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The purpose of this research is to understand the broader context of the humanitarian response to COVID-19 from the perspective of women’s rights organizations (WROs) and to understand how well Oxfam has upheld local humanitarian leadership (LHL) commitments in relation to its partnerships with WROs. From the literature, as well as from Oxfam’s experience in Colombia, Iraq, and Kenya, it is evident that WROs have been key figures in the COVID-19 response while also managing acute challenges around lack of recognition, funding, and exclusion from decision-making spaces. Local organizations, including WROs, have continued their work in humanitarian response, shouldering even more as international actors have reduced their participation. By adopting a feminist approach that pays close attention to unequal gender norms, incorporates an intersectional lens, and delves into power dynamics, this study provides a clear assessment on the ways that Oxfam—and other international actors—can better support WROs involved in humanitarian response.
As noted in the three case studies that accompany this synthesis report, WROs provided crucial response activities in ways that were additive to Oxfam’s efforts, such as embedding self-care in their response in Colombia, gender-specific expertise on legal issues in Iraq, and access to urban communities in Kenya. The report also includes several practical though perhaps challenging suggestions on how support of WROs can be better achieved, from including indirect cost recovery for partners to creating more equitable learning exchanges where Oxfam and partners can learn from each other.
Additional practical suggestions no doubt exist, and we recommend that Oxfam and other international actors create space for frank dialogue with their WRO partners to discuss other ways they can be supported. Lastly, it is important to recognize that Oxfam is just one actor in the sector, and several of the recommendations cannot be carried out by Oxfam alone. Changes to better support WROs in the humanitarian sector need to be responded to jointly by a diverse set of actors, ranging from international nongovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, donors, governments, and others.
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