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  • Report
  • 19 March 2020

Gender-based violence and the nexus: global lessons from the Syria crisis response for financing, policy and practice: Chapter 3

GBV in the Syria crisis

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The Syria context

The Syrian crisis is the largest displacement and refugee crisis in the world today, and the response has also attracted unprecedented resources. Syria was the largest recipient of humanitarian assistance for six consecutive years from 2011 to 2017, a trend that looks set to continue. In addition to the US$2.2 billion in humanitarian assistance to Syria itself in 2018, the Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) – the regional strategy for the refugee response in five neighbouring countries – received US$2.9 billion in 2018.[1] Alongside this, there have also been substantial development aid flows, particularly to Lebanon and Jordan, to strengthen national systems critical to managing the crisis.

Sexual violence, affecting both women and men, has been a persistent feature of the conflict within Syria, as documented by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry.[2] Furthermore, fear of rape has been a key motivation for families fleeing the violence. The displaced, especially refugee women and girls, then face heightened risk of violence due to gender inequalities that are worsened by conditions during displacement. A UN Women study of Syrian refugee women in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq found that violence against women was a common concern.[3] Nearly half of Syrian refugee women surveyed in Lebanon (45%) and in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (47%) reported that violence against women was a problem in the Syrian refugee community. Furthermore, women face heightened risk in camp settings, for example 78% of women in camp settings in Iraq reported that violence against women was an issue. Early marriage has been another prevalent and growing concern within Syria and among Syrian refugees – a trend that has worsened due to economic and physical insecurity associated with the war and displacement.

The regional Syria response has been at the forefront of efforts to bring humanitarian and development approaches closer together. However, the opportunities for a nexus approach differ depending on the context. Within Syria itself there is little scope for work at the nexus due to the active conflict and the opposition of EU member states, the US and other donors to any action that could increase the legitimacy of the regime. However, situations in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq (middle-income countries with the institutional capacity to absorb development resources but in need of external support to cope with the crisis) are conducive to work at the nexus.

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Coordination, planning and delivery of GBV activities

The 3RP is a first in bringing together both humanitarian and development perspectives in a unified plan to address a regional crisis. The 3RP has two components: (1) the refugee component, which focuses on the protection and provision of life-saving support to Syrian refugees and the most vulnerable within host communities; and (2) the resilience component, which focuses on strengthening national and sub-national delivery systems, building the self-reliance of refugees and vulnerable populations, and strengthening host communities’ capacity to recover and cope with the crisis. The overall approach aims to mitigate potential tensions between refugees and host communities – both refugees and vulnerable populations within host communities receive the same support. Furthermore, it aims to stabilise the region by strengthening the capacity of national systems to cope with the crisis.

The national authorities in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have developed national response plans that together form a coherent regional strategy. UNHCR and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) formed a unique partnership to jointly support national authorities in coordination and planning at the regional and country levels, with the idea that UNHCR guides the refugee response while UNDP leads the resilience component.

Although the focus of each country’s response plan depends upon the context, their structure is broadly similar, with GBV falling under the protection sector. All of the response plans treat gender equality as a cross-cutting issue, and in many cases specific GBV-related actions are integrated into other response sectors, particularly health. In addition, there are common threads in GBV programming across the region, for example both mobile and static women and girls’ safe spaces have been a central part of the response strategy both within Syria and in the countries hosting refugees. These aim to create an environment in which women and girls are safe to express themselves without judgement or harm and where they can access information, referrals, counselling, support for income-generating activities and other services.

The governments of Lebanon and Jordan have both developed comprehensive, multi-year crisis response plans that include GBV as a protection priority. Within Lebanon, the Ministry of Social Affairs leads the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) and oversees the protection sector and GBV working group. In Jordan, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation coordinates the Jordan Response Plan (JRP), and the government’s National Council for Family Affairs oversees the GBV response and child protection. In Iraq, the vast majority of refugees are located in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and so the Directorate for Combatting Violence Against Women within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq Ministry of Interior oversees GBV work, primarily in the context of domestic violence. In both Lebanon and Jordan, UNFPA and UNHCR co-lead the GBV working groups. In Iraq, UN coordination mechanisms are complex because there are separate, but overlapping, coordination and planning processes for the humanitarian response (focusing on internally displaced people and returnees) and the refugee response. However, in practice UNFPA leads the GBV sub-cluster and sub-sector, and mostly the same actors participate in both at the national level, despite the fact that there are separate humanitarian and refugee planning processes.

Significant progress has been made with the localisation agenda within the context of the Syria crisis response, including for women-led organisations and national NGOs working on GBV. This has been accelerated by restrictions in the operating environment for international NGOs in some contexts, for example around 85% of the organisations involved in the GBV working group for the Turkey cross-border operation are national NGOs. Other factors contributing to progress are the strength of national organisations and deliberate efforts through mechanisms such as the OCHA-led, country-based pooled funds to channel funds to national NGOs. In Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, national NGOs and women’s organisations are the key interlocutors and actively participate in planning, including through the GBV working groups. For example, in Iraq, 31 of the 52 organisations participating in the GBV sub-cluster/sector are national NGOs. In many cases, national NGOs also lead the sub-national GBV coordination mechanisms. There are some notable examples of efforts to bring actors into the GBV working groups that are not directly involved in humanitarian delivery, for example in Jordan the GBV working group has brought in several organisations that are part of the women’s movement.

Over time, the engagement of national authorities in the humanitarian response to GBV appears to have strengthened the government’s approach in Jordan and Lebanon. For example, the Lebanese government has developed a national strategy to address GBV with support of the GBV working group members. In addition, in both Lebanon and Jordan the GBV working groups have supported the government to develop common standards and procedures for all actors involved in GBV prevention and response (Box 1). While it is clear that the approach has strengthened national systems in many respects, there is still some concern that GBV programming through the LCRP and JRP is not sustainable without continued humanitarian funding and that the delivery of services still largely operates in parallel to national systems. Furthermore, there are still significant barriers to refugee women accessing public services in general and deep mistrust when it comes to GBV. Thus, efforts to strengthen national capacity and ownership, and to move towards a more sustainable model for financing and delivering GBV services, need to be sustained.

Iraq is in the midst of transition from humanitarian to development modes of delivery across all areas of cooperation, including GBV. This is driven by both declining humanitarian funding and reductions in displaced populations living in camp settings as internally displaced people return to their home areas and refugees integrate into host communities. In addition, the UN and the government have moved towards a co-financing arrangement. These shifts have significant implications for the delivery of GBV services. For example, UNFPA has scaled back its support to women and girls’ safe spaces from 140 to 47 centres in camp settings. It is currently exploring alternative models and ways of delivering the same services linked with health centres and government-run shelters, community centres and the private sector. It has also increased its focus on supporting and improving the quality of government-led delivery of services in other ways – such as supporting government-run GBV hotlines – as it moves from humanitarian to development funding streams.

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Box 1:

Inter-agency assessment and development of standard operating procedures on GBV and child protection in Jordan

In 2013, the GBV and Child Protection working groups in Jordan carried out an inter-agency assessment in refugee camps and urban settings in Jordan.[4] The assessment improved understanding of the protection challenges facing women and children refugees, with a particular focus on early and forced marriage. Building on this and extensive consultations with national and international stakeholders, Jordan’s National Council for Family Affairs, with support from UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF and Save the Children, developed standard operating procedures that harmonise standards and procedures for responding to GBV and child protection. The standard operating procedures cover four main response sectors: health, psychosocial support, law/justice and security. They apply to all organisations providing services to refugees and host communities from both humanitarian and development perspectives, within the National Family Protection Framework.

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Box 2:

The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan and women’s safe spaces

The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) is the primary framework for GBV programming within Lebanon, and its roll-out has significantly expanded the quality and availability of GBV services not only for refugees but also for host communities. Although some women’s organisations offered counselling and services to women prior to the Syria crisis, the availability of services to GBV survivors in most areas of Lebanon was relatively limited. The investment in GBV prevention and response from the outset of the crisis, through the LCRP, has strengthened outreach services, referral pathways and access to safe spaces for women and girls throughout the country.[5] For example, according to an evaluation of UNHCR’s support to GBV services, 95% of refugees are within five kilometres of a safe space, and these spaces meet the minimum standards adopted by the sector in Lebanon.[6]

A variety of approaches have been used to increase coverage and link with national response systems and strengthen service delivery by national NGOs. This includes the use of different local centres, such as social development centres, primary health clinics, community centres and other women and girls’ safe spaces, to offer safe spaces, outreach, GBV services and referrals.

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Financing to end GBV in the Syria crisis

According to UN agencies, the Syria crisis response has been a favourable context within which to raise funds for GBV. This is because the crisis response is generally well funded (compared with other, more neglected crises) and there has been strong leadership to integrate GBV into crisis response plans. As an illustration of this, the protection sector of the 3RP received 70% of the US$623 million requested in 2018,[7] compared with only 36% of requirements met for Protection in appeals globally in the same year.[8] Reporting on appeals is not disaggregated to show GBV funding within the protection sector. However, the Lebanon protection sector reported that it received US$29 million for GBV, or 18% of the US$161 million received for the protection sector in 2018 through inter-agency appeals.[9] Jordan’s GBV working group reported receiving US$13 million through inter-agency appeals in 2019.[10]

Humanitarian funding continues to be the main source of finance for GBV programming. In practice, the refugee component of the 3RP requests and receives more than twice as much funding as the resilience component. In 2018, the resilience component was about half the size of the refugee component and was only 37% funded compared with 76% for the refugee component.[11] This dynamic impacts funding for GBV as well – for example only US$2.1 million of the US$13 million received for GBV in Jordan was for resilience-related activities. One reason for this may be that development donors provide less funding to middle-income countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Another may be that development donors primarily channel funds outside of appeals, seeing them as the responsibility of humanitarian funders, while humanitarian donors see the resilience component as having a development focus. This leaves a gap in funding for resilience, despite efforts to bridge humanitarian and development approaches in a single strategy.

Furthermore, it also appears that GBV is not a significant priority for development funding. Although countries such as Jordan and Lebanon have received substantial ODA flows to strengthen the capacity of national systems to address the crisis, development assistance targeting GBV was only US$8.6 million in Lebanon and US$4.8 million in Jordan in 2018 (Figure 4).

Figure 4: GBV-relevant ODA in countries affected by the Syria crisis, 2016–2018

Figure 4: GBV-relevant ODA in countries affected by the Syria crisis, 2016–2018

GBV-relevant ODA in countries affected by the Syria crisis, 2016–2018

Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Creditor Reporting System (CRS).

Notes: Data is in constant 2017 prices. Figures only include projects reported to the CRS by donors and coded with the purpose code 15180 – ending violence against women and girls. The figure includes country-allocable aid only.

At the global, regional and country levels, donors and multilateral institutions have set up a number of financing vehicles for non-humanitarian aid to the regional Syria response that work at the interface between crisis response, stabilisation and development. Among the most significant are the World Bank’s Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF) and the EUTF (Box 3). In addition, several country-focused pooled funds have a stabilisation and development focus, including the World Bank’s Lebanon Syrian Crisis Trust Fund.[12]

Of these mechanisms, only the EUTF explicitly supports gender-equality-focused projects (2% of its budget) and also integrates GBV-related targets as part of its small protection sector. Based on publicly available information, we know that GBV and gender equality are not a specific focus of the World Bank-managed funds, and it is not clear how they integrate gender equality or GBV across other sectors of support.[13]

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Box 3:

Gender and nexus financing mechanisms – the EUTF and GCFF

The EU established the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (EUTF) because its existing development and humanitarian instruments were not suitable to assist regional countries in coping with the additional social and economic burdens associated with hosting Syrian refugees. The fund has reached over €1.7 billion to date in contributions from 22 EU member states and Turkey, as well as various EU instruments. Of this, over €1.3 billion has been contracted to large education, livelihoods, health, socio-economic support, water and sanitation projects that benefit both refugees and host communities. It has an explicit focus on bridging the humanitarian–development nexus and assisting regional countries to cope with the social and economic burdens associated with hosting refugees.

Within the EUTF Syria, GBV is a part of the protection sector. This is the smallest sector, with 4% of total allocations.[14] This reflects the fact that the EUTF did not initially focus on protection because it saw protection as a principally humanitarian domain; however over time this has shifted. The EUTF has allocated approximately €28.5 million (2%) to projects that have gender equality as the main focus – some, but not all, of these initiatives directly address GBV.[15] In addition, gender equality is integrated across sectors. Many of the projects outside the protection sector have the potential to positively impact GBV prevention and response, for example by expanding reproductive health services to vulnerable populations or increasing girls’ access to education; however, it is unclear the extent to which actions to address GBV are integrated.

The UN, World Bank and Islamic Development Bank launched the Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF) in 2016 in response to the effects of the Syrian refugee crises in Jordan and Lebanon. The GCFF provides concessional finance to middle-income countries for development projects that benefit refugees and host communities. Its initial focus was on Jordan and Lebanon and it subsequently extended support to Colombia. Since its launch, the GCFF has approved US$514 million in funding, which has leveraged additional finance to projects worth US$3 billion. GCFF has supported large-scale (from US$25 million to US$500 million) health, education, infrastructure and job creation projects. These do not have a specific focus on GBV or gender equality and, based upon publicly available information, it is not clear how gender equality is integrated within other sectors. Some projects appear neutral or gender blind, while others might have a positive impact on GBV but do not make this explicit, such as the Lebanon Health Resilience Project, which scales up subsidised primary healthcare services to poor Lebanese and Syrian refugees and aims to reduce income and gender disparities in access to healthcare.[16]