Protection is about keeping people safe; whether from violence and coercion or from being deprived of the assistance they need. In the face of danger people will take what action they can to keep themselves and their families safe, and all humanitarians have a role in supporting them. Protection is a legal responsibility, with the state having primary responsibility for making sure that people within its borders are safe. When this isn't done effectively, humanitarian assistance can play a part in ensuring that basic obligations are met. Oxfam's protection work aims to
improve the safety of civilians in the face of the threats that commonly occur after a disaster, taking active steps to prevent and reduce risk as well as to restore wellbeing and dignity. We work to ensure that people affected by crises are able to access assistance without it exposing them to greater risks or forcing them to do dangerous things.
Oxfam uses three different approaches in our protection work in the field:
- Specific protection activities and programmes. In any society some people are more vulnerable than others. This may be because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or political affiliation, or a combination of factors. Oxfam makes conscious efforts to consult communities, to understand who is at risk and why, and taking into account the possible consequences of everything we do (or don't do) on people's exposure to threats. Oxfam has been building up a body of activities and projects specifically to improve the safety
of civilians and has run large-scale protection programmes across continents. This include, for instance, setting up local Protection Committees that provide a forum to negotiate with military or other authorities, helping communities develop emergency protection plans for when attacks take place, or training police forces in national law and human rights.
- Safe programming. This ensures that all humanitarian activities do not inadvertently create greater risks for those they are trying to reach, nor do they exacerbate conflict. A protection approach will have an effect on, for instance, the siting of facilities such as toilets or water points, the timing and location of distributions, or the quality of information made available in ways a community can access easily.
- Advocacy and campaigning. Oxfam holds relevant national or local authorities to account on protection, and campaigns globally to build an environment in which people are better protected from harm, receive remedial care, and have access to justice.
Because the factors affecting people's safety are so many and so varied, effective protection always involves working with others - state authorities, local civil society, national and international humanitarian organisations, and affected communities working together.