Image by UN Women/Christopher Herwig
  • Report
  • 19 March 2020

Gender-based violence and the nexus: global lessons from the Syria crisis response for financing, policy and practice: Chapter 1



There is growing recognition that humanitarian, development and peacebuilding efforts are complementary and need to reinforce each other in fragile states and protracted crises. The commitment to joined-up approaches between humanitarian and development donors and aid agencies is reflected in numerous policy commitments, including the 2016 Grand Bargain commitments to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian aid and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) recommendation on the triple humanitarian–development–peace nexus in 2020.[1]

While there is considerable momentum behind the triple nexus, and several recent studies explore what this means in theory and practice,[2] one area that is particularly relevant yet unexplored is how nexus approaches can help to address gaps in the international system’s response to gender-based violence (GBV) in crisis contexts. GBV is pervasive in times of peace, exacerbated by crisis conditions including displacement, and during conflict sexual violence is used as a deliberate method of warfare. GBV is a concern across crisis and development settings and an issue for which bridging between humanitarian and development assistance is especially important. For example, humanitarian agencies recognise that it is essential to build trust in order for survivors to come forward, link with national authorities delivering legal, health and other social services, and provide continuity of care. There is a risk of causing harm if GBV case management is disrupted or if women are forced to return to situations where they are subjected to further abuse.

The Syria crisis has been an important driver of the nexus agenda internationally. Nine years into the conflict, over 5.6 million refugees are registered in neighbouring countries and an estimated 6 million people are displaced within the Syria.[3] The sheer scale of the refugee crisis, its protracted nature, and its potential to destabilise the region with repercussions for Europe, demands an approach that goes beyond short-term humanitarian assistance. The regional refugee response has been at the forefront of efforts to link humanitarian and development approaches in order to deal with immediate needs while also strengthening national systems critical to coping with the refugee influx. Furthermore, sexual violence has been a systematic war tactic within Syria – and a key issue motivating families to flee – and GBV in its wider manifestations, including child marriage and family violence, is a pervasive concern among Syrian refugees, intensified by conditions during displacement.

This study analyses how humanitarian and development actors each approach GBV prevention and response – and the areas of connectivity – considering policy, financing and coordination. While recognising the triple nexus, it focuses primarily on the dual humanitarian–development nexus with peace integrated into this, rather than treated as a third and separate set of actors (see Appendix 2 on terminology).[4] It includes a case study of the regional response to the Syria refugee crisis in which humanitarian–development partnerships have been piloted and GBV is a priority. Drawing on this case study, it makes recommendations for how humanitarian and development actors can together provide a coherent response to GBV in crisis situations. This report is based on a review of publicly available data, policy guidance and reports and interviews with UN agencies, donors international NGOs and women’s organisations working on GBV as part of the regional Syria response. It is intended to inform humanitarian and development donors and agencies working on GBV as well as those interested in the nexus more broadly.


  • 4
    There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the implications of adding ‘peace’ as a third pillar in the well-established humanitarian–development nexus are still somewhat unclear, both conceptually and in practice. Secondly, the humanitarian–development dimension has been the most central to the regional Syria response. Although peace is not a third and separate set of actors and interventions in the way implied by the OECD DAC recommendation, efforts to strengthen social cohesion and stabilise the region (by mitigating potential tensions between refugees and host communities and supporting national systems to cope with the crisis) are integral to the way in which the humanitarian–development nexus has been put into practice in the Syria context.
    Return to source text