IHL and Our Response to Humanitarian Needs: A Commonwealth Perspective: Joint pledge on sexual violence, particularly in armed conflict

Laura Howieson, Policy Officer, Humanitarian Policy and Partnerships, Department of Foriegn Affairs and Trade (E: Laura.Howieson@dfat.gov.au)


Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2012-2018) outlines what the Australian Government will do at home and overseas to integrate a gender perspective into its peace and security efforts. Amongst other activities, Australia is a key supporter of UN Women’s Global Facility on Women, Peace and Security, having contributed AUD 6 million since March 2015. This included AUD 1.5 million seed funding for the Global Acceleration Instrument on Women, Peace and Security (GAI). Australian support for the GAI has since been raised to AUD 5.5 million.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has a zero tolerance of all forms of SGBV and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA). The ADF recognises that SGBV is used as a weapon of war and therefore, needs to be prevented and countered like any other threat. All ADF members are trained on the types of SGBV they may encounter on operations, how to respond and their mandatory reporting requirements. Deployed ADF Gender Advisors assist Missions, e.g UNMISS, in taking actions and training other Australian and international forces in preventing SGBV and SEA within conflict zones.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) released its Humanitarian Strategy in May 2016, which drives action and accountability on gender-based violence (GBV) and gender equality in humanitarian service delivery.

At the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), the Australian Government reaffirmed its commitment to the Call to Action on Protection from GBV in Emergencies, and encouraged other states to join. Australian made relevant commitments at the WHS, including to implement a coordinated global approach to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. Australia also participated in relevant WHS events, such as the Leaders’ Roundtable on Women and Girls.

The Australian Government has provided AUD 6.151 million to the ICRC’s Special Appeal on Strengthening the Response to Sexual Violence since 2014. The ICRC’s activities encompass providing victims with assistance, such as medical, psychological and social care and other forms of appropriate support, protecting all those vulnerable to violations, and raising awareness to prevent further violence.

The Australian Government has provided ongoing support to our partner, the Women’s Refugee Commission, to undertake relevant needs assessments and analyses to support consideration of GBV and gender equality into humanitarian responses.

The Australian Government has supported the GBV Area of Responsibility (AoR) to promote coordination and collaboration on GBV prevention and response within the Humanitarian Cluster system. For example, Australia provided AUD 400,000 to GBV AoR in 2015-16.

In February 2017, the Australian Government announced its third phase of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Program in Crisis and Post-Crisis Settings (SPRINT), delivered by the International Planned Parenthood Federation. SPRINT focuses on SRH-related emergency preparedness and works to increase integration of the Minimum Initial Services Package for Reproductive Health (MISP) for reproductive health into national humanitarian responses. The MISP is a set of priority activities to be implemented during the onset of an emergency (conflict or natural disaster) to save lives and prevent illness, especially among women and girls. A major objective of the MISP is to prevent and manage the consequences of sexual and gender based violence. Since 2007, Australia has committed AUD 26.3 million to the SPRINT initiative.

In 2016, the Australian Government committed to providing UNFPA with AUD 3 million in dedicated humanitarian funding for the prepositioning of sexual and reproductive health and gender based violence commodities across identified disaster prone countries in the Asia Pacific region, for rapid distribution in the event of humanitarian crises. Depending on local needs, commodities may include dignity kits (hygiene items, items for protection such as torches and whistles, sanitary supplies, clothes), reproductive health kits, tents and equipment necessary for maternity/delivery facilities, and safe spaces for women and girls.

The Australian Government has been increasing its support (through UNFPA – AUD 6.5 million in 2016-17) to deliver essential sexual reproductive health and GBV and protection services to women and girls in protracted crises in Iraq, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

The Australian Government has also provided AUD 1 million annually in softly earmarked funds to support the implementation of UNHCR’s Action against Sexual and Gender-based Violence Strategy.

Australia continues its international advocacy on ending sexual and gender based violence in conflicts and emergencies. We made several statements to the UNSC in the reporting period.

Worldwide, there remain cultural barriers to recognizing and addressing GBV. The Australian Government is seeking to form coalitions of like-minded actors to increase momentum for action.