Safe from the Start

Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) from the Onset of Emergencies

The Obama Administration made the empowerment and protection of women and girls a central part of U.S. foreign policy and national security. The launch of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, implementation of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, each backed by an Executive Order, and release of the United States Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity are evidence of the Administration’s sustained commitment to these issues.

Safe from the Start will complement and reinforce the Obama administration’s gender and protection policies by dedicating new resources and providing leadership to better address the needs of women and girls and other groups at risk of GBV in emergencies, including men and boys. Safe from the Start will foster new efforts to prevent and respond to GBV from the onset of a humanitarian crisis.

For a number of years, the State Department and USAID have addressed GBV through humanitarian assistance programs. Despite an existing set of global policies, best practices, and guidelines to prevent and respond to GBV in humanitarian settings, time and again international response efforts have fallen short of meeting established standards in emergencies. Too often, GBV is recognized as a problem only after major response efforts are underway. Safe from the Start is intended to help the humanitarian community take preventive measures and ensure that quality services are available for survivors from the onset of an emergency or crisis.

To achieve this, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), together with USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) began developing a framework for action in the spring of 2013 to analyze these challenges, identify solutions, and help mobilize the humanitarian community to take concrete action. As a result of this framework, Secretary Kerry launched Safe from the Start in September 2013.

In January 2014, the United States assumed leadership of the UK-launched Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies (Call to Action). U.S. resources and actions under Safe from the Start represent the U.S. commitment to the Call to Action. We will continue to coordinate our efforts with other donors, affected countries, and stakeholders from outside government to maximize the impact of this program.

The goal of Safe from the Start is:

To reduce the incidence of GBV and ensure quality services for survivors from the very onset of emergencies through timely and effective humanitarian action.

In order to meet this goal, Safe from the Start will focus U.S. efforts on advancing three mutually reinforcing objectives to bridge the gap between policy and practice from the onset of emergencies: 1) Increasing dedicated GBV interventions; 2) Integrating GBV risk mitigation across all humanitarian sectors; and 3) Increasing accountability at the global level. An overarching priority for U.S. action will be to build the capacity of the humanitarian system as a whole to collectively meet these core objectives, which will also be advanced through our leadership of the Call to Action in 2014.

Safe from the Start will serve as the framework for strategic U.S. interventions for an initial three-year period (2013-2015) with the goal of ensuring longer term sustainability and continued accountability, including through enhanced coordination with other donors and stakeholders. Key partners will include critical humanitarian actors with a mandate for protection such as the Gender Based Violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and NGOs, as well as other UN agencies. We will also build our own capacity to better monitor and support progress and accountability on these issues.

Safe from the Start Core objectives:

1. Increasing dedicated GBV interventions: Increased number and reach of quality, evidence-based, dedicated GBV prevention and response interventions in new and ongoing emergencies.


  • Increase funding for multi-sector responses to GBV in the first phases of an emergency.
  • Encourage NGO and IO partners to prioritize pursuing funding for GBV programming.
  • Address the critical shortage of humanitarian professionals with skills needed to implement multi-sector GBV prevention and response programming, through support for technical expert surge capacity at global and regional levels and promising mentorship and training schemes.
  • Support key international organization partners to develop their institutional capacity for ethical, survivor-centered GBV prevention and response, through training and establishing new GBV positions and programs.
  • Build the evidence base for what works in GBV prevention and response by funding pilot programs, evaluations, research and the development of innovative new practices.
  • Expand understanding and sharing of best practices for preventing and responding to GBV in urban/non-camp settings.

2. Integrating GBV risk mitigation across all humanitarian sectors. Better ensure that all humanitarian assistance integrates efforts to mitigate GBV risks and addresses the unique needs of women and girls.

Proposed actions:

  • Assess why existing resources, guidelines and standards that support the identification and mitigation of GBV and other protection risks are not widely and consistently used.
  • Develop new resources, or improve upon existing tools as needed, for integrating gender-based violence and protection mainstreaming measures across different sectors.
  • Invest in capacity building and training across all areas of humanitarian response in order to build awareness of standards and tools and enable broad uptake of their use.
  • Identify and test new strategies to ensure women and girls participate in the design of broader relief efforts throughout the program cycle.

3. Increasing accountability at the global level. Increase accountability within the international humanitarian architecture for prioritizing GBV prevention and response in emergencies.

Proposed actions:

  • The United States, as the lead of the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies, in partnership with other donors and stakeholders, identify clear expectations required of key actors throughout the humanitarian system so that GBV prevention and response are appropriately addressed from the early phases of an emergency.
  • Support the development of guidelines and training materials that will help responsible actors at all levels gain the skills and competencies needed to uphold their GBV responsibilities.
  • Continue efforts to support and monitor partner compliance with existing U.S. requirements pertaining to Codes of Conduct for Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA), including training for State and USAID humanitarian personnel on PSEA and other protection issues.
  • Align all these efforts with the broader processes related to humanitarian reform, including the Transformative Agenda.