The protection blur.
Solidarités International is a french NGO, mostly working on WASH and food security projects. Recognizing the importance of protection in humanitarian action, but with limited expertise in the field, they ave asked to organise a series of trainings for their country directors and programme quality team.
“The concept of protection encompasses all activities aimed at obtaining full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the relevant bodies of law (i.e., human rights law, international law, refugee law)” (IASC’s definition of Protection).
The definition is broad and set protection at the core of all humanitarian response. This broadness leads to different reactions:
Because it is so broad, it is not practical, it is confusing.
Protection is anything and everything, we do a lot intuitively.
Specific responses need to be carried by specific agencies.
Agencies who we think do protection, are actually not doing specific protection interventions.
Including protection is a donor requirement more than an interest of the organization.
A frequent opinion is that “protection” could mean everything and nothing at the same time, that the concept is blurry. "Stand Alone" interventions are somehow clear(er) and often defined as interventions organisations do not do.
Mainstreaming and safeguarding are seen as “common sense”, normal good practices. However by keeping it as "common sense", its implementation depends too often on individuals rather than on procedures. In a sector where there is a high turn over of staff coming from different background, with unequal motivations, "common sense" is not good enough.
The training's objectives was to bring the importance of systems forward: the fundamental need to have strong safeguarding standards and the importance of having systems in place not to miss out on key elements. One of which is the role of the MEAL sector to control standards, to provide analytic skills and feed back.
A protection approach is both central to our humanitarian commitments to do “no harm” and beneficial because by recognizing specific capacities, risks and vulnerabilities we can adapt our interventions to better reach groups and improve the effectiveness of our response.
Often, behind the manageable "cause" of harm and the response based on the immediate needs there are underlying social-protection issues. Inequality of access, poverty, discrimination, cumulative experiences of abuse, lack of powers,... all factor in the experience of vulnerability towards threats.
"Protection" recognizes the dynamic aspect of human interactions at the base of both harm and care: groups which are not at risk in one context may become “vulnerable” when the context changes.
That dynamic aspect can lead to a paradox: by acting to reduce risks experienced by individual/ groups(lower threats, improve capacities, empower), there will be a change in the system, which will create other vulnerabilities and protection concerns. Protection actors are not only managing situations, they are fully part of changes in the systems and innovation.