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To explain the importance of a gender perspective in emergency operations and assist emergency specialists in gender-sensitive planning.


Coping Strategies, Counseling, Differential impacts of emergencies on men and women, Division of labour, Food distribution, Food security, Gender analysis, Gender differences, Gender mainstreaming, Practical and strategic needs, Roles and responsibilities of men and women, SEAGA objectives, Vulnerable groups.


One of the purposes of the United Nations is "promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for the fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion" (UN Charter).

The effects of war and natural disasters seriously threaten human survival and sustainable livelihoods. The international humanitarian response system is working towards not only providing appropriate immediate life saving interventions but also to developing frameworks of analysis and action. In order to develop more effective programmes there is a growing recognition of the importance of acquiring a greater understanding of the specific context of each crisis situation, the causes and how communities are affected.

Approach for Developing Frameworks of Analysis and Action

Increasing global instability manifested in political, religious and socio-economic scenarios, as well as natural disasters, periodically afflict various regions. To respond to the resulting changes in the external environment, it is essential to understand: (i) The specific roles and responsibilities of men and women in food security and agriculture, (ii) Their main constraints and needs, and (iii) Their ability to carry out activities under emergency situations and early rehabilitation.

Emergencies affect women and girls differently from men and boys. In wartime, men are often the primary casualties, while women in situations of armed conflicts, civil strife, or natural disasters often lose a capacity to sustain their families’ livelihoods due to loss of seeds, livestock and tools. Women are often more vulnerable in emergencies due to their lower social and economic status. In addition, conflict situations considerably increase the trauma of gender-specific physical insecurity. This is particularly true in remote rural areas far away from general media coverage, and hence such violations are often either ignored or unreported.

In this context, gender analysis and mainstreaming help to clarify the specific and often different needs, vulnerabilities and coping-strategies of women and men, so that they can be more adequately addressed in response to the emergency situation. Lessons learned reveal that interventions and life saving strategies are made more efficient and timely when gender differences have been properly understood and addressed.

Social Impacts of Emergencies

  • Emergencies often increase existing vulnerabilities

  • Disasters exacerbate gender differences

  • Women play a key role in the effectiveness of prevention, disaster relief, reconstruction and transformation

  • Emergencies offer fertile ground for change in gender relations

Meaning of Gender Mainstreaming in Humanitarian Assistance[1]

  • Differences in the ability of women and men to respond in an emergency situation

  • Differences in the priorities of women and men (boys and girls)

  • Differences in the security needs of women and men

  • Gender division of labour

  • Capacities of women, men, girls and boys to support peace or reconstruction

  • Differences among women as well as men (e.g. class, ethnic, rural/urban and other categories)

  • Opportunities to narrow gender-gaps and support women’s equitable participation in decision-making

The FAO Socio-economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA) Programme is an approach to development, based on a participatory identification and analysis of the socio-economic factors that determine women's and men's priorities and potentials. Its main objective is to close the gaps between what people need and what development delivers, to contribute to effective and sustainable development.

At the beginning of 2000, the FAO Gender and Development Service (SDWW), the FAO Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division (TCE) and WFP agreed to collaborate in the preparation of a Guide on Socio-economic and Gender Analysis for Emergency and Rehabilitation Programmes. An outline of these SEAGA guidelines was presented at the launch of the Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) for Angola, Somalia and Tajikistan at FAO in November 2000; under the 2001 theme "Women and War".

When an emergency occurs, both FAO and WFP offer rapid response[2] to help communities meet their immediate life-saving and life sustaining needs (food) and to assist the governments or ad-hoc counterparts in rebuilding agricultural and rural structures. FAO and WFP conduct joint crop and food supply assessment missions in order to assess the impact of a disaster on the crops and national food supply situation after emergencies, and to determine the need for international assistance. Both agencies are also key players in the United Nations Disaster Management Teams (UNDMT), which are formed during crisis situations and contribute to the CAP.


In 1999, the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee issued a policy statement on gender and humanitarian assistance. This statement requires that, when providing humanitarian assistance in emergencies, all member organizations should formulate specific strategies to integrate gender issues, collect and analyze data from a gender perspective, build capacity for gender programming, and develop reporting and accountability mechanisms that ensure attention to gender.

This is based on founding international human rights instruments: i) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ii) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, iii) The International Covenant on Economic, iv) Social and Cultural Rights, and v) The Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict.

