Protection: promoting rights and dignity

'Protection means respecting people's rights and treating disaster-affected people with dignity.'

CWS works to ensure every component of its work includes the perspective of how to protect people's rights and dignity.
Photo: ACT Alliance

'Protection means respecting people's rights and treating
disaster-affected people with dignity.'

Over the past two years, Church World Service has taken steps to mainstream the humanitarian concept of protection into all areas of our work, including emergency preparedness and response.  In 2009, CWS published a training pack and manual on protection mainstreaming.  In 2010, CWS and the ACT Alliance used those materials to host protection workshops for staff and partners in the United States and Kenya.  Workshops in Haiti and Thailand are planned for 2011.

But what does “mainstreaming protection” actually mean for emergency response?  Donna Derr, Director of the CWS Development and Humanitarian Assistance Program, and Jessica Eby, Protection Officer for the CWS Immigration & Refugee Program offer their insights.

Q: What is protection and how is it relevant in emergencies?

Jessica Eby:  Protection means respecting people’s rights and treating disaster-affected people with dignity. When a disaster hits, whether it’s an earthquake or armed conflict, people have their access disrupted not only to material necessities but also to intangibles like safety and justice.  Ethnic minorities, displaced people, women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities can all face unique challenges depending on the context. 

For example, disaster-affected women may be more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence.  We have to identify vulnerable people and design our programs accordingly, to make sure that the most vulnerable groups have meaningful access to assistance, and also to see if there are ways we can actively promote their rights and dignity.


Q: What's so new about this for CWS?  Hasn't CWS always tried to ensure all people in need receive support and services?"

Donna Derr: Church World Service always has understood that protection is an integral part in our relief and development work with individuals and communities around the world.  We’ve done that well, and we celebrate that.  What our work on mainstreaming protection challenges us to do is to take it beyond those levels to local governance and national policy decisions. 

Eby: As humanitarians, we work to provide what people need to survive.  But there are plenty of necessities we can’t provide.  It’s governments’ legal responsibility to protect people’s rights but, especially in emergencies, they may be unable or unwilling to do it.  Governments can be the ones promoting violence against the people they should be protecting, like in Sudan.  Or it may be that CWS and our community and faith-based partners have more of a pronounced presence on the ground in some communities than the authorities do, like in Pakistan.  The CWS protection workshops offer tools for our staff and partners to adapt programs, build capacity or use advocacy to promote disaster-affected people’s rights and dignity. That way, we can help make sure that people’s rights are protected at the same time that they receive assistance from us with things like food, shelter and health care. 

Q: Please give an example or two of how CWS is mainstreaming protection into its emergency preparedness and response work. 

Eby: We know that CWS staff planning programs in Haiti are using the protection manual materials to consider how to identify and serve the most vulnerable earthquake-affected groups – such as people with disabilities.  

In Kenya, we had a partner who asked to translate the materials into Kiswahili and then went on to do trainings and advocacy in rural communities where HIV/AIDS orphans are deprived of their families’ inheritance.  In many places, we’ve already been doing things that demonstrated a great community-based approach to protection.  We’d like to continue to gather and share examples of best practices on protection from CWS work.


Q: How will we know that we have succeeded in mainstreaming protection into our work?

Derr:  At the end of the day it shouldn’t be about CWS ensuring protection but countries ensuring protection for their people in good times or disaster times.  It’s about making sure we have a protection lens on as we look at CWS program design and implementation, yes, but then it’s also about not just where we are working but also building and informing governments’ provincial and national capacities and ensuring protection for their citizenry. 


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