Richard Chilvers
Noor Abu Kwaik
Annabel Morrissey
Publication Date
January 25, 2017


As part of Oxfam's Within and Without the State (WWS) programme, community researchers worked with women with disabilities in Gaza to enable them to devise a plan for periods of crisis. They supported civil society organisations (CSOs) themselves to recognise their own capacity to meet the needs of women with disabilities that had been identified during the most recent crisis. This included strengthening emergency preparedness, coordinating assistance, ensuring shelters are disability-friendly, and supporting long-term advocacy for women with disabilities. This report describes the process of doing so, sharing lessons learned.

Funded by the United Kingdom (UK) Department for International Development (DFID)'s Conflict, Humanitarian and Security programme, WWS is a 5-year global initiative (2011-2016) that has involved working with civil society to promote more accountable governance in conflict-affected and fragile contexts. (For another example of a WWS project, see Related Summaries, below.) Gaza is vulnerable to both man-made and natural emergencies, both of which have humanitarian consequences. For example, in the summer of 2014, Operation Protective Edge resulted in the killing of 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians. In Gaza, just under 40,000 people live with disabilities, around half of whom are women. According to Oxfam, disabled persons organisations have struggled to mainstream gender within their programmes' strategies and policies.

As detailed here, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, WWS piloted an action research project in Phase I. Action research empowers selected community members to interview a wide range of community members, with the aim of discovering their priorities for development and change. The idea is that this not only reveals new information and programming opportunities but also empowers those conducting the research. The research topic chosen for Gaza was the role of CSOs in advocating on national and public opinion issues; the topic for the West Bank was to understand what measures donors are taking to assist civil society, as well as the role of civil society in the occupation. In cooperation with the Institute for Development Studies, the groups wrote up their research in 2013. In the West Bank, one group ran a community-led assessment of development projects, which they have developed into a booklet for others to learn from. The other West Bank group worked with community-based organisations to increase their influence over development and governance initiatives in their area. In Gaza, the group designed a project that sought to ensure the input of community members into new programme design.

In the aftermath of the conflict in 2014, WWS action researchers identified the lack of a coordinated approach by NGOs to address the issues faced by more marginalised groups in Gaza, particularly in times of conflict. Thus, WWS II aimed to introduce a new model of effective cooperation for women with disabilities. The civil society researchers who had been trained in action research methods under Phase I carried out a study to (i) better understand why, during emergencies, the needs of women with disabilities were not directly being met, and (ii) to understand the gaps between the two sectors that were to form the coalition: of women's rights organisations, and organisations for people with disability (PWD). It identified the available resources and conducted an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the two sectors to develop initiatives, establish future priorities, and identify opportunities to help increase participation of women with disabilities. Then, Oxfam and the action research team, in coordination with the Palestinian non-government organisation (PNGO) coalition, worked together to establish a coordination mechanism which was fully functioning by May 2015. Alongside the PNGO, the researchers identified the primary CSOs in Gaza that were active either as women's rights organisations or as those that supported PWD. In order to ensure transparency and foster CSO engagement with and ownership of the coalition formation in the project, the CSOs themselves nominated organisations from their sector to form the coalition. The resulting coordination mechanism consists of 8 member organisations that form a coalition of CSOs, with representation from 4 women's sector organisations and 4 disabled persons organisations.

One of the central features put into the project was the process of thorough and participatory consultation with local women themselves. Over the project's lifespan, 10 community workshops were held, reaching 245 women with disabilities. These workshops brought together coalition members and women with disabilities to ensure effective consultation and engagement and to ensure that the voice of women with disabilities was reflected in coalition work. The first 4 workshops, held in September 2015, focused on the identification of the needs of women and a consultation on how better to assess and understand existing needs gaps. The remaining workshops were held between September 2015 and March 2016 and focused on establishing a strong link between the coalition and women with disabilities so as to ensure that women with disabilities were part of the consultation throughout the development of the contingency plan. In addition to the outcomes of the community workshops, the researchers met extensively with women with disabilities in order to develop community initiatives to support their needs in times of crisis. This research methodology, which was successful in Phase I, is designed to empower community members themselves to identify their needs and arrive at a consensus on what the priorities for the programme should be.

