Every year the world mobilizes around the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign to mark progress made and to call for further action to end gender-based violence. This year, the Women’s Refugee Commission has identified 16 ways that humanitarian agencies, governments and donors can prevent violence against women and girls who have been displaced because of armed conflict or natural disaster.
1. Allow displaced women to obtain documents and register promptly when they arrive at camps or cities. Delays in securing registration and identity documents like certification of refugee status can prevent access to basic services like health and education and put women at risk of violence and exploitation. Host governments and the UN refugee agency should make the registration and documentation processes timely and efficient, recognizing the vital role identity documents play in women's protection.
2. Provide safe shelter. Women and girls need a place where they are safe, especially at night. Refugee shelters should have secure doors and locks, and there should be adequate partitions between families and separate communal shelters for single women and single men.
3. Ensure equal and safe access to food and cooking fuel. In times of food shortage, women and children are at heightened risk of violence as well as food insecurity and malnutrition. Food should be distributed to women in places that are easy to get to and secure. Many women and girls report having to travel up to 10 miles to find firewood, facing physical and sexual violence along the way from men in the community or militia. They should have access to fuel-efficient stoves and other sources of energy to be able to cook their meals.
4. Give women and girls safe access to water and latrines. Even the fundamental, human activities of fetching water and going to the toilet put women and girls at risk in many crisis-affected areas. Water and latrines should be easily accessible to everyone, with sufficient lighting, locks on the latrines and security personnel patrolling communal and public places.
5. Make sure health services, including reproductive health care, are available for survivors of violence to prevent further harm. Services should be accessible with sensitized, gender-balanced staff. There should be enough medical workers and all necessary supplies and medicines to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
6. Promote community security or "policing." Even if there are no, or limited numbers of, security guards in place, community members can, and should, provide protection for women and girls. Community and neighborhood watch groups, properly trained and supported, can enhance security, especially at night and in less safe locations.
7. Make legal recourse available to survivors. Those who are displaced and have survived gender-based violence should have access to legal systems in which they can seek justice. Ensuring that perpetrators do not have impunity can help prevent future attacks.
8. Protect displaced women and girls from exploitation by humanitarian workers or others in positions of authority. In some instances, aid workers and government officials are themselves perpetrators of gender-based violence. Agencies and organizations must establish and enforce codes of conduct and zero tolerance policies to violence against women. There should be mechanisms in place so that women and girls can make complaints, and complaints should be acted upon promptly.
9. Recognize the particular needs and vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are three times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse and rape, and have less access to support systems. They need specific protections and safe access to basic services like health care, bathing facilities and latrines.
10. Implement programs that promote economic livelihoods for women and girls that are safe. Many work opportunities put women at risk of violence—from their bosses, their husbands or community members. They should have economic options that are effective and improve and safeguard lives.
11. Enroll and keep girls in school. Twenty million girls in conflict zones are not in school, and girls account for only 30 percent of refugees in secondary school. Attending and staying in school is one of the most effective ways of keeping girls safe and of reducing early marriage and pregnancy.
12. Give girls opportunities to develop self-confidence and critical life skills. Many girls who have been uprooted from their communities have responsibilities and burdens way beyond their years and yet lack opportunities to develop critical negotiation and problem-solving skills that could help them make choices about their lives and protection.
13. Ensure that women and girls can equally and fully participate in their communities. Women and girls have a right to make decisions that affect their lives. They should be included on an equal basis in all community and decision-making bodies.
14. Engage men and boys. Without the involvement of men and boys, initiatives to prevent gender-based violence will have limited success. Men and boys need to be seen as part of solution, and not only as part of the problem.
15. Include gender-based violence prevention activities in planning for crises. Natural disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan, and armed conflict like that happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo heighten women's and girls' risks of sexual abuse and exploitation. These risks can be minimized through careful planning and preparation.
16. Keep the prevention of violence against women a top priority in humanitarian aid. When humanitarian aid agencies conduct initial needs assessments in a new crisis, they should include activities to prevent and address gender-based violence across all of their programs and sectors. These activities must also be included in emergency funding appeals and supported by donors.