SGBV and Conflict

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is present in communities before a crisis hits, but risks and vulnerability to SGBV increase during emergencies and their aftermath. In a crisis context where the security, political, social, economic and environmental contexts are fragile, individuals are at higher risk of violence. SGBV may be perpetrated by anyone, including family members, armed groups, humanitarian actors, and individuals from host communities or refugee/IDP communities.

Those in positions of authority, such as the police, security officials, community leaders, teachers, employers, landlords and humanitarian workers, may abuse their power. Changed social and gender roles or responsibilities, as well as the stresses of displacement, can cause or exacerbate tensions within the household, resulting in domestic violence. Economic stress and insecurity can increase negative coping mechanisms, such as survival sex and early or forced marriage, and increase vulnerability to trafficking. During armed conflict, sexual violence may often be used as a weapon of war.

Preventing and responding to SGBV is life-saving, and is therefore a vital component of protection in any humanitarian response.

Our response to SGBV in a crisis context

Direct SGBV interventions can focus on:

  • Providing access to appropriate medical, legal, psychosocial services for survivors or supplying information on how to access available services (referral pathways)
  • Sharing key messages on safety for women and girls in the community
  • Prevention activities promoting gender equality
  • Addressing social stigma, which is a key barrier to survivors accessing services
  • Creating safe spaces for women to gather and discuss issues affecting them; establishing mechanisms where violence can be reported and addressed.

We must also ensure integrated interventions: emergency responses across all sectors should be designed to ensure prevention of SGBV, and all humanitarian staff should respect codes of conduct in prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.

There are numerous international standards and guidelines to support the mainstreaming and integration of SGBV prevention and ensure minimum standards during emergencies. These include:

IASC Guidelines on SGBV in humanitarian action

IASC Operational guidelines on the protection of persons in situations of natural disasters

UNFPA Minimum standards for prevention and response to GBV in emergencies

What is the role of faith groups?

Faith leaders are key local opinion leaders, and faith groups are present even in remote, conflict-affected or displaced communities, which government and other agencies find hard to reach. In a crisis, churches and mosques often become places of refuge, and in practice faith leaders are often the first responders.

Lack of knowledge or capacity, taboos and harmful beliefs among these leaders can mean they are unable to engage positively in SGBV issues. In particular, they may be reluctant to discuss sexual issues, and may in fact contribute to or condone harmful beliefs that are a key root cause of SGBV. Lack of understanding also hampers many humanitarian agencies’ engagement with faith groups, limiting effective coordinated prevention responses at community level.

When meaningfully engaged, faith groups can have a great impact on SGBV prevention in conflict-affected communities.


Rethinking relationships - front coverRethinking relationships: Moving from violence to equality (PDF 608 KB)
This report presents the full findings of the endline survey undertaken across 15 communities in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo about faith, gender norms and SGBV in conflict-affected communities.
This resource also exists as an evidence brief (PDF 673 KB)

Does faith matter front coverDoes faith matter? (PDF 505 KB)
This report provides key findings of a baseline survey undertaken across 15 communities in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo about faith, gender norms and SGBV in conflict affected communities. Also available in French (PDF 537 KB.
This resource also exists as a Policy Brief (PDF 335 KB) and is also available in French (PDF 799 KB)

Who can we turn to front coverWho can I turn to? (PDF 468 KB)
This report provides an insight into mapping social connections, trust and problem-solving among conflict-affected populations in Iraq. This report also exists as a Policy Brief (PDF 473 KB)

Footsteps 106 front coverFootsteps 106
A special edition of the magazine that explores how we can end sexual and gender-based violence and provide holistic support to survivors.