OCHA Women and Men: Working Towards Gender Equality
Turning policy into practice is one of the greatest challenges
of institution building and engagement—from UN mandates to
municipal laws and local customs—and gender is one of the
areas where we at OCHA are working to turn policy into practice.
Gender mainstreaming and gender balance are the two major pillars
in reaching gender equality. Gender balance strives for equal numbers
of men and women on OCHA staff and ensuring equal participation
of women and men in various areas of OCHA’s work, such as
in training opportunities, participation in deployments, and on
needs assessments and contingency planning exercises. Gender mainstreaming
works towards ensuring that the needs, concerns and contributions
women and men, boys and girls are fully and equally addressed in
all of our humanitarian actions.
Why is having equal numbers of men and women at OCHA important?
Women and men bring different beliefs, values, ways of thinking
and other socially and culturally derived attributes to their jobs.
They can also access and have dialogue with men and women in different
ways, whether they are displaced populations, local leaders or national
authorities. Such access is crucial for getting the complete picture
of a situation and ensuring that humanitarian aid is equally available
to all members of the affected population. For example, in certain
cultural situations a man may be better placed to speak with a warlord
while it is almost always advisable for a properly trained woman
to speak with a female survivor of sexual violence.
The benefits of gender balance have been recognized at the highest
policy levels of the UN, with the Secretary-General setting a goal
of 50/50 gender distribution in the UN and reporting annually to
the General Assembly on progress made. In 2003, the General Assembly
expressed concern that there had been a slowing of progress towards
achieving equal representation of women in the professional and
higher levels. By mid-June 2005, 37.1 percent of UN professional
staff were women.
OCHA has made major strides in the equal representation of women
and men and women now represent 50.3 percent of all OCHA staff.
At the professional level, 40.5 percent of OCHA professional posts
are held by women, with parity between men and women achieved at
both headquarters. Delving into the issue a bit further, however,
one finds that gender balance at the field level reaches only 31
percent of professional posts being held by women, and that the
higher up the professional ladder one looks the less balanced the
The issue of access to opportunities for training and field deployments
is another important part of the picture. While all professional
staff have access to training opportunities, women have taken less
advantage of advanced training than male staff. A 2005 study found
that while 50 percent of OCHA men at the P4 level and above have
taken OHRM offered management training, only 26 percent of OCHA
women staff have taken it. Anecdotal information indicates that
they are “too busy” to fit the training into their hectic
schedules. The deployment of staff on assessment missions also is
more often male dominated.
Another key aspect of gender equality is the work OCHA does to
ensure men and women are more equally represented in substantive
areas of work. For example, for many years OCHA
has encouraged an increase in the number of women as active members
of UNDAC national teams. Member States have been encouraged to nominate
more women for training as well as for deployment. As a member of
OCHA’s FCSS team notes, having a mixed group of women and
men on UNDAC teams is preferable as each brings a different perspective
to the task. As of July 2005, however, seventy-nine percent of UNDAC
national members are men. Examining the regional breakdown, the
Pacific and Americas regions have the highest percentage of women
with 26 percent and 25 percent respectively. Asia, Europe and Africa
have 22, 18 and 13 percent respectively. Efforts will continue to
encourage Member States to increase the representation of women
in UNDAC training and UNDAC deployments. Strengthening the content
of UNDAC training from a gender perspective is planned for 2006.
Turning now to the issue of gender mainstreaming, OCHA employed
its first senior gender adviser in 2005 and reissued its policy
on gender equality. A review of the achievements in the implementation
of OCHA’s 2005 action plan on gender was undertaken and a
plan for 2006 was developed. A network of OCHA gender focal points
was initiated and a gender toolkit was compiled to support OCHA’s
implementation of its policy. All of these documents can be found
on the new OCHA Online Gender Equality homepage.
OCHA’s gender adviser, working in tandem with the co-chair
WHO, increased support to the IASC Taskforce on Gender and Humanitarian
Assistance, which produced the IASC Guidelines for Gender-based
Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings. Humanitarian Coordinators
will be called upon to provide oversight to the implementation of
The Taskforce, spearheaded by OCHA, is now developing along with
the cluster working groups a handbook, accompanied by a CD-Rom,
on how to mainstream gender in humanitarian situations. Surprisingly,
this tool is the first of its kind and will provide actors in the
field with guidance on gender analysis, key actions to ensure that
the needs, roles and responsibilities of men, women, girls and boys
are considered in all aspects of response, and indicators of success
in easy-to-use checklist formats. The guidelines will focus on the
main sectors and issues in the early response phase of emergencies.
As stressed by the ERC in his launch of the OCHA policy on gender
equality, “promoting the goal of gender equality is an important
and shared responsibility of all OCHA staff”. Ensuring that
OCHA and the work OCHA supports has a face that includes both women
and men is an important part of this shared responsibility.