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Zainab dressed in pink speaks into a megaphone in front of a crowd of people in Helowyn camp in Ethiopia.
Women and girls

Women can change the world. Here's how the IRC is supporting women to reach their potential

Photo: Martha Tadesse/IRC

Women and girls living in crisis are at particular risk of discrimination and violence. They face a lack of equal opportunities that threaten their lives and rob them of their potential. At the International Rescue Committee, we know that with the right support and investment, women and girls can change their own future and, through the roles they play in society, they can uplift entire communities. 

That’s why we support women and girls every day. This week, we are at the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) - calling on global leaders to commit to real action that will support women and girls in conflict and crisis settings. 

From our programming on the ground to our high-level advocacy work, here are six ways the IRC is supporting women and girls around the world. 

Working to use a feminist approach in everything we do 

The idea of a “feminist” approach to humanitarian policy and practice is having an understanding of the additional inequalities and insecurities faced by women and girls in humanitarian settings. The IRC is striving to be an intersectional feminist organisation--one that prioritises equity, diversity, and inclusion in our programming for and with all our clients as well as in our internal structures and policies.  

The IRC’s goal is to have a gender-balanced workforce by next year. With dynamic, varied and innovative perspectives that drive the effectiveness and success of the organisation. Find out more in our Gender Action Plan.

Headshot of Karima Sultani looking into the camera.

“I am a feminist. I have the patience. I have the courage. I have the strength to stand up for women and girls. It takes a huge amount of work to be a feminist.” Karima Sultani has been an activist for women’s rights in Afghanistan since 2010. She now works as a counsellor for the IRC, supporting women who experience violence in one of the toughest countries to be a woman.⁠

Photo: Anwar Danishyar / IRC

Advocating for Refugee women

Women and girls make up around 50 percent of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population. Yet, women and girls living in emergencies and crises are too often overlooked.

More must be done to ensure women and girls in conflict and crisis-affected areas are listened to and not left further behind. 

The IRC is committed to fighting for a world where women are given an equal chance to succeed. The IRC applies pressure to global leaders to recognise the increased challenges faced by women and girl refugees and women and girls living in humanitarian crises globally. This means committing long-term funding to women's protection and empowerment and to women’s organisations, to create transformative and sustainable change.

We are working with women refugees in a number of different ways, including women’s protection and empowerment programmes.

Working to end gender-based violence in conflict and crisis.

Worldwide, nearly 1 in 3 women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Intimate partner violence is - by far - the most prevalent form of violence women experience. Crises by themselves do not cause violence against women and girls, but gender-based violence does increase in conflict and crisis as generalised violence, economic insecurity, disruption of family and social networks and gender inequality compound to increase risks. In some humanitarian contexts, over 70% of women experience gender-based violence. At the same time, barriers like the stigma around violence and fear of retaliation for reporting violence make it hard for survivors to access support and services. 

Despite how many women and girls face violence, less than 1% percent of humanitarian funding worldwide goes toward programmes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

Women from refugee activist Togoleta stand around together laughing.

Togoleta is a women's refugee activist group in Uganda that provides counselling to refugees in the camp to prevent violence and help women and girls recover from abuse. Evidence shows that when crisis and instability strikes, violence against women and girls spikes. It is vital that activities to prevent violence and support survivors are provided in settings like Bidi Bidi.

Photo: Esther Mbabazi/IRC

In over 30 countries, we ensure women and girls - both those at risk of violence and those who are survivors - have access to support and protection, safe spaces to create social networks and learn skills, and necessary counselling and healthcare to those who need it, including in cases of sexual violence. The IRC also works to tackle the root causes of gender-based violence to ensure it ends for good.

Listening to women and elevating their voices

Often women and girls are overlooked when it comes to rebuilding communities after war and conflict. This stems from the same gender inequality that puts women and girls at risk of gender-based violence and makes it typical for men to hold leadership positions and make decisions for the wider community.

Local women’s organisations have the unique ability to reach and empower women and girls within their own communities. But barriers must be removed for women to become leaders. Organisations working on the frontline to rebuild from conflict must ensure that women lead in decision-making within their communities. That is why at the IRC we prioritise and elevate female voices. 

Zainab speaks into a megaphone in Helowyn camp in Ethiopia.

Originally from Somalia, Zainab was forced to flee her home after her husband's brother was killed by armed groups. She is now part of a Women’s Steering Committee in Helowyn camp in Ethiopia, funded through our strategic partnership with Irish Aid. The Women’s Steering Committee helps run services that raise awareness about women's rights and safe spaces.

Photo: Martha Tadesse/IRC

Part of this process is ensuring that women-led organisations have adequate funding from governments of wealthier economies, and organisations like the United Nations and INGO’s. Without it, the commitments made at the global level will make little difference to those on the ground. We work with female-led organisations.

Supporting women’s economic empowerment 

Women living in fragile and conflict-affected places are often facing a lack of employment opportunities. Economic empowerment includes women’s access to decent work, control over their time and lives, and meaningful participation in decision making at all levels. 

Initiatives to ensure global economic empowerment are designed to help give women access to and control over resources that will support their independence. The aim is to realise women’s rights and gender equality. Yet, these initiatives often neglect their particular needs. For example, unpaid care work and other household responsibilities can be a key barrier to economic opportunities, especially due to some social expectations. 

Um Abdo sits infront of her singer sewing machine.

Um Abdo used to make clothes before the pandemic, now she's turned her skills to creating masks. Employed by the IRC through our Cash for Work programme, she is able to earn an income while protecting her community in northwest Syria from the coronavirus. 

Photo: Abdullah Hammam/IRC

When women have economic opportunities, it enhances their status in their households and communities. Safe and decent work relies on freedom from violence, harassment and discriminatory norms.

The IRC champions women’s economic empowerment by providing training, employment opportunities and investment in female-led business. We call on governments and global leaders to use their influence to achieve economic inclusion for all women and girls including those affected by conflict, crisis and displacement.

Empowering women to lead local solutions for climate change.

While climate change is impacting everyone, those impacts are not the same; in fact, women and girls are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. In disaster contexts, women and children often bear the brunt of the floods, droughts, livestock losses, and food insecurity that climate change brings and the increased gender-based violence that accompanies these stresses. For instance, loss of livelihoods leads to negative coping mechanisms like child marriage, early marriage and forced marriage, which predominantly impacts women and girls. 

Women are often excluded from decision-making when it comes to responding and managing environmental issues. However, we know that women and women-led organisations are central to food security - ensuring everyone knows where their next meal is coming from - and are effective in climate change mitigation and response in their roles as farmers, carers and activists. Therefore, women must be empowered to lead local solutions to build climate resilience. 

The IRC aims to tackle inequalities of power for women and girls in climate change programmes and policy. We understand the building blocks of the response that will be necessary to meet basic needs, build community resilience, and maintain local and regional stability and security.

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