16 actions for girls’ and women’s safety in emergencies

A lock. A light. A secure shelter. All three can prevent violence against girls and women in emergencies, and provide a sense of security in a time of increased vulnerability and stress.

Violence against women and girls does not discriminate by race, religion, culture, class or country. Worldwide, one in three women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence, and more than 15 million girls aged 15-19 years have experienced rape.

Conflict and displacement only heighten the problem. As girls and women lose their support systems and homes, are placed in insecure environments and in new roles, their risk of gender-based violence (GBV), including sexual violence, intimate partner violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and abuse, increases.

For International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the following 16 days of activism, here are 16 actions UNICEF and our partners are taking to increase girls’ and women’s safety in emergencies:

  1. Let girls’ and women’s voices be heard

Most importantly, #HearMeToo. Women and girls should be the at the centre of all design and delivery.

  1. Connect to those who know, who care

When developing programmes, ensure local women’s and youth organisations are consulted and build on their best practices and evidence. And for the many men and boys who are champions for an end to GBV, let’s work together.

  1. Light the way

All shelters, latrines, water points and pathways within camps must have ample lighting to reduce the risk of sexual violence.

  1. Be non-apologetic about female-only safe spaces

Most public spaces in emergencies are dominated by men and boys. Women and girls need a place where they can feel safe, report gender-based violence confidentially, receive information and support, and build their social network and confidence.

  1. Make safe spaces mobile

The most vulnerable women, married adolescents, adolescent mothers, and disabled women and girls need services brought to them.

A lady in a white coat and traditional headscarf is working on a sewing machine as two other ladies look on.
© UNICEF/UN0156999/BindraGetting a period in a crowded refugee camp is not easy for teenage girls and women. There is a lack of hygienic menstruation supplies and access to safe and private toilets to wash themselves and their menstrual cloths. Rohingya refugee girls take part in the UNICEF-supported Sanimart project to produce sanitary pads for themselves and to sell at the market, in Balukhali Refugee Camp, Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh.
  1. Build a trusted partnership for case management

Case managers provide crucial support to survivors of gender-based violence, empowering them to assess their needs and develop a plan to heal and recover.

  1. Train frontline health workers

Frontline health workers should be trained in supporting survivors of gender-based violence, including skills on survivor-centred communication and clinical management of rape.

  1. Equip toilets with locks

All latrines and toilets must have locks to offer women and girls security, and there should be separate facilities for males and females.

  1. Expand the partnership circle

In addition to local civil society, engage governments, donors and private partners to find new ways to collaborate – including blended financing mechanisms—to bring results to scale.

As a lead humanitarian actor, UNICEF is working to prevent and end GBV by mitigating risks, and providing life-saving services to survivors throughout the emergency to development continuum.

  1. Construct secure shelters

Women and girls often lack privacy within their shelter due to thin walls and proximity to neighboring tents. Shelters should be built to the design and needs that women and girls request for their safety.

  1. Supply hygiene kits

Women and girls have the right to manage their periods with privacy and dignity. WASH and hygiene kits, designed by women, with menstrual health products, soap, whistles and torches keep them safe and allow them to participate in school and other activities.

  1. Build referral systems

These give survivors a pathway to receive life-saving and confidential health care, psychosocial and other support on their journey to recovery.

  1. Provide age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health services

 Access to clinical care for sexual assault, HIV and sexually-transmitted disease testing, and other health services should be accessible and adolescent-friendly.

  1. Deliver life skills

Through life skills training, women and adolescent girls can be leaders and creative thinkers, engage in citizenship, and gain skills that can reduce their risk of gender-based violence.

A young lady greets another lady by shaking hands at the door of a house while children play in the foreground.
© UNICEF/UN051271/HerwigChild protection case worker Hala Abu Ghoush greets a woman and her children during an outreach visit to the family’s dwelling, in the Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees.
  1. Cash in the hands of those who need it most

In severe cases where a woman or a girl’s life is in danger, emergency cash can help facilitate access to immediate shelter and subsistence.

  1. Women in WASH

Meaningful participation of women and girls in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) committees allow them to raise their concerns about safety and privacy, and the solutions to improve services.

As a lead humanitarian actor, UNICEF is working to prevent and end GBV by mitigating risks, and providing life-saving services to survivors throughout the emergency to development continuum.

Last year, UNICEF reached 3.6 million women and girls in humanitarian situations across 53 countries. However, we have a long way to go to accelerate our service reach to the scale of the issue. However, we still have a long way to go.


Patty Alleman is Senior Advisor, Gender Section, UNICEF. Catherine Poulton is Child Protection Manager at UNICEF.

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  1. *I strongly believe that every manner of violence against women and girls is a mystery (though agelong) that must be courageously undermined by the average woman across the globe.
    *Every woman, teenager and girl should wake up, stand strong and make it a daily reality; especially as it may partain to gender based self sufficiency, unparalleled sustainability and unquestionable providence.
    *I’m a crusader and advocate of TOTAL women liberation and freedom from all forms of oppression, misgivings and unhealthy gestures from men.

  2. The 16 actions are easy to comprehend and time. This should be widely disseminated.

  3. Very useful tips and i am sure , if we follow these advice we can reduce crime against women in India.

  4. I pray for all the women who have suffered through this. I know we can make a difference though.