GBV interventions in humanitarian action: A guideline for South Africa?

GBV interventions in humanitarian action: A guideline for South Africa? – Blog

Given the lack of political will to reduce GBV in South Africa, the UN guidelines on GBV interventions in humanitarian action may be useful for revitalising support around new and innovative strategies for confronting GBV. <em>[Photo: Sonke Gender Justice]</em>

Given the lack of political will to reduce GBV in South Africa, the UN guidelines on GBV interventions in humanitarian action may be useful for revitalising support around new and innovative strategies for confronting GBV. [Photo: Sonke Gender Justice]

In 2015, an inter-agency task team managed by UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) revised the 2005 Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action (GBV Guidelines).

These provide guidance to humanitarian agencies and communities affected by armed conflict, natural disasters and other humanitarian crises on how to effectively ‘coordinate, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate essential actions for the prevention and mitigation of gender-based violence’.

Programmers – i.e. people and agencies that are positioned to integrate prevention and mitigation strategies into interventions – are the target audience for the Guidelines; however, the Guidelines can also serve as a useful resource and advocacy tool for government.

South Africa may not qualify as a state in ‘humanitarian crisis’, but it nevertheless experiences many of the challenges countries dealing with armed conflict, natural disaster, or other types of emergencies face.

Exacerbating factors and root causes for GBV

As with other crime and violence prevention interventions, the Guidelines are based, in part, on the ecological model which emphasises the importance of addressing contributing factors at the societal, community, relationship and family levels.

Additionally, the Guidelines make the important differentiation between exacerbating factors and underlying causes of GBV, and state that GBV originates in ‘attitudes, beliefs, norms and structures that promote and/or condone gender-based discrimination and unequal power’, which are not only apparent in times of emergency, but also in times of stability.

By connecting GBV to its roots in gender discrimination and inequality, the Guidelines not only aim to address the immediate needs of affected communities, but also seek to initiate social and cultural transformation by involving women and girls, as well as men and boys, in community-based groups and advocating for the rights of all affected populations.

The Guidelines describe these challenges as factors exacerbating GBV, which includes the following:

  • a lack of community and/or state protections,
  • increased militarisation,
  • limited resources,
  • disruptions in service delivery,
  • growing numbers of displaced persons,
  • poor infrastructure, and
  • changing norms around culture and gender.

Communities across South Africa are characterised by these conditions, making South Africa a country where GBV is easy to thrive, and difficult to stop.

Revitalising strategies to reduce GBV

Given the lack of political will to reduce GBV in South Africa, the GBV Guidelines may be useful for revitalising support around the development of new and innovative strategies for confronting GBV.

The GBV Guidelines are structured into three parts and aim to support stakeholders through each phase of the humanitarian response by:

  1. Reducing risk of GBV through implementation of prevention and mitigation strategies, ranging from pre-emergency through the recovery stages of humanitarian action;
  2. Promoting resilience through strengthening national and community-based systems that prevent and reduce the impact of GBV, and by enabling survivors and those vulnerable to GBV to access services and support; and
  3. Aiding recovery of communities and societies affected by humanitarian crises by increasing capacity at both a local and national level to create sustainable solutions to the problem of GBV.

Although the Guidelines are structured according to each phase of response, the Guidelines, much like South Africa’s 2016 White Paper on Safety and Security, promote an integrated approach, and encourage actors to become familiar with the content of all thematic areas to ensure cross-sectoral coordination and collaboration.

Similarly, the Guidelines also encourage broad-based interventions to address the risk factors contributing to GBV, and emphasise the importance of contextualising programmes and interventions to meet the needs of a specific setting, demographic and form of GBV.

Essential actions for GBV prevention

In addition to establishing standards and principles for GBV programming, the Guidelines provide a list of ‘Essential Actions to be Undertaken by Key Actors’. Such key actors include government, amongst others.

Resource Mobilisation, which has been identified as an essential action, ‘promotes the integration of elements related to GBV prevention and mitigation (and, for some sectors, response services for survivors) when mobilising supplies and human and financial resources’.

In this regard, mobilising resources is not limited to the solicitation of funds, but includes human resource capacity and the provision of other critical resources, such as materials, equipment, and other incidental costs.

Therefore, when planning for and implementing GBV programmes, the 2015 Guidelines call on government to:

  • Emphasise the importance of ensuring sufficient resources for GBV, which includes targeted programmes, prevention and mitigation interventions and inter-sectoral coordination;
  • Ensure that initial GBV assessment reports, which determine funding priorities, include information and data on incidents, risk groups (victims and perpetrators), hot-spot areas, existing services, responses, etc.; and  
  • Confirm that the policies, programmes and plans across different sectors address GBV concerns, and provide adequate budgeting and resources for GBV-related programmes and activities.

Lessons for South Africa: Provide adequate resources

Accordingly, the South African government can refer to the 2015 GBV Guidelines for guidance when planning GBV-related interventions, specifically when it comes to ensuring the provision of adequate resources.

Often times, government develops comprehensive frameworks for addressing GBV, but neglects to assess the costing and capacity requirements for successful operationalisation, which is often the reason why programmes fall short on implementation. Although the lack of progress can be discouraging, it is critical to stay committed to reducing GBV, and to remain engaged in efforts to develop more innovative and effective strategies.

Even though the 2015 GBV Guidelines are not specifically directed at countries like South Africa, the principles and standards contained therein can provide countries suffering from high levels of GBV with the tools to develop more comprehensive and innovative strategies to reduce this form of violence.