. both the GBV-relevant purpose code and the relevant humanitarian purpose codes).

Strengthened coordination and partnerships for GBV

  • Humanitarian and development donors, and the UN agencies, pooled funds and international NGOs through which they channel funds, should increase flexible support to women’s organisations in crisis situations to enable them to work strategically on issues affecting women, including GBV. Ensure that women-led organisations are included in efforts to promote the localisation of aid and increase support to vehicles such as the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, which supports women’s organisations in crisis settings.
  • Humanitarian and development organisations (as well as teams within organisations) should strengthen context-specific partnerships to carry out joined-up regional, country or area-based assessment, planning and programming on GBV. This should go beyond UN agencies and NGOs that typically coordinate crisis response to extend to other development and peacebuilding actors, such as the World Bank, women’s rights organisations and peacebuilding NGOs, potentially as part of wider planning frameworks that aim to strengthen nexus approaches.
  • In contexts that allow for this, humanitarian actors should involve national and local authorities in GBV coordination structures at national and subnational levels and use this as an entry point for developing and reforming GBV policies and strategies and strengthening national systems. Alongside efforts to strengthen public services, humanitarian and development actors should support ‘safe spaces’ and other community-based prevention and response efforts that bridge the gap between women and public services.