A gender approach can assist in the understanding and profiling of vulnerable groups, in channeling resources to those most in need, and in the mobilization of the capacities of a significant proportion of the population that is often under-estimated.

The commitment of the international community to bring a gender perspective into the Consolidated Appeal Processes derives from a commitment to gender equality. It is also based on the recognition that using this perspective will contribute to a more effective humanitarian assistance.

Gender Mainstreaming and Common Assistance Programming

Gender Mainstreaming and Common Assistance Programming support:

  • A more accurate understanding of the situation, based on gender differences and inequalities

  • The design of more appropriate responses to the different obstacles faced by potential participants or beneficiaries

  • The highlighting of opportunities and resources

The Emergency Guidelines are being prepared jointly by FAO and WFP as a contribution to this policy. They are designed to assist both managerial and operational staff to mainstream gender analysis throughout the project sequence and in all aspects relating to emergency interventions, such as food aid, nutrition, household food security and agricultural policy in crisis situations. These guidelines will also contribute to the recommendations passed in UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000). The latter inviting the UN Secretary-General to carry out a study on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace-building and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolutions.

Commitments to Gender in Displacement and Poverty

An emergency-situation often affects women and men differently. Both conflicts and natural disasters force women in particular to take on new roles and responsibilities to ensure the survival of their families. Their husbands and sons are often absent (e.g. killed, missing) or have been incapacitated.

Women and children bear the main burden of coping with emergencies, particularly displacement (80 percent of refugees and internally displaced persons). Women face additional burdens and carry greater biological, emotional and economic responsibilities associated with their roles of mother, wife, nurturer, provider, and community spokespersons or representatives.

Differential Impact on Men and Women of Hurricane Mitch

Men and women were affected differently by Hurricane Mitch, and made different contributions to relief efforts. Sex and gender-specific vulnerabilities determined the differential impacts of the tragedy on men and women.

Slightly more men died, while more women reported suffering physical and mental health-related problems. Similarly, gender-specific capabilities shaped men's and women's different responses and contributions to relief and mitigation efforts. More women prepared food in shelters while more men transported victims to shelters.

Women play a key role to maintaining the family unit, keeping ties with community structures, obtaining access to assistance and entitlements, and meeting basic family needs. However, when displaced women frequently find themselves stateless and dependent on others.

In many societies, women do not have the same socio-economic standing as men. They have considerably less decision-making power and control over their own or their children's lives. Women are usually poor, vulnerable and lacking in political influence due to inequality, marginalization and disempowerment.

In wartime, for example, men are often the primary casualties, affecting the actual population balance between women and men - leaving a significant number of widows, single women and mothers without male children. This will influence labour force projections, family structures and the gender profile of various professions.

Women often play expanded roles in economic and agricultural production, in the absence of their husbands and sons, while facing an additional risk of eviction from their homes and lands.

Uprooted populations generally encounter problems of protection and safety, but women in particular also suffer additional forms of physical abuse.

Areas outside camps, where firewood and water are often gathered for household use and trade, can be dangerous due to the presence of landmines or other hostilities. Water sources available to refugees and displaced persons in camps are often polluted or contain water-borne infections.

Women are subject to more violence while displaced than in normal circumstances and suffer from a wide range of violent acts - many hidden and unreported - such as rape, torture, intimidation, discrimination, and psychological abuse. Stress related domestic violence also tends to increase. It is important to address and ensure protection against rape and other forms of sexual violence. This includes respecting privacy needs (for bathing, etc.), that may alter security risks.

Integrated Approach to Care of Victims of Violence[3]

The mobilization of male soldiers (both in armies and as peacekeepers) contributes to the growth of prostitution around military bases and army camps. This may partly be the result of a lack of options for women, exacerbated by the insecurity of conflict. The negative impact of this trend is well documented, including health risks (HIV/AIDS).

Gender-specific War Crimes

Recent events in former Yugoslavia have drawn international attention to rape and violence against women as gender specific war crimes. Sexual violence is a gross violation of fundamental human rights. When committed in the context of armed conflict it is a grave breach of humanitarian law (UNHCR).

It should be recognised that relief aid may have bearings on women's and men’s productive activities and their potential to earn incomes, with implications on their possibilities to participate in community activities and decision-making. Full community involvement, including women’s active participation, improves the efficacy of prevention, relief, reconstruction and transformation efforts.

