Women’s leadership in humanitarian crisis – why does it matter?
Women and girls are hardest hit by conflict and disasters - and in ways that differ from men. For instance, pregnant women and girls have specific healthcare needs which often go unaddressed during humanitarian crises. Women are also often the first to respond to meet the needs of their families and communities.
Despite this, women affected by crisis often have little or no influence over the design and delivery of humanitarian assistance. This matters because women have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. It also matters because, without women’s participation, humanitarian assistance often does not meet women and girls’ needs.
From menstrual hygiene to the heightened risk of sexual violence during crisis, if women are not heard on issues which impact them specifically, it’s likely that the services designed by humanitarian actors will fail to address them. Instead, they can reinforce gender inequalities and cause harm.
Women Lead in Emergencies: Breaking down barriers to women’s participation
CARE's Women Lead in Emergencies approach (Women Lead) shifts power and resources directly to women in communities affected by crisis and supporting them to overcome barriers to their participation in humanitarian decision-making.
Women Lead does not prescribe what ‘success’ looks like, but rather asks members of each Women Lead group to define what they want to see from the programme. This means women can choose to focus on what matters most to them. CARE’s Women Lead teams and partners support them to achieve those goals.
Some of the areas Women Lead groups have chosen to focus on include:
- Starting small businesses to make an extra income, if not having enough money is restricting their ability to participate in decision-making.
- Providing psychosocial support to victims of trauma, and working with couples to address issues of violence against women and girls in the household.
- Strengthening the skills they feel are necessary to engage in humanitarian decision making, such as literacy or public speaking.
- Engaging directly with government and humanitarian agencies to improve access to essential services and assistance.
Having the flexibility to focus on any of these areas means Women Lead groups can lay the foundations to meaningfully, and confidently, participate in community decision-making. It also enables them to take action to solve problems and meet their and their communities' needs.
The refugee women campaigning to be heard in decision-making
Women Lead members in Omugo decided they wanted to play an active role in the camp’s decision-making by running for election on the Refugee Welfare Council. Watch the video below to hear from Selwa Alice and other candidates about why they wanted to stand for election, and the change they wanted to see as a result.
What do we know about the Women Lead approach?
A global evaluation of Women Lead's impact across 15 locations showed:
More women are confident in their rights
In Niger, 88% of Women Lead members felt confident that they understood their rights and entitlements compared to only 58% of non-members.
More women participate in public meetings
In both Niger and Uganda, Women Lead members were more likely to speak in public meetings than non-members (77% to 49% in Niger and 83% to 73% in Uganda).
More women lead
In Niger, Women Lead members were more likely to hold leadership positions than non-members (31% to 9%).
Supporting women in emergencies
From 2020–2023 the Women Lead approach has been used in CARE programmes across 22 countries, from conflict zones to long-term protracted crises.
When you support CARE's work, you are supporting a woman's right to make decisions about their lives, and empowering women to lead their communities through crisis.