This is the first instalment of our Safeguarding series, a collection of case studies in which we showcase the dedicated and indispensable work done by GOAL’s Protection projects. GOAL strives to reduce the vulnerability of all those affected by conflict, climate change, instability and disasters while also maintaining their sense of dignity and wellbeing.
By Caroline Lavelle
Studies have shown that conflicts and natural disasters exacerbate gender inequalities, particularly against women and girls. The UN Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, released in December 2019, also says that humanitarian crises increase the risk of gender-based violence (GBV) against women. For this reason, GOAL strives to incorporate a gender focus into each of our Emergency Response programmes, ensuring that women and girls receive the aid they need to reduce their vulnerabilities in post-disaster contexts.
GOAL’s Response to Flooding in Malawi
The disproportionate impact of natural disasters on women and girls came to the fore after heavy flooding in the Nsanje and Machinga districts of Malawi in early March 2019. The flooding affected over 850,000 people and led to the displacement of nearly 87,000.
GOAL responded rapidly, addressing in particular the vulnerabilities of the 45,000 women and girls of reproductive age who were now living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Particular attention was given to preventing GBV and strengthening available reproductive health services. Following disasters such as this, women and young girls of reproductive age are particularly at risk due to a lack of security, health services and sanitation.
Firstly, the programme aimed to identify the women and girls’ needs, as highlighted by the women themselves. The project ensured that women and girls had a platform to meet and share ideas. In some cases, the project team had separate meetings with women and girls to understand their challenges in the camps and discuss ways of addressing them.
Gender-Based Violence in Post-Disaster Settings
Violence against women and girls has been shown to increase in prevalence and severity in communities experiencing a disaster. As highlighted in the UN’s Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, “Women and girls in situations of displacement are more vulnerable to trafficking, rape and other forms of sexual assault. In Libya, the overwhelming majority of female migrants and refugees reported either being raped by smugglers or traffickers or witnessing evidence of others being abused.”
To reduce this threat, GOAL programmes worked to increase their capacity to prevent, identify and respond to GBV incidents. GOAL conducted dialogue meetings with men and women on ways to prevent GBV and the need to report it. For the dialogue meetings with men and boys, the objective was to encourage and motivate them to be supportive to women and girls in their communities and not to be perpetrators of GBV. This led to over 3,600 people (55% females) in IDP camps being sensitized on GBV issues. Information was also provided on services available to GBV victims. Furthermore, training was provided to 60 members of GOAL staff in GBV issues and the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. This meant that they were more equipped to identify and respond effectively to any incidences of GBV in their programmes.
Reproductive and Sexual Health in Recovery Contexts
Natural disasters, armed conflict, and political unrest also create barriers to accessing reproductive and maternal health services. In post-disaster contexts, risk remains high for sexually transmitted infection, pregnancy, and pregnancy-related complications that can lead to illness and sometimes death for both mother and child.
To tackle the lack of access to reproductive health services in the IDP camps in Nsanje and Machinga, GOAL, with support from UNFPA, procured and delivered reproductive health kits to health facilities near the IDP camps. Sensitization meetings were subsequently conducted to inform the IDPs of their availability. 12,300 male condoms were also distributed in the camps. Further sensitization meetings were held to provide reproductive health information to youth club leaders and to encourage pregnant women to visit the health facilities through drama and songs.
Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has become increasingly highlighted as integral to women’s privacy and safety during recovery and in post-disaster contexts. Ignoring women and girls’ menstrual hygiene management needs can have a damaging effect not only on their health, but also on their daily activities such as education and generating income for their household.
In order to reduce the vulnerability of the women and girls in this regard, GOAL distributed 3,490 hygiene dignity kits to women and young girls in IDP camps in the Nsanje district. These contained hygiene items such as soap, washing powder, underwear, reusable and non-reusable sanitary pads and chitenje (a wrapping cloth). The majority of women were very happy with the sanitary pads provided, as they were long-lasting and durable. Many women indicated that they were experiencing difficulties managing their menstruation prior to receiving the kits, with many resorting to the use of rugs or pieces of cloth.
The lack of available hygiene items also poses a challenge to pregnant and lactating women in post-disaster contexts. Mode Antonio, a 19-year-old single mother, was displaced by the floods when she was almost nine months pregnant. Within two weeks of arriving at the camp, Mode gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. Whilst having a baby was a joyous moment, she quickly started experiencing the harsh reality of being displaced from her home with no proper clothing materials or soap for her or her daughter’s hygiene. Mode described the need for lactating women to bathe daily and the risk her baby faced of contracting diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera due to a lack of hygiene materials.
Fortunately, Mode received one of the 3,490 dignity kits distributed by GOAL with support from UNFPA. The kit provided all the necessary materials to make Mode and her baby more comfortable and protected from the contraction of disease.
Incorporating a Gender Focus into Safeguarding
Recognising the gendered impact of natural disasters and conflict is vital in humanitarian response. It ensures that the needs of individuals are assessed and provided for accordingly. It also prevents the abuse and neglect of vulnerable groups which are often left most exposed by episodes of instability and change. The prevention of GBV and provision of sexual and reproductive health are instrumental in fostering safer and more constructive settings for women and girls following disasters and conflict. GOAL strives to continuously strengthen our Emergency Response capabilities and ensure that our safeguarding practices are maintained and upheld across our programmes.