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UNHCR Age, Gender and Diversity Policy

UNHCR Age, Gender and Diversity Policy

January 2019

See below an extract from the policy. To read the full policy, click here.

To view other relevant documents, please see the bottom of this page.

1. Purpose

The purpose of this Policy is to reinforce UNHCR’s longstanding commitment to ensuring that people are at the centre of all that we do. This requires that we apply an age, gender, and diversity (AGD) approach to all aspects of our work. Through this Policy, we aim to ensure that persons of concern can enjoy their rights on an equal footing and participate meaningfully in the decisions that affect their lives, families, and communities.

This Policy consolidates and updates our existing commitments to a strong AGD orientation, Accountability to Affected People (AAP),[1] and commitments to women and girls. These commitments complement and build upon one another.

This Policy also advances UNHCR's Strategic Directions 2017-2021, which emphasize “putting people first” and commit us to: (i) draw on the rich range of experiences, capacities, and aspirations of refugee, displaced, and stateless women, men, girls, and boys; and (ii) be accountable to the people we serve, listening and responding to their needs, perspectives, and priorities.[2]

2. Scope

This Policy covers all persons of concern to UNHCR, and applies to all operations and Headquarters in all areas of UNHCR’s work.[3 Compliance with this Policy is mandatory.

3. Rationale

Forced displacement and statelessness impact people differently, depending on age, gender, and diversity.[4] Understanding and analysing the impact of intersecting personal characteristics on people’s experiences of forced displacement or statelessness are necessary for an effective response.

Effective and accountable humanitarian responses therefore require: (i) continuous and meaningful engagement with persons of concern; (ii) understanding their needs and protection risks; (iii) building on their capacities; and (iv) pursuing protection, assistance, and solutions that take into account their perspectives and priorities.

For many years, UNHCR field teams have used the AGD approach to engage with persons of concern. They have used participatory methodologies to promote the role of women, men, girls, and boys of all ages and backgrounds as agents of change in their families and communities. UNHCR issued key policies and tools such as the 2006 Tool for Participatory Assessment in Operations,[5] the 2008 Manual on a Community-Based Approach in UNHCR Operations,[6] and the 2011 Age, Gender and Diversity Policy,[7] and also organized global consultations with women[8] and youth,[9] to better incorporate their views into the development of policies and tools.

As part of its AGD approach, UNHCR has also made progress in promoting gender equality in its operations. Of note, UNHCR has mainstreamed the inclusion of women and girls in decision-making processes,[10] ensured individual registration for females,[11] and worked to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).[12] Yet challenges and barriers to achieving equality remain, especially societal attitudes that are often difficult to change.

UNHCR’s Updated Commitments to Women and Girls out in this Policy expand upon the 2001 Commitments to Refugee Women to take into consideration new operational environments and good practices in gender equality programming,[13] and to incorporate the results of recent reviews such as the UNHCR Review of Gender Equality in Operations.[14] The Updated Commitments to Women and Girls outline concrete and measurable actions to strengthen our work in promoting gender equality.

Both the AGD approach and commitment to gender equality are key to ensuring our Accountability to Affected People. UNHCR is therefore supporting the strengthening of AAP, including notably protection from sexual exploitation and abuse,[15] within the wider humanitarian community. In 2011, the High Commissioner endorsed inter-agency commitments to AAP, which were later revised and strengthened in 2017.[16] AAP is also central to the Grand Bargain Initiative’s “Participation Revolution”.[17]

Recognizing the progress we have made; cognizant of ongoing challenges and opportunities; and given the particular emphasis on a people-centred approach in UNHCR's Strategic Directions 2017-2021, UNHCR aims, through this Policy, to promote further the empowerment of all persons of concern through a more robust integration of an AGD approach into its work; promotion of gender equality; and strengthening of mechanisms to ensure accountability to affected populations in all operations.[18]

4. Applying an Age, Gender, and Diversity Approach in our Work

Age, gender, and diversity considerations guide all aspects of our work, informed by the imperatives of promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls, as well as by the best interests of the child. As we hold ourselves accountable to persons of concern, the views of women, men, girls and boys of diverse backgrounds need to inform our interventions, advocacy, and programmes.

