Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Strengthening women’s security in crisis? The virtual implementation of strategies and guidelines

Kristin S. Scharffscher, PhD, Odd Einar Olsen, PhD


Humanitarian agencies consist of several organizational levels, of which some find themselves far from each other in terms of culture and context. In their efforts to ensure a common direction in activities, humanitarian managers therefore rely on an array of guiding documents such as strategies, policies, and guidelines. Such guiding documents, however, are reported to have a marginal effect on humanitarian practice at field level. In this article, the authors take a closer look at the interlevel dynamics of humanitarian agencies and ask why their guiding documents are prone to flawed implementation. This study is centered on the United Nations Development Programme’s Gender Equality Strategy 2008-2011, and in particular its Eight Point Agenda for women’s empowerment and gender equality in crisis prevention and recovery. Theories concerning safety management and organizational accidents in commercial companies are used to analyze the implementation process. The findings revealed job perception gaps and diverging “realities” between the different organizational levels, combined with implementation indicators that are perceived as “irrelevant” at the country office and field office levels. Indicators tend to measure the output of administrative efforts within the organization rather than the outcome for the crisis-affected communities the guiding document was intended to protect. This phenomenon can be described as virtual implementation, as managers at the headquarters level are left with a mistaken belief that their guiding documents have made a humanitarian impact. As a consequence, virtual implementation can exacerbate the job perception gaps within the organization and develop latent conditions for future failures.


humanitarian agencies, security, strategy, implementation, gender, Sri Lanka

Full Text:



Olsen OE, Scharffscher KS: Rape in refugee camps as organisa­tional failures. Int J Hum Rights. 2004; 8(4): 377-397.

Donini A, Fast L, Hansen G, et al.: The state of the humanitar­ian enterprise. Humanitarian agenda 2015: Final report. Medford, MA: Feinstein International Center, 2008.

Dekker S, Suparamaniam N: Divergent images of decision making in international disaster relief work. Technical report 2005-1. Ljungbyhed, Sweden: Lund University School of Aviation, 2005.

Rosness R, Guttormsen G, Steiro T, et al.: Organisational accidents and resilient organisations: Five perspectives, SINTEF Report STF38 A 02413. Trondheim, Norway: SINTEF, 2002.

Wright P, Pringle C, Kroll M: Strategic Management: Text and Cases. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1992.

Mintzberg H, Ahlstrand B, Lampel J: Strategy Safari. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1998.

Kennedy D: The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Ward J: If not now, when? Addressing gender-based violence in refugee, internally displaced ad post-conflict settings. A global overview. The Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium, New York, NY, 2002.

Minear L: The Humanitarian Enterprise: Dilemmas and Discoveries. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2002.

Kruke BI, Olsen OE: Knowledge creation and reliable decision-making in complex emergencies. Disasters, in press.

Perrow C: Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Turner BA: The organizational and inter-organizational devel­opment of disasters. Adm Sci Q. 1976; 21(3): 378-397.

Reason J: Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1997.

Sagan SD: The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Pidgeon N, O’Leary MO: Man-made disasters: Why technology and organizations (sometimes) fail. Saf Sci. 2000; 34(1-3): 15-30.

Turner BA, Pidgeon NF: Man-Made Disasters. Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1997.

Rasmussen J: Risk management in a dynamic society: A model­ling problem. Saf Sci. 1997; 27(2/3): 183-213.

Snook SA: Friendly Fire: The Accidental Shootdown of U.S. Black Hawks over Northern Iraq. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Reason J, Parker D, Free R: Bending the Rules: The Varieties, Origins and Management of Safety Violations. Leiden, The Netherlands: University of Leiden, 1994.

Slim H: The continuing metamorphosis of the humanitarian practitioner: Some new colours for an endangered chameleon. Disasters. 1995; 19(2): 110-125.

Weick K, Sutcliffe KM, Obstfeld D: Organizing for high reliabil­ity: Processes of collective mindfulness. Res Organ Behav. 1999; 21: 81-123.

Innes JE: Information in communicative planning. J Am Plann Assoc. 1988; 64(1): 52.

Beierle T, Cayford J: Democracy in Practice: Public Participation in Environmental Decisions. Washington, DC: RFF Press, 2002.

Flyvebjerg B: Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Clarke L: Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999, .

Strydom P: Risk, Environment and Society. Buckingham: Open University Press, 2002.

Beck T: Evaluation Humanitarian Action Using the OECD-DAC Criteria. An ALNAP Guide for Humanitarian Agencies. London, UK: ALNAP, 2006.

Kruke BI, Olsen OE: Reliability-seeking networks in complex emergencies. Int J Emerg Manage. 2005; 2(4): 275-291.

Bennet F, Roche C: Developing indicators. The scope for parti­cipatory approaches. New Econ. 2000; 7(1): 24-28.

Anderson MB: Do No Harm. How Aid Can Support Peace—Or War. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999.

Smillie I: Capacity building and the humanitarian enterprise. In Smillie I (ed.): Patronage or Partnership. Local Capacity Build­ing in Humanitarian Crises. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2001: 7-23.

Murison J, Keays P: Implementation review. The United Nations System-wide Action plan (2005) on security council resolu­tion 1325 (2000), women, peace and security. New York, NY: The Capacity Development Group Inc., 2006.

Klot J: Gender Mainstreaming in Crisis Prevention and Recovery. A Forward Looking Review. New York, NY: UNDP Evaluation Office, 2006.

UNDP: The Eight Point Agenda: Practical, positive outcomes for girls and women in crisis; 2007. Available at Accessed December 20, 2009.

UNDP: Operationalizing UNDP’s Eight-Point Agenda for women’s empowerment and gender equality in crisis prevention and recovery. Report on the Outcome of a Workshop, October 24-26, 2007, Geneva, Switzerland. Geneva, Switzerland: UNDP.

UNDP: Empowered and Equal. Gender Equality Strategy 2008­2011. New York, NY: UNDP, 2008.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2018 Journal of Emergency Management