How can we strengthen law and policy to combat sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises? This was the key question when the European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Humanitarian Aid, Enrique Guerrero Salom, and the Red Cross hosted thematic discussions at the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU on 7 November.

“Freedom from violence is essential for upholding women’s and girls’ human rights,” began Helena Lagerlöf, Minister Counsellor at Sweden’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels, at the meeting, which included discussions on the theme of stopping violence against women and promoting gender equality in humanitarian crises. The Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU, the European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Humanitarian Aid, Enrique Guerrero Salom, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) hosted the event. Alongside Ms Lagerlöf and Mr Guerrero Salom, Director of the Red Cross EU Office Denis Haveaux also welcomed the guests to the event and highlighted how important it is that humanitarian organisations address gender equality issues in their own organisations.

The IFRC recently completed a major Sida-funded research project on the role of law and policy in strengthening gender equality and curbing violence against women. IFRC Senior Legislative Advocacy Officer Lucia Cipullo presented the project and explained that the results of investigations, interviews and case studies showed that there are links missing between law and policy on disaster risk management, and gender equality and sexual and gender-based violence. These results give pause for thought and suggest a need for further analysis.

“Sexual and gender-based violence is the most blatant and brutal denial of humanity,” said the meeting’s main speaker, Jean-Louis de Brouwer, Director at the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Operations. He spoke about how important this issue is for humanitarian aid, and about the EU’s priorities as the new leader of the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-based Violence in emergencies, an initiative that Sweden and the UK launched in 2013 to change and improve accountability in humanitarian crises. In her presentation about the IFRC perspective on gender equality and sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises, Hanna Persson, Gender and Diversity Advisor at the Swedish Red Cross, also emphasised the great potential for the EU to support countries to improve their gender equality work. By contrast, Dagmar Schumacher, Director of the UN Women Brussels Office, spoke about why combating violence against women and girls is so important at local level – they are key figures in ensuring that communities can prepare for, alleviate and recover from disasters.

In his closing address, Enrique Guerrero Salom touched on the international commitments to combat sexual and gender-based violence made by countries and the IFRC. He also emphasised the importance of the IFRC’s research project as a means of highlighting how law and policy are important tools in creating effective humanitarian crisis efforts.