The response to humanitarian crises needs to focus more on women – who are disproportionately represented among the victims – and to give women a greater leadership role, panellists said on Wednesday.
“Humanitarian crises do not affect women and men in the same way,” said Monique Pariat, European Commission Director General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO). “So, we need to take into account differences between women and girls, and men and boys. Civilians are at extreme risk during military campaigns and we need facilities to ensure that women are safe from gender-based violence.”
She was speaking at a Friends of Europe Policy Insight on International Women’s Day, which aims to promote a more-inclusive, gender-equal world. The panel focussed on humanitarian crises, where women and children make up over 75 percent of the 125 million people in need of humanitarian assistance worldwide.
Women are also among the first responders, helping families and communities to survive and eventually to rebuild. “We tend to think about women as victims and of course, yes, they are victims of gender-based violence,” said Shada Islam, Director of Europe & Geopolitics at Friends of Europe. “But women are also on the front line when it comes to dealing with the impact of humanitarian crises. We need to have more women involved.
Much of the media coverage of Syria is devoted to the conflict, and tends to overlook the work on the ground to empower women and develop civil society, said Oula Ramadan, a Syrian human rights activist and Executive Director of the Badael Foundation, a Syrian NGO that has been providing support to women’s activist groups.
“In the media, everyone is interested in covering the fight and who is fighting whom,” she said. But after the fighting, “The people who are left will be Syrian people. So we need to pay more attention to the local actors. The main challenge to NGOs and women’s groups now is the security situation. There is no way we can meet this, so all we can do is influence the political process.”
However, social change is needed if women are to play a greater role in civil society in future, said Marcell Shehwaro, a blogger and Executive Manager of Kesh Malek, a civil society organisation in Aleppo. Too often at local events, “It is men who are asking the questions,” she said. “When we ask why there are so few women, we are told about lack of access and security concerns. Let’s drop lack of access as an excuse.”
One requirement for greater women’s participation is education, which forms one of Kesh Malek’s programmes. “Girls often drop out after fourth grade, once they can read and write,” she said. “Sometimes this is due to early marriage. So we are sending teachers to the houses of these early brides.”
The 2016 World Humanitarian Summit was a first step towards recognising the central role of women, calling for greater participation and leadership from women, and for funding to be aligned with the principles of gender equality. Now it’s important to continue that progress, said Daniel Seymour, Humanitarian Coordinator and Deputy Director of Programmes at UN Women. “The World Humanitarian Summit was a sign of change,” he said. “But recognition of gender equality does not always stick. If we don’t keep working, it seems to fade away.”
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