Introducing the new Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action

Tess Dico-Young Gender, Humanitarian, Refugees and IDPs

For World Humanitarian Day Tess Dico-Young reflects on the process of producing the new, improved, IASC Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action.

Participants in the Gender Handbook training in Bangladesh present their poster on the role of gender transformative coordination. Credit: Jack Jennings/Oxfam

Participants in the Gender Handbook training in Bangladesh present their poster on the role of gender transformative coordination. Credit: Jack Jennings/Oxfam

Huge shifts have occurred in the humanitarian sector and humanitarian programme cycles over the past twelve years, including in standards and expectations for the integration of gender equality. Which is why, under the leadership of UN Women, and with funding from ECHO,  the IASC Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action has been updated.

The revised handbook has been developed through a process of extensive consultation at global and field levels, and it is designed to offer pragmatic guidance on how to integrate gender across all phases of the programme cycle. Enriched by inputs from global clusters, UN agencies, and field level consultations in Colombia, South Sudan, Jordan, Nepal, Ethiopia and Afghanistan, the handbook promises to be a powerful tool for all actors engaged in the advancement of gender equality in humanitarian action.

The handbook and accompanying e-learning and training materials, provide practical guidance on how to mainstream gender equality throughout the assessment, planning, resource mobilization, implementation and monitoring stages of the humanitarian programme cycle. Divided into three sections (A, B, and C), the first two cover the why and how of integrating gender into humanitarian action, while the third takes a sectoral approach, covering each humanitarian sector in detail and providing specific guidance appropriate to that sector. This holistic approach ensures that throughout the entire humanitarian programme cycle, there is clear guidance in the integration of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

This year we’ve also rolled out training on the use of the handbook in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Malawi and Sierra Leone. These training sessions were designed to support humanitarian practitioners to improve the integration of gender equality into ongoing humanitarian responses. In Bangladesh, the training came at the perfect time. Simon Opolot, Senior GenCap Adviser in Cox’s Bazar, stated: “the handbook begins by showing the relevance of addressing gender equality in humanitarian work and goes on to needs assessments and gender analysis, strategic planning, and other applications. This is critically relevant.”

After training in Bangladesh and in Ethiopia there were positive developments on the ground. For example in Gambella in Ethiopia, the participants in the  handbook training clearly understood that ensuring gender equality is the responsibility of all humanitarian practitioners; as a result the  refugee response in Gambella strengthened its link to the gender and protection working group. In Oxfam, a monitoring team was established to ensure that privacy and dignity were afforded for the refugees, and a water committee which promotes women’s leadership has been set up. In community engagement the staff are asking more in depth questions on gender norms and relations.

In the Rohingya Response in Bangladesh, participants in the training worked hard to apply and pass on their knowledge to different stakeholders. The handbook proving a useful tool in the following areas:

  • Rohingya refugee women and men participated in the training and explored gender relations in their own lives. Their understanding of sexual violence, abuse and reporting mechanisms was strengthened.
  • Gender related issues and concerns are being reviewed regularly by humanitarian agencies.

In April the handbook was launched in Geneva co-hosted by the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC), ECHO, and UN Women. The launch showcased this practical tool for humanitarian workers across the world and highlighted concrete examples of opportunities, challenges, and best practices in the empowerment of women and girls in humanitarian action and crisis response.

According to UN Women’s Humanitarian Strategy 2014-2017: ‘In the absence of dedicated and systematic institutional coordination and leadership on gender equality and women’s empowerment, humanitarian action will continue to fail women and girls.’ I hope that the revised gender handbook will contribute to making this change happen. We know that while the content of the handbook is critically relevant if we are to ensure gender transformative approaches to humanitarian action, so too are awareness and familiarity with it, and the ability of humanitarian actors to use it.

Download the Gender in Humanitarian Action Handbook Access the e-learning Access the handbook training materials


Thanks to Jack Jennings, former Oxfam Project Support Officer, for his contribution to this blog post and support of the project.


Stephen Porter