Testing the gender handbook for emergencies

Jack Jennings Gender, Humanitarian

Oxfam is working with UN women and a host of other NGOs on an ECHO funded project to revise the 2006 Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action. We tested the latest version with frontline staff in Ethiopia and Afghanistan, Jack Jennings explains what they found.

The revision of the IASC Gender Handbook is an important and incredibly ambitious project in its desire to integrate a gender lens into all humanitarian programming. The handbook is aimed at both gender and non – gender specialists, so our field-testing in both Ethiopia and Afghanistan aimed to reflect this, with participants coming from a wide range of technical backgrounds. Staff from government agencies, UN agencies, and NGOs were all present, providing a broad spectrum of opinion and experience.

How we tested the handbook

In Ethiopia the testing took place in three areas: the capital Addis Ababa, Jijiga in the Somali region, and Bahir Dar in the Amhara region. In Addis the testing was limited in scope, involving a half day workshop with gender specialists and a de-briefing once the testing was completed. The testing in both Jijiga and Bahir Dar was more comprehensive, involving full day workshops with both gender and non-gender sector specialists, followed by one or two days of focus group discussions. In Afghanistan, all of the testing took place in Kabul, largely due to the security situation which makes movement more challenging. Beyond this, the field testing process was almost identical.

In order to cover a large volume of information in a relatively short space of time participants were divided into groups, with each group working on a single sub-section of the handbook (which is divided into parts one, two, and three). Part one explores basic gender concepts, and why the integration of gender equality is essential for effective humanitarian assistance. Part two looks at how to integrate gender into different phases of a programme cycle , while part three provides guidance on sector specific areas, for example livelihoods, shelter etc. When working on part three, attendees worked in sector specific groups, using the handbook to design a needs assessment and response plan based on a simulation case study. Each sector group was invited back for separate focus group discussions in the following days.

What we learnt

All the test participants… stressed the need for the guide in their work
One of the biggest lessons from the exercise was that the revised practical handbook for the integration of gender into humanitarian programming would be welcomed in both field test locations. All the test participants, both gender and non-gender specialists and those working across different sectors, were enthusiastic and stressed the need for the guide in their work.

In Kabul, at a meeting on the first day of the field test, Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs Spoghmai Wardak stated the government’s interest in seeing the final version rolled out by government agencies alongside NGOs and other organisations. In Ethiopia, Lake Tesfaw, a Programme Coordinator for local NGO the Amhara Women’s Association, stated that ‘As different local NGO’s work in humanitarian action, the handbook is important to ensuring gender equality in all emergency responses.’

It was generally felt that parts one and two of the handbook were strong, but would benefit from slight revisions, particularly the addition of more case studies to provide a deeper practical context. For part three, interestingly, the criticisms which came through most frequently in Ethiopia were also repeated in Afghanistan, such as a desire for a translation into local languages to make the information easier to digest for field level staff, and to achieve a greater balance between the technical and gender elements of the handbook.

Next steps

Over the course of the next two months the handbook will undergo a final revision process. For the next phase of the project three separate in country trainings on the use of the handbook will be carried out globally, with the countries yet to be decided; an online learning platform is also being developed to accompany the launch of the handbook later this year.

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Corrie Sissons