Essential features of the coalition and contingency plan include: ensuring that there are good coordination mechanism for the CSO-led coalition to decide when to activate and deactivate the contingency plan; ensuring ongoing exchange of information (for needs assessment, services and locations, contact points); supporting referral between CSOs (for women with disabilities in need of complementary interventions, as well as for providing cases for reporting or documenting the violation of rights); reviewing and updating the contingency plan; and reporting on the coalition activities and achievements in order to ensure accountability. The contingency planning process not only attempted to outline the capacities, roles, and responsibilities of CSOs, but also to establish how to coordinate and advocate with other national and international NGOs in order to support a long-term and comprehensive approach to supporting women with disabilities. The partner organisations will continue to meet with key actors, such as politicians and the media. This will hopefully enable them to create strong networks and to share learning with other organisations in the sector.

Following the establishment of gap assessment and contingency planning preparedness activities, the coalition selected 4 community initiatives that were managed by the PNGO network to better support women with disabilities in times of crisis:

  1. Mapping women with disabilities in the Gaza Strip - An online database was created for women with disabilities, which can be made accessible to relevant stakeholders. This database has been linked with SMS (short message service) software to enable information sharing and to collate rapid responses from women with disabilities during emergencies. A website was also developed for the coalition to raise awareness of their activities among external organisations and to provide the coalition partners with a central and safe place to store information and data.
  2. Sign language training and resources - Signs and posters with the essential information and basic signing have been produced to be used in emergency shelters during crises, such as shelters and schools. Training on sign language has also been provided to staff and volunteers who work in shelters.
  3. Advocacy and awareness-raising - The coalition has conducted a larger socialisation of the plan to inform community members of support networks during times of crisis. Media engagement has been another key strategy to highlight the needs of women with disabilities.
  4. Producing audiovisual documentaries to highlight the needs of women with disabilities during emergencies - Four short videos outlining the needs and best care responses for women with disabilities were filmed during training for broadcast on local TV, at meetings, and within the community. The topics included first aid for women with disabilities during emergencies, instructions for caregivers, and self-care instructions for women during times of crisis.

Lessons learned throughout this process include:

  • This project built on existing capacities and was designed in response to a need identified by civil society researchers themselves. The long-term accountability and sustainability of the coalition and their actions supporting women with disabilities has been transferred to the PNGO network, and is not dependent on international NGO (INGO) presence or future funding expectations.
  • The steering committee, which comprised the civil society action researchers and later the PGNO network, played a crucial role in supporting the long-term development of the contingency plan. The fact that they were involved in the development of its aims, were connected to the communities it sought to serve, and remained in place through the implementation phase, was integral to the success of the programme.
  • WWS has found (most notably in South Sudan) that taking the necessary time to select the right partners, and doing so transparently, is of lasting benefit to the programme. It ensures that those organisations which are fully committed to the specific aims of the programme are selected, and the process can serve a useful secondary function in raising awareness of these aims among non-partner organisations.
  • Much work was done to build bridges between the contingency plan and the work of the other relevant NGOs and INGOs. This was useful both to avoid duplication of effort and to facilitate learning from the work of others. This approach builds the effectiveness of the plan and enables the information gathered to be shared with a wide audience. It also enables advocacy to be conducted at local and international levels in coalition.
  • Addressing accountability issues from the bottom up through the action research project had the benefit of empowering men, women, and youth as citizens and increasing their understanding of the role they can play in influencing policy and practice at local and state levels. The approach has also allowed participants the space to reflect on personal and more local examples of state-level problems and has prompted individuals and communities to address this at their own levels, as well as to advocate for state-level change where possible. Bringing together a broad spectrum of people to conduct the action research created new relationships between participant organisations, which led to new networks and cooperation between different civil society actors represented by the researchers.
  • Bringing different types of research together resulted in a contingency plan which was driven by the actual needs of the population it was set up to serve.
  • Since the early stages of the project, the PGNO network has worked with existing structures, facilitating the inception and sustainability of the coalition by hosting meetings with the women's sector organisations and disabled people's organisations. This will support the longer-term accountability of the coalition and ensure the work is sustainable.
  • It was crucial that women with disabilities were involved and consulted throughout each phase in order to incorporate their actual needs into every stage of the programme.

Oxfam Policy & Practice website,, January 26 2017. Image credit: PNGO