The magnitude of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) within humanitarian aid first came to light in 2002, when an United Nations and Save the Children investigation exposed SEA perpetrated by national and international aid actors against refugee children in West Africa.

Sexual exploitation and abuse are “particular forms of gender-based violence that have been reported in humanitarian contexts, specifically alleged against humanitarian workers” and include any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, unequal power or trust for sexual purposes (sexual exploitation) and/or the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions (sexual abuse).

In response, aid actors and donors have primarily focused on establishing reporting mechanisms and punitive actions against perpetrators of such violence. While much remains to be done in responding to known cases, accountability measures must also include concerted efforts to prevent abuse before it happens. 

Our Goal:

Empowered Aid’s goal is to support the creation or adaptation of aid delivery models that actively work to reduce power disparities that give rise to sexual exploitation and abuse, and give women and girls a sustained voice in how aid is delivered.


Our Approach:

Empowered Aid’s feminist, participatory action research (PAR) project carried out in its first year (2018-2019) recognized women and girls as experts and engages them as co-producers of knowledge, supporting them to safely take an active role in asking and answering questions about their own lives. 

Currently, Empowered Aid is building on its participatory research and piloting its findings in Uganda and Lebanon to support aid actors in the implementation of scalable, evidence-based models for safer aid distributions By taking a participatory, ecological approach, we support international and local aid actors to strengthen the enabling environment for safe access to humanitarian aid for all crisis-affected people, including women and girls in all their diversity.


Our Work: 

Empowered Aid is based at the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University and has partnered with local and international aid organizations such as World Vision, the Union of Relief and Development Associations (URDA), CARE, and the International Rescue Committee, as well as an increasing number of community-based, refugee-led organizations. We work in a growing number of countries that host some of the largest refugee populations in the world, including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Bangladesh. We strategically partner with organizations working in other countries, or in internal displacement contexts, to support them in adapting and using Empowered Aid’s tools wherever humanitarian aid responses take place. 

Since 2018, Empowered Aid has:

  • Conducted rigorous, participatory research on how the distribution of humanitarian aid (such as food, non-food items, shelter, water, fuel, cash and vouchers) may increase risks of SEA within affected populations and how to reduce those risks.
  • Shared power with refugee women and girls, their communities, and emerging women researchers from some of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world to ensure prevention of SEA is led by those most affected by it.
  • Partnered with local and international humanitarian aid actors to develop, document and disseminate tools and resources for safer aid distributions.


"You are spreading awareness, giving support, peace of mind, and strength to women and girls. when they go to a distribution.”

Co-researcher in Lebanon