There may not be a unified set of interests and priorities among groups of women and men. It is important to build upon existing local structures by applying a participatory approach, avoiding contradictory pressures, in order to ensure a sustainable and equitable implementation.

In a family, women are frequently primarily responsible for, and most active in, food preparation and ensuring a sufficient supply of water. They may have to walk further to find fuel, stand in line to secure water from outside sources, and care for injured family members. Thus, they may find it difficult to participate in relief committees or other organized activities. It is important to establish whether women’s responsibilities for securing and preparing food for family consumption are taken into consideration, particularly in national statistics and official reports.

Gender roles clearly are not static and may rapidly change in response to sudden traumatic events such as violent conflicts, natural disasters or war. This may provide opportunities and entry points to develop programmes that support efforts to build more equitable gender relations.

During the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase, women, who assumed non-traditional roles during wartime, might be expected to abandon these tasks once the war is over. Men might suffer from a variety of problems related to adjustment to peace (employment and identity problems, and psychological traumas from wartime experiences, etc.).

The main concern is inevitably to ensure that the affected population has sufficient food and resources in order to survive. Humanitarian aid can be more efficient and have a greater impact if opportunities for positive change in gender roles during crisis situations are enhanced and sustained during the emergency and post-conflict phase.

On 31 May 1999, the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) issued a policy statement that built upon a 1998 ECOSOC Resolution. It requires all member organizations to mainstream a gender perspective when providing humanitarian assistance in emergencies.

The principles of the IASC policy include:

Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design and implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women can benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality (ECOSOC, 1997)."

Although every emergency is different, there are key elements that are relevant to all emergency relief activities. These are:

The term gender refers to the social roles and relations between women and men. This includes the different responsibilities of women and men in a given culture or location. Unlike the sex of men or women, which is biologically determined, the gender roles of women, men are socially constructed, and such roles can change over time and vary according to geographic location and social context.

Factors such as class (social position, wealth), age and education will also influence gender roles. In turn, gender and gender roles are major factors in defining and determining men’s and women’s specific needs as well as their respective access to power and resources.

Resources for Consideration in Gender Mainstreaming



  • Natural

Land, water, forests, rivers, etc.

  • Economic

Work opportunities, wages, remuneration, remittance, credit, and production inputs

  • Social

Formal and informal education and social services

  • Infrastructure

Bridges, road and markets

  • Political

Access and participation opportunities for organisation
and decision making at community, regional and national levels

  • Time

Work time and free time

  • Personal

Self esteem abilities, communication capacity, and individual decision making capability

Gender analysis is a process of understanding women's and men’s different activities and responsibilities, and their access to resources and decision-making. Established patterns of gender inequality and inequity can be exposed, explored and addressed. This analysis strengthens planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and makes programmes and projects more efficient and relevant. Ignoring gender issues has caused many emergency and development programmes and projects to fail in reaching their principal goals and in delivering the desired benefits to the target population.

Gender analysis helps us understand women and men’s roles and relations. It frames questions about who does what, when and why. The aim of such analysis is to improve targeting within the formulation of emergency and development interventions. The goal is to provide a means to optimise the usage efficiency of assistance to be provided. This requires ensuring that women’s and men’s needs and constraints are addressed in a manner that maximises the humanitarian return on the donor investment made.

Gender analysis highlights the capacities of both men and women and indicates where opportunities are missed by humanitarian agencies for targeting effective strategies to support and enhance women’s skills and capacities. It can identify the division of labour within the household and domestic economy as well as identify the burden of reproductive labour which women bear, and highlight the way this intensifies during periods of rapid and violent social change. Gender analysis can also reveal the socio-cultural constraints facing women who, as bearers of culture and the social reproduction of norms and values, become subject to new forms of control and victimisation during emergencies.

Gender analysis points out that the experiences and identity of socio-economic groups in times of emergency are also impacted. The ‘gender’ question is not just a woman’s issue. The ways in which violence has helped restructure ‘masculinity’ in poverty-affected and marginalised societies is an important factor when considering boys and men’s involvement in armed militias and their acts of violence against women. This is particularly important when considering the post-conflict phase where men and boys are re-socialised.

Women and girls have different medical and sanitary needs from men and boys. These should be addressed in basic emergency-supply packages (e.g., addressing needs arising from pregnancy, genital mutilation, family planning, sanitary products and supplementary food for pregnant and lactating mothers). In some cultures women may be reluctant to seek medical advice from male health workers (especially if they are of a different nationality). It may be necessary to promote access to female staff and medical professionals.

