Women-focused CSOs: the front lines of the global gender-based violence response

As organizations around the world unite against gender-based violence during 16 Days of Activism, Women Deliver highlights the unsung heroes of the global gender-based violence response: local, women-focused CSOs in humanitarian settings.

Women Deliver
8 min readDec 3, 2018

Across the world, one in three women will experience gender-based violence (GBV) in her lifetime, and in humanitarian settings, the number only goes up.

In the face of devastating, unjust violence, individual survivors and communities often turn to local women-focused civil society organizations (CSOs) for both immediate support and long-term community-based solutions.

Local women-focused CSOs know the context, challenges, and entry points for gender-sensitive humanitarian interventions. They work on the ground, day in and day out, with years of expertise in community-specific issues. They know how and when to take action, and they can do so in a timely, culturally-relevant manner.

But local women-focused CSOs are unsung heroes of GBV response. When emergencies strike, their power and capacities are overlooked and underfunded — a massive missed opportunity to invest in solutions that actually work for girls and women.

As an effort to highlight their important work during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, Women Deliver invited local women-focused CSOs in humanitarian settings around the globe to share how they address GBV and why they are powerful agents of change.

From Greece to Nepal to Liberia, we spotlight nine organizations working tirelessly for a world without violence:

Elpida Home — Greece

An Elpida Home representative prepares a meal as part of the dignified living experience the organization provides for refugees and local homeless populations.

Elpida Home provides a humane, dignified, and empowered living experience for refugees and other vulnerable groups in Thessaloniki, Greece. They facilitate physical and mental health services, education and recreational activities in addition to providing food, clothing, and non-food items.

In December 2018, Elpida Home will open a community center for refugees and local homeless populations with a focus on women and children. The center will provide mental health services, legal services, recreational activities, and nutritional food. Elpida Home’s approach focuses on humanity, dignity and community with the belief that holistically attending to an individual’s needs leads to empowerment and resilience.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because they use a holistic approach where culture, society, and preconceptions are being addressed when dealing with GBV in humanitarian settings — taking into consideration the special needs of each individual.” –Elpida Home

Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) — Nepal

Women survivors of the 2015 Nepal earthquake gather in a safe space set up by WOREC where they can receive counseling services, food and essential supplies, shelter, and bedding.

WOREC works for the protection and promotion of human rights, including preventing the causes and consequences of violence against women. Partnering with community organizations and networks, WOREC empowers women to become advocates for ending GBV through capacity-building initiatives, support services, and awareness campaigns.

Each year, WOREC reaches 200 thousand women through programs that address violence against women, livelihoods, and safe migration, and they support more than 400 survivors of GBV through safe shelter, psychosocial counseling, medical and legal support.

In last 28 years, WOREC has successfully facilitated the establishment of survivor-led organizations, influenced national policy against trafficking, domestic and sexual violence, safe abortion, property rights and more.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because they are trusted community partners having support mechanisms and experience in dealing with survivors of GBV and sexual violence. They carry knowledge on socio-cultural situation, structures and resources available, and are capable of coordination in disaster preparedness, management and emergency response following gender-sensitive approaches.” –Women’s Rehabilitation Center

ABAAD— Lebanon

Activists march in the streets during the Beirut marathon in protest of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code.

ABAAD promotes sustainable social and economic development in the Middle East and North Africa region. Through a right-based approach, they advocate for the development and implementation of policies and laws that enhance women’s effective participation.

ABAAD provides protection and holistic support services to GBV survivors during times of peace, war, and disaster. ABAAD also supports and builds the capacities of local, regional, and international entities that are working to promote human rights, democracy, and peacebuilding.

Finally, ABAAD’s pioneering ‘’Masculinities’’ program seeks to effectively engage men in working towards achieving an equitable society, free of hegemonic masculinities and violence against women.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because it is only through a gender sensitive, women-centric and feminist analysis of GBV that we can identify the root causes of the problem, and strategize and implement the necessary interventions.’’ -ABAAD

Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC) — Somalia

Somali girls receive skills training through SSWC.

In 1992, SSWC was founded by a group of Somali intellectuals from across the Mogadishu, Somalia community. SSWC operates a GBV crisis center that provides free medical and psychosocial support and legal aid to survivors of GBV.

