• There has been a sharp rise in the need for humanitarian aid due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with other challenges such as conflict and climate change.
  • Crises tend to disproportionately affect women and girls due to the impact on health care, education and greater gender-based violence.
  • By combining gender-informed approaches with public-private partnerships, it is possible to better address the impact of humanitarian crises on women and girls.

More people around the world are facing humanitarian crises than ever before. An estimated 274 million people will need humanitarian aid in 2022, according to The United Nations Office for Coordination in Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). While challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, violent conflicts, forced displacement and climate change affect humanity on a widespread scale, they disproportionately impact the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. They also highlight and compound existing gender health inequalities.

Humanitarian crises over the past two years have created higher barriers for women and girls to receive necessary health care, gender-based violence has risen and educational opportunities have decreased. As a result, the world needs humanitarian action that is directly informed by women and girls and leverages the power of public-private partnerships. Such action is vital because women form the backbone of families, communities and economies worldwide.

Humanitarian crises around the world

The significant rise in the need for humanitarian aid is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic stands alone as a crisis, it also exacerbates co-existing crises.

Some of the most severe humanitarian crises exist in Africa, the Middle East and South America:

  • There is conflict in Northern Ethiopia while the Horn of Africa deals with food insecurity and malnutrition from a historically long drought and desert locust infestation.
  • Refugees flock to Sudan, which is also suffering the impacts of flood and famine, in addition to political insecurity.
  • Drought conditions are also affecting Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. In addition, these countries struggle with economic crisis, political instability and conflict. Food insecurity in Afghanistan is also on the brink of famine.
  • The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been living with long-term, complex crises. These include food insecurity, violent conflict and repeated epidemics, in addition to COVID-19. As a result, the country is experiencing mass forced displacement.
  • More than 20% of Venezuelans – nearly 6 million people – have experienced forced displacement because of violence and economic and food instability.
  • We have also watched in real time as a humanitarian crisis has developed in the Ukraine, causing forced displacement, a health crisis and food and economic instability. Almost 13 million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes due to the invasion of the country earlier this year.

The disruption of health care services

Women and girls around the world face barriers to accessing quality health care even in the absence of a humanitarian crisis. This is especially true of those living in rural and low-income areas. The COVID-19 pandemic and other humanitarian crises greatly increase those barriers.

One barrier is the scarcity of quality health care services. According to OCHA, mothers and children are most at risk where there are diminishing health care services. The World Health Organization reports that in 2021 approximately 90% of countries had disruptions to basic health services. Specifically, the International Rescue Committee expects crises to cause over 90% of Afghanistan’s health clinics to close.

Humanitarian crises interrupt the provision and usage of sexual and reproductive health care and information leaving women and girls vulnerable, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). It has found that maternal deaths in 35 countries facing humanitarian crisis or fragile conditions represent around 61% of all maternal deaths globally. This means that maternal mortality in these countries was 1.9 times higher than the global estimate.

The rise of gender-based violence

Gender-based violence is referred to as a “shadow pandemic” – most recently in relation to its increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. While people were confined to their homes, preventive, protective and responsive services were discontinued or more difficult to use.

This is shadow pandemic also occurs during other humanitarian crises. Specifically, an increase of gender-based violence has been noted during natural disasters and it is also used as a weapon of war.

The education of girls and young women

When schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and children and young adults were sent home to isolate, education advocates were concerned about the impact on girls’ health and well-being. School provides a safe and healthy environment for many children. Education is also an important element in women’s and girls’ economic empowerment, autonomy and even long-term health.

There was also concern about how many girls would return to school after lockdowns. According to OCHA, 127 million children of primary and secondary age in crisis-impacted areas were not attending school before the pandemic caused schools to close. UNICEF estimates that boys are more likely to return to school across Eastern and Southern Africa following the worst of COVID-19 – while 11 million girls may never return to school according to UNESCO. More data needs to be collected now that most countries have reopened schools.

How is the World Economic Forum helping to improve humanitarian assistance?

Fragility and conflict in one country often has consequences around the world. This has been evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous climate emergencies as well as the war in Ukraine and the ensuing refugee crisis. Regions affected by conflict are particularly vulnerable to the devastating impacts of these crises.

Urgent relief, supported by public-private partnerships, remains necessary in acute crises but it is essential those efforts are supplemented by long-term investments that help affected communities recover and rebuild.

The World Economic Forum is working with partners to identify and scale solutions in fragile parts of the world. The Humanitarian and Resilience Investing (HRI) Initiative seeks to unlock private capital so it flows into financially sustainable opportunities that benefit vulnerable communities. The Global Future Council on the New Agenda for Fragility and Resilience provides guidance to humanitarian and development actors as well as the private sector to improve support to local actors and facilitate responses that strengthen community resilience.

To learn more and get involved in initiatives that are improving millions of lives, contact us.

How to aid recovery

Humanitarian action is increasingly led and informed by the voices of women and girls. As more women and girls experience a humanitarian crisis and the equality gap widens, it is imperative that this gender-informed approach continues to grow in order to change the gender dynamic, policies, and the distribution of resources. This also helps ensure that women are protected and their leadership is supported.

Finally, including public-private partnerships in recovery efforts brings the combination of cross-sectoral knowledge, expertise and resources. The UN recognises the power of private sector engagement in humanitarian efforts. Combining gender-informed approaches with public-private partnerships brings together two powerful models to tackle the impact of humanitarian crises.

Healthy women and girls support the well-being and productivity of their families, communities and countries. This causes a ripple effect that benefits all.