SEAGA participatory processes critique: What opportunities exist for consultation of each gender separately and for negotiation. Who has been, is being and can be consulted and how. Who participates and why; and who should participate. What the problems of men and women are, and whether are being responded to. What the gender relations are, and whether complementary or competing agendas among beneficiaries exist. What the needs and constraints of beneficiaries are.

Gender analysis techniques can assist humanitarian workers in responding to the crisis in a manner that supports the different special, practical and strategic resource needs of women and men for overcoming household food insecurity. Changed (new) socio-economic roles and situations should be thoroughly analysed and understood in order to lessen the inequalities between women and men that might widen in the crisis. Practical needs are defined as those that relate to socio-culturally accepted roles in society and do not challenge gender divisions of labour or position in society. Strategic needs are those which relate to improving roles and contributions in society.

In all phases of the emergency cycle, the application of gender analysis in a participatory approach can assist in identifying the most appropriate intervention measures. All factors, linkages and causal relationships associated with the preparation of a relief intervention (design, targeting, implementation, monitoring and evaluation procedures) and its context (social, economic, cultural, geographical, agro-ecological, and political) should be taken into consideration in a logical manner.

In documentation and registration procedures, women should have the right to register in their own name. Distribution systems should be based on actual rather than idealized family structures -according to sound assessment methodologies.

Common Practical Needs and Food Security Constraints




  • Technology

Labour saving for smallholders
(not hired labourers)

Lack of tools, suitability, maintenance, culture, social, and resource control

  • Post Harvest

Less losses, time,
food security, cost

Limited resources, targeting and division of labour

  • Marketing

Feasibility and profitability

Credit, legality, regulation, distribution and administration

  • Water

Food production, cooking, hygiene, user management

Consultation, distance, delivery design, energy, credit, and maintenance

  • Energy

Nutrition, income generation

Food type, cooking time, fuel availability and collection time

Common Strategic Needs and Food Security Constraints




  • Land

Resources access

Displacement, population pressures, law, local custom, usufruct, commerce, ownership shifts, tenure shifts, labour roles

  • Credit

Inputs purchase, food production, business

Requirements, time, institutions, facilities, procedures, collateral, distance, transport, literacy, fear, skills, education, costs, social, knowledge, crop types

  • Extension

Information sharing

Lack of appropriate advice, staffing, cultural, language, education, resources access, targeting, mobility, and other responsibilities

  • Literacy

Knowledge, participation

Literacy Gap

Impact/situation and needs assessments, together with vulnerability surveys, provide a basis for applying gender-sensitive livelihood analyses to population target groups. In general, the areas with major disaster and war impacts are where a greater number of vulnerable people live or where they have resettled (e.g. IDPs and refugees going back to their areas of origin). SEAGA tools can be used to: i) Evaluate the impact of a disaster on aspects such as agriculture production capacity, ii) Estimate the needs of the targeted population for relief, and eventually iii) Facilitate rapid resumption in production.

Common Special Needs of Women and Men for Food Security

  • Equal access/control of resources

  • Participation and organization
  • Gender sensitisation

  • Functional literacy training
  • Reproductive health

  • Social capital-building, group formation and empowerment
  • HIV/AIDS awareness

  • Security
  • Equal work remuneration

  • Recognition
  • Psychological counseling
    (for victims of rape, violence, legal rights)

  • Appropriate and adequate ablution facilities

National NGOs with 'a commitment to gender equality' and women’s associations in the intervention area can play a major role to target female-headed households and raise awareness on empowerment issues in the community. Specific efforts can be made to empower women by ensuring their active role in decision-making and implementation process, and identifying their main constraints and possibilities for change.

UN agencies (e.g. UNICEF and WFP) have launched a humanitarian appeal to help prevent children from dropping out of school, with an emphasis on girls in order to bridge the gender gap. WFP has reported an increase in the female schooling rate in several countries (e.g. Kenya, Morocco, Niger and Pakistan) following the introduction of a school-meal programme.

Implications of Gender Roles in Food Distribution

Food distribution in refugee camps has in the past resulted in a significant drop in girls schooling rates (usually the oldest) outside each camp. Girls were selected by their families to collect fuel-wood to be used for the preparation of food inside refugee camps, receiving food in return. This had also some repercussions on the environment, such as deforestation.

