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Cluster contexts

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • Through the humanitarian reform process, the IASC agreed in 2006 that all countries with Humanitarian Coordinators should use the cluster approach.  The IASC also agreed that the cluster approach should be used in any major ‘new’ emergencies requiring a multi-sectoral response. Under the cluster approach, the GBV coordination mechanism exists as an ‘Area of Responsibility’ under the Protection Cluster.  At the international level this mechanism is known as the GBV AoR, but at the field level it can be referred to by various names (any of which are acceptable), such as ‘Area of Responsibility’, ‘Working Group’ or ‘Sub-Cluster’.
  • At the field level in cluster contexts, UNFPA and UNICEF are designated as the ‘providers of last resort’, which means they have the responsibility for ensuring VAWG coordination if it is needed and if no other mechanisms exist in consultation with the protection cluster lead and cluster members. 

The “provider of last resort” concept is key to the cluster approach. It means that the global cluster lead agencies commit their utmost to ensure that the response to an emergency is adequate and appropriate and, when assuming cluster leadership at the field level, to make every effort to address any gaps themselves if cluster partners are unable to. In field settings where the global cluster lead is not operational and the cluster is therefore led by an agency that is different from the globally designated lead, the global lead agency is still considered the provider of last resort and therefore is responsible for ensuring the field-based lead fulfils designated cluster responsibilities.


Source: Handbook for Coordinating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings, pg. 34. For more information on cluster leads, including the ‘provider of last resort’ concept, is described in the IASC Guidance Note on Using the Cluster Approach to Strengthen Humanitarian Response (November 2006). 

  • While there is no set formula for determining which agency(ies) and which individual within that agency assumes responsibility for initiating and leading a GBV coordinating mechanism in a cluster context, general guidelines to consider are outlined below:
    • Where there is a Protection Cluster: UNFPA and UNICEF must first determine if either or both agencies have adequate capacity to establish and assume leadership of the GBV coordination mechanisms (e.g. GBV sub-cluster or working group), including funding and staff (e.g. allocating a full-time, preferably mid- to senior-level staff person to the role of GBV Coordinator).
      • UNICEF and/or UNFPA have the capacity to assume leadership: One or both agencies – depending on which agency has the capacity to lead – are responsible for supporting and/or establishing an inter-agency  GBV coordination body, preferably in partnership with a local entity/organization.
      • Neither UNFPA nor UNICEF has the capacity to assume leadership: Both UNFPA and UNICEF must work with theProtection cluster lead and in consultation with the  Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator, and , the UN Humanitarian Country Team and relevant I/NGOs, Red Cross/Red Crescent and government actors to identify and support an agency to take on a leadership role in the coordination of inter-agency VAWG interventions. This could be a UN entity, international or national NGO or the government. Local leadership should be supported wherever feasible. 
  • Where there is no Protection Cluster but GBV has been identified as a priority area of concern and the cluster system is in place: UNFPA and UNICEF should coordinate with other relevant entities and NGOs to support and/or establish an inter-agency GBV coordination body, in line with the actions outlined in the Guidance Note on Determining Field-level Leadership of a GBV Area of Responsibility Working Group (p. 142). 

Where an interagency group already exists to coordinate VAWG prevention and response activities, this body should always be considered first as a potential forum for coordinating VAWG in a cluster context. Parallel structures should only be established where absolutely necessary; preferably humanitarian actors can work to make an existing structure stronger and sustainable, for example where:

  • A gender coordination body exists, but this forum does not allow for sufficient focus on the issue of VAWG in emergencies, and within this body are too many organizations focusing on gender more broadly. Possible solution: Creation of a VAWG Task Force that includes institutions working directly on VAWG prevention and response that reports to both the existing gender coordination body and the Protection Cluster.

  • A VAWG coordination structure already exists, but the group does not specifically address the issue of VAWG in emergencies. Possible solution: Creation of a VAWG in Emergencies Sub‐working Group.

  • A national, government-led VAWG coordination structure already exists, but a gap analysis highlights that this group is not as effective as it could be. Possible solution: Development of a joint UN Country Team and NGO program to bolster the activities of this coordination structure.


Source: GBV AoRGuidance Note on Determining Field-level Leadership of a GBV AoR Working Group. See Annex 7 in the Handbook for Coordinating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings.