What is the Gender-based Violence Area of Responsibility?

The Gender-Based Violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR) is the global level forum for coordinating prevention and response to GBV in humanitarian settings. The group brings together NGOs, UN agencies, academics and others under the shared objectives of ensuring more predictable, accountable and effective approaches to GBV prevention and response. Established in 2008, the GBV AoR is one of four functional components of the Global Protection Cluster, known as “areas of responsibility”. The GBV AoR is co-led at the global level by UNFPA and UNICEF.

What is gender-based violence?

The IASC Guidelines on Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings (2005) describe GBV as “an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will, and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between males and females” (p. 7).  While the IASC definition reinforces the view that women and girls are the primary victims of GBV because of their subordinate status vis a vis men and boys worldwide, it reflects a broader conceptualization of the term insofar as it suggests that men and boys may be victims of violence that is based on socially determined roles, expectations and behaviours linked to ideas about masculinity.

Following from the IASC definition, the majority of work of the GBV AoR and its partners prioritises the problem of violence against women and girls.  However, a focus on women and girls does not suggest that efforts should exclude men and boys.  Rather, prioritising women and girls underscores the fact that the GBV AoR and its partners are committed to bringing greater attention to and ensuring greater accountability for the global problem of violence against women and girls in humanitarian contexts.

In the early stages of humanitarian emergencies, sexual violence and intimate partner violence are often the most common forms of GBV.  In some contexts, sexual violence may be used as a tool of war. Other forms of GBV that can emerge in humanitarian settings include trafficking, forced and/or coerced prostitution, and harmful practices such as forced or child marriage, honor killing, widow inheritance and female genital mutilation.

Why is it critical to address gender-based violence from the start of a humanitarian response?


During emergencies, systems of protection are weakened and disrupted, and forced displacement and separation of families and communities place women and girls at increased risk of multiple forms of GBV.  Addressing GBV from the earliest stages of any emergency is a basic life-saving and protection issue.  Taking appropriate action will contribute to survival strategies of the affected population.

Whether or not reliable data exists – and keeping in mind that any available data about GBV will represent only a very small proportion of the actual number of incidents – all sectors and actors (including Donors and Senior Humanitarian leadership) should be aware that urgent action and dedicated human and financial resources are required, not only to address GBV in the emergency, but also to ensure sustainable solutions for individuals, families, communities and societies recovering from humanitarian crises.

How does the AOR carry out its mission?

In line with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on GBV, the GBV AoR works to promote a comprehensive and coordinated approach to GBV at the field level, including prevention, care, support, recovery, and holding perpetrators accountable.  The GBV AoR accomplishes this through four areas of work:

  • Supporting field operations
  • Building knowledge and capacity
  • Setting norms and standards
  • Advocating for increased action and accountability at global and local levels

Recognising that no one body can effectively address the myriad elements of a comprehensive GBV prevention and response strategy, the GBV AoR is premised on the understanding that all clusters can and must take action to address GBV.  GBV AoR members participate in and collaborate with other cluster lead agencies and Humanitarian Country Teams/ Resident Coordinators to ensure that protection considerations are mainstreamed in the humanitarian response and linked with other cross-cutting issues (e.g. Gender, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, Age, Diversity and Disability).

Who can be a member?


The GBV AoR is a membership group.  In the spirit of inclusiveness, any global organisation working on GBV Prevention and Response in humanitarian settings is able to join. This includes operational agencies, coalitions, advocacy organisations, donors, academic institutions and individual consultants.

There are two levels of organised engagement with the GBV AoR: membership and association. Membership is only open to organisations, not individuals, and requires a letter of commitment from a director within the organization. Association is open to organisations and individuals, without any formal procedure, and does not entail any explicit commitments.

Any person or organisation is welcome to make use of the resources of this website, regardless of affiliation or non-affiliation with the GBV AoR.


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