Non-food Items (NFIs) and the Needs of Women and Girls in Emergencies

Published on 16 May 2014

Emergencies disrupt daily life and often cause the displacement of populations, with the loss of many of their possessions. In such situations humanitarian organisations step in to provide the basic necessities of life and restore people’s dignity. However, during these emergencies women and girls face a number of differing needs, threats, and situations which need to be considered in any response.

Part of the response includes the provision of various non-food items (NFIs). This rapid review seeks to draw upon studies, lessons learnt, evaluations, and expert and beneficiary feedback to establish what NFIs best meet the basic and protection needs of women and girls in emergency situations.

The literature uncovered by this rapid review suggests that there is not a strong evidence base which addresses this question. Much more attention has been paid to the NFIs required to address the menstrual hygiene needs of women and girls than to their protection or other basic needs.

The majority of the literature is grey literature published by organisations active in this area rather than peer-reviewed academic literature (see also Sommer, 2012, p. 89). The existing literature uncovered by this review and expert contributors agrees on the importance of providing NFIs that meet the basic and protection needs

2 GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1107 of women and girls, especially in relation to menstrual hygiene management. There is little information about why women and girls ’ needs are often still being neglected in the provision of NFIs.

In addition, there are gaps in the literature when it comes to the ‘views of beneficiaries on the usefulness of the kits and materials distributed and what their ongoing needs may be in differing contexts ’ (Sommer, 2012, p. 99; expert comments).

The NFIs which best meet the basic and protection needs of women and girls in emergencies are best identified in consultation with affected women and girls. This helps to ensure that the items selected are culturally appropriate and suitable to use in that context. The specific NFI needs of elderly women, disabled women, pregnant and chronically ill women should also be considered. Gender-sensitive NFIs help restore women and girl’s dignity and enable them to be more mobile and protected .

Receiving NFIs means it is less likely women and girls will engage in transactional sex in order to raise money to buy them. Unfortunately gender-sensitive items are not yet systematically included in NFI packages.

The NFIs which best meet the basic needs of women and girls in emergencies include:

  • Hygiene/dignity kits: women and adolescent girls require locally appropriate sanitary items to manage their menstrual hygiene. These may be reusable cloth or disposable sanitary pads. The opportunities for privately washing, drying, and disposing of sanitary cloths or reusable pads need to be considered. 
  • Suitable clothing: women and girls require culturally appropriate underwear and clothing. 
  • Household items: items for cooking and bedding are important for meeting basic needs.
  • Contraception: the need for contraception does not go away in emergencies, especially as the risks surrounding pregnancy and child birth increase due to the collapse of natal and neo-natal care.

The NFIs which best meet the protection needs of women and girls in emergencies include:

  • Torches, radios and whistles: torches help light up areas where women are at risk of attack; radios help keep them informed of developments in the crisis; and whistles can attract attention if they need help.
  • Firewood/energy saving stoves: women risk attack when collecting firewood, so energy saving stoves would lessen their exposure to risk.

Gender-sensitive logisticians are more aware of the importance of the needs of women and girls and thus are more likely to procure and provide appropriate NFIs. NFIs need to be distributed in ways that ensure they are safely received by all the women and girls who need them.


Brigitte Rohwerder

Research Officer

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Rohwerder, B.


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