Causes and Consequences of Low Yearly Enrolment of Children in Primary Schools, Triggered by Drought and Economic Depression

SEAGA Programme

The Socio-economic and Gender Analysis Programme, of which this emergency module is a part, was initiated in 1993 to promote gender awareness when meeting development challenges. The programme was initially undertaken by FAO, ILO, the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) and the World Bank - under FAO's coordination. The SEAGA package consists of key documents, including Macro, Intermediate and Field Handbooks, training materials and technical guides. All these documents illustrate in a very practical and user-friendly way the concepts, methods and tools for conducting socio-economic and gender analysis.

SEAGA materials are constantly updated to meet development challenges. Key documents are available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and, for specific areas, also in Arabic, Italian, Russian and Chinese. Thematic/sectoral guides are being developed on irrigation, the project cycle, monitoring and evaluation, plant genetic resources management, micro-finance, animal production and health, household resource management, land tenure and agricultural engineering. There are also Information Communication Materials and a Training of Trainers Manual, available on CD-ROM, through a contact database managed by the FAO, Gender and Development Service, Gender and Population Division, Sustainable Development Department (SDWW): or

Objectives of the Guidelines

The main objective of these guidelines is for mainstreaming gender analysis throughout the emergency response sequence, to ensure that humanitarian assistance is more effective.

The specific objectives of the guidelines are to:

The key issues to be analyzed include: risk and vulnerability, food security and livelihoods, needs assessments, beneficiary targeting, planning, partnerships, procurement, logistics, information and data, as well as monitoring and evaluation.

Structure of the Guidelines

The document is comprised of individual modules that each focus on engendering aspects of the emergency context and project cycle. Description of referenced SEAGA 'Participatory Appraisal and Planning' tools is also included. A 'Question Tank' comprised of a number of relevant checklists is included at the end of each substantive Module. The document draws on concrete lessons learned in field emergency-situations. Once completed and field tested, it is expected that these guidelines will be used both as an awareness tool and as training material for emergency operators to systematically integrate socio-economic and gender analysis into humanitarian assistance practices.

[1] Source: Mainstreaming a gender equality perspective in the Consolidated Inter-Agency appeals. Note prepared for the Donor Retreat on Consolidated Appeals Process and Coordination in Humanitarian Assistance, Montreux Switzerland, by CIDA/MHA Division (March 2001).
[2] The mission of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is to help build a food-secure world for present and future generations. FAO assists governments and regional organizations to draw up plans for disaster mitigation and preparedness, including measures to minimise their effects and to mobilize rapid relief and rehabilitation assistance. The Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division (TCE) responds to requests for: (i) emergency agricultural assistance through the distribution of production inputs to the affected population; (ii) the rehabilitation of productive capacities, (iii) support to the coordination of activities of organizations involved in agricultural rehabilitation. (
Gender policy for FAO is encapsulated in its Plan of Action for Gender and Development (2003-2007) adopted by the FAO Conference in 2002. The Plan presents a framework to mainstream gender into the work of FAO and aims at removing the obstacles to women’s and men’s equal active participation in, and enjoyment of the benefits from, agricultural and rural development. The four medium-term objectives of the Plan are: (i) promote gender equality in the access to sufficient, safe and nutritionally adequate food, (ii) promote gender equality in the access to, control over and management of natural resources, and agricultural support services, (iii) promote gendere equality in policy-and-decision-making processes at all levels in the agricultural and rural sector, (iv) promote gendere equality in opportunities for on-and off-farm employment in rural areas.
The mandate of the World Food Programme (WFP) is to combat hunger, and to deliver food aid in emergency situations ( At present emergencies now account for 80 percent of WFP’s expenditures. WFP has a central role in accessing, coordinating, delivering and resourcing food assistance and the associated transport costs. WFP emphasizes early warning and contingency planning.
WFP’s gender policy and specific programming for women is stated in its Commitments to Women. Its objectives include providing direct access by women to appropriate food aid; ensuring women’s equal access to and full participation in decision making; facilitating women’s access to employment, markets and trade; generating and disseminating gender disaggregated data and information; and improving accountability. For this purpose, WFP has produced numerous manuals, guidelines, assessment methodologies and lessons learned.
[3] Source: Adapted from WHO, 2000. Our Health (Amagara Yacu) - Health Needs of Women and Girls Affected by Violence in Rwanda. WHO/HSC/PVI/00.1.

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