UN IASC Protection Cluster


The Protection Cluster is one of 11 function-based clusters of the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Cluster System and is used to approach humanitarian and emergency relief during disasters. The Cluster Approach ensures the coordination of programming and services related to humanitarian and emergency relief activities by coordinating activities based on function instead of geography or organization.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leads the Protection Cluster. It includes non-governmental, humanitarian and UN organizations involved in the protection and safety of humanitarian workers, victims and survivors affected by disasters, war and other emergencies. Under the leadership of the UNHCR, the Protection Cluster has identified four specific areas of responsibility with their own lead agencies.

Protection Cluster overview

By separating the specific sectors into their own areas of responsibility, the Protection Cluster leverages their subject matter experts while working within the larger Cluster. By working together on their areas of expertise, Cluster members ensure that humanitarian and emergency relief efforts take into account the protection needs of everyone involved.

There are also eight task teams that address a variety of issues such as human rights engagementprotection of civilians, and law and policy on internal displacement. One of the task teams is protection in natural disasters:

“The impact of natural hazards is most acutely felt by individuals and communities with pre-existing vulnerabilities which often are characterized by the limited enjoyment of rights. Many of the most important protection challenges in disaster situations are long-standing protection and human rights concerns which are brought to light and further exacerbated by the emergency. Disaster situations cause and worsen protection risks such as sexual and gender-based violence; family separation; child trafficking; unequal access to assistance; discrimination in aid provision; enforced relocation; loss of personal documentation; land disputes and issues related to land and property rights.

As in situations of complex emergencies, natural disasters often result in internal displacement of populations. The State has the main role and responsibility to protect and assist affected populations. When national capacities become overwhelmed by the emergency and at the government request, the international community can provide support with/and humanitarian assistance. For the protection sector this includes notably registration and documentation of vulnerable populations as well as targeted support to groups with specific needs.”

Key Facts

  • Most of the Protection Cluster’s work is in Africa. The Protection Cluster has five geographic sub-clusters: Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Americas, Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Within these five geographic areas, there are 26 sectors encompassing 89 geographic areas of responsibility and more than 1,900 members. The Africa sub-cluster encompasses 15 sectors, 47 geographic areas of responsibility and 1,100 members.
  • Access to areas of need is a major concern for the Protection Cluster. Of the active operations during the Feb. 2021 reporting period, 71% of them reported difficulty accessing more than half of their areas of responsibility mostly due to security issues and restrictions by local authorities.
  • Violence and threats to the well-being of women and children are among the largest risks identified by the Protection Cluster. In the 2021 Global Protection update, the Protection Cluster says that 27% of operations report an increase in gender-based violence (GBV), 25 out of 35 operations report an increase in violence against children and 50% of protection clusters report child marriage as a severe to extreme risk.
  • Psychological and mental health concerns are growing. Within the Protection Cluster’s ongoing operations, 77% of active operations report psychological and mental health concerns growing – 70% of those reporting these needs rate them as severe or extreme.

How to Help

  • Provide unrestricted cash donations when possible. Cash donations allow for participating organizations to provide products and services that are flexible and responsive to the needs of the situation. Cash can be directed to hiring and training local residents, building more secure facilities or other direct needs as determined by the Protection Cluster.
  • Fund opportunities for women and girls to be educated and gain independence. Much of the work done by the Protection Cluster is focused on the safety of women and girls. When women and girls are provided with educational opportunities to achieve their agency and independence, they are less likely to experience gender-based violence (GBV), sexual violence and child marriage.
  • Support disarmament and negotiated peace processes. It is extremely difficult to deliver humanitarian aid in many countries, especially ones that have experienced a major disaster or series of disasters. The addition of armed state and non-state actors increases the risk to humanitarian actors and diverts funds away from relief supplies to protection.
  • Call upon governments to maintain or increase their funding to Protection Cluster organizations. Because of the economic effects of COVID-19 on countries worldwide, some governments are considering cutting their international aid. A reduction in international aid means organizations that rely on these funds must find other financial support or reduce their activities to meet the budgetary restrictions.

What Funders Are Doing

  • In 2020, Madre donated $31,000 to Salon Plus in the Palestinian Territories in the form of cash assistance and “dignity kits” to women who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic in Ramallah, Palestine. They also disseminated information and conducted awareness-raising workshops and counseling sessions to address the impact of COVID-19 and gender-based violence (GBV) over Whatsapp and Facebook to women and girls facing increased incidences of
  • The Oak Foundation provided a $750,000 grant to HALO Trust to support their demining work in Zimbabwe, which is contributing to the Government of Zimbabwe’s goal of clearing all minefields in the country by 2025.
  • The UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women gave $903,000 to Women for Afghan Women in 2019 to fund a project that aims to improve access to essential, safe and adequate multi-sectoral services for internally displaced and returnee women and girls in Afghanistan, including those who are survivors or at risk of violence.
  • The Tim and Linda O’Connor Family Foundation donated $4,000 in 2018 to Save the Children to help children in 120 countries by providing support for health, education, protection and disaster relief.
  • The Laudes Foundation provided a $588,515 grant in 2018 to Care USA’s work in Bangladesh to help protect refugee women and girls from GBV and build their resilience.

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(Photo source: Global Protection Cluster via Facebook)