To achieve this, UNHCR will undertake core actions in the following areas of engagement:

  1. AGD-Inclusive Programming
  2. Participation and Inclusion
  3. Communication and Transparency
  4. Feedback and Response
  5. Organizational Learning and Adaptation
  6. Gender Equality and Commitments to Women and Girls

Taken together, these six areas of engagement comprise the framework for achieving accountability to persons of concern, within an AGD approach.

While there is significant guidance available to operations to implement an AGD framework in each of these areas, a set of 10 obligatory core actions that need to be taken at a minimum are set out in the table below:

[1] For UNHCR, the terms “affected people” and “affected populations,” common in inter-agency settings, refer to persons of concern, in line with the Organization’s mandate for refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, stateless people, and the internally displaced. 

[2] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR's Strategic Directions 2017-2021, 16 June 2016, page 13, available here.

[3] For those UNHCR offices that do not directly engage operationally with persons of concern, the implementation of this Policy will be achieved through advocacy and partnership. 

[4] For example, according to the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System, 2017 trends indicate that the vast majority of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors reporting incidents are female (over 92 per cent) and adult (approximately 80 per cent). In 2016 and 2017, children were disproportionately affected by refugee crises, with children representing 51 per cent of the global refugee population, compared to only 31 per cent in the general population. Children who move across international borders face significant risks, including trafficking, forced recruitment into armed groups, SGBV, kidnapping, child labour, child marriage, and separation from parents and other family members. 

[5] UNHCR Tool for Participatory Assessment in Operations, May 2006, available here.

[6] UNHCR Manual on a Community-Based Approach in UNHCR Operations, March 2008, available here

[7] Age, Gender and Diversity Policy, 8 June 2011, available here.

[8] UNHCR's Dialogues with Refugee Women, 14 February 2013, available here.

[9] UNHCR, "We Believe in Youth" - Global Refugee Youth Consultations Final Report, 19 September 2016, available here.

[10] Sixty-six per cent of 58 situations reporting on female participation have achieved over 35 per cent of active female participation in leadership and management structures (UNHCR, 2015 Global Strategic Priorities Progress Report, 2016, 21, available here.

[11] Seventy-nine per cent of 96 situations reporting on individual registration have achieved over 90 per cent of coverage of individual persons of concern (Ibid, 10).

[12] Comprehensive support was provided to known SGBV survivors in 70 per cent of 104 situations that reported on the indicator in 2016. 69 per cent of these 104 situations reported strong engagement of the community in SGBV prevention (Ibid, 12).

[13] This is also in furtherance of the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular Goal 5 relating to gender equality, available here. The policy is also in line with the revised 2017 Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Policy on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Action, and its accountability framework.

[14] UNHCR Review of Gender Equality in Operations, October 2016, available here.

[15] The UN Secretary-General's Bulletin, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (ST/SGB/2003/13), entered into force in the UN on 15 October 2003, and was formally adopted by UNHCR with IOM/FOM – 77/2003 on 13 November 2003.

[16] 2017 IASC Commitments on Accountability to Affected People and Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, available here

[17] Grand Bargain Initiative 2016, available here.  

[18] See Strategic Directions “Empower”: Hold ourselves accountable to the people we serve in all aspects of our work; Ensure confidential feedback mechanisms are in place; Ensure programme and activities take account of diverse, ethnic, gender and other identities; Recognize, utilize and build on the education, skills and capacities of forcibly displaced persons; Ensure refugees, IDPs and stateless have access to reliable information; and actively pursue innovative ways to amplify the voices of the people we work for.  

Other relevant documents