By centralizing support services, SSWC creates a safe and supportive environment for women and girls. They believe this experience can help women survivors overcome reluctance they may have to seeking support. SSWC aims to minimize the stress, anguish, embarrassment and long reporting processes that survivors often face.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because they play vital roles at every point in the development of conflict or disasters and its resolution, from developing situations of injustice where GBV service provision is given to preventing violence and creating conducive conditions for survivors to regain their dignity and boost self-esteem. Investing in women and girls means better lives for everyone in their communities.” -Save Somali Women and Children

Coalition for Humanity (CH) — South Sudan

Women and girls pose after receiving dignity kits from CH in Leer.

CH’s work focuses on emergency and relief works around food security and livelihoods, health and nutrition, promoting peace and conflict mitigation, child protection, sexual and gender-based violence, access to justice and rule of law, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, and basic infrastructure. Through these interventions, CH provides basic and life-saving assistance to vulnerable populations, specifically internally displaced persons, refugees, and host communities.

The organization’s GBV program targets women and girls, primarily sexual assault survivors in Leer, Mayendit, and Koch in the former Unity State, the epicenter of the South Sudanese conflict. CH operates physical girl and women-friendly spaces in Leer and conducts outreach in two additional locations, providing survivors with access to psychosocial support, case management, and referrals to partner organization resources. CH also provides dignity kits to women and girls affected by conflict.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because they fully understand the local context and cultural dynamics which inform any successful response.” –Coalition for Humanity

Women Empowerment Organization (WEO) — Iraq

A WEO representative presents a certificate of achievement to a workshop participant.

Established in Erbil, Iraq in 2004, WEO works with a range of partners and donors — including United Nations agencies and European Union grantees — to implement programs and activities that promote equal rights for women. They empower Iraqi women to play an active role in their communities by enhancing their social, political, economic and cultural participation.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because women and girls are particularly abused during conflicts and marginalized in the post conflict situations.” –Women Empowerment Organization

International Youth Alliance on Family Planning (IYAFP) — Iraq

Women participate in a workshop facilitated by IYAFP Iraq.

IYAFP Iraq works with youth to provide universal access to high-quality services to address GBV, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and family planning services and information for all, regardless of where they are from. They also facilitate trainings, partnerships, and networks that help mobilize youth to drive more gender equal societies.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because we put spotlights on the invisible battles faced by women and girls.” –International Youth Alliance on Family Planning, Iraq

Syria Relief and Development (SRD) — Turkey (working inside Syria)

A SRD representative provides clinical care.

SRD provides humanitarian relief to Syrian civilians affected by the country’s devastating conflict. Their services range from immediate first aid and trauma relief to capacity-building projects that support the livelihoods of farmers and local communities in Southern Syria through the rehabilitation of wells.

As of early 2018, SRD has distributed more than USD 50 million in aid (including in-kind donations) to over 3.3 million Syrians in need.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because we work to break the cycle of abuse and violence since the threats to women and girls during conflict and disaster are amplified, and there is still a long way to go to prevent and overcome sexual and GBV in Syria.” –Syria Relief and Development

Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP) — Liberia

KEEP supports Liberian students advocating for their educational rights.

KEEP promotes a culture of advocacy for child rights and social justice. Recently, the organization has been raising awareness on sexual abuse against children and promoting awareness and respect for bodily boundaries.

In 2018, KEEP produced a short film titled “Stolen Childhood” that is based on the real life experiences of the organization’s founder who was sexually molested at eight years old. She has used her journey to healing to raise awareness on a topic that is still taboo in Liberia.

“Women-focused CSOs are powerful agents of change to address GBV in humanitarian settings because they are likely to be more understanding of the harmful, life changing and long term traumatic effects of GBV as well as a deeper appreciation of the needs of the survivors/victims.” –Kids Educational Engagement Project

The evidence in clear: women-focused CSOs are heroes (and sheroes!) in humanitarian action. To fully unlock their power, they must be adequately resourced and engaged in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Is there a local women-focused CSO or unsung humanitarian shero who inspires you? Share them on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook with #Humanitarian4Her!



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