Joint statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director and Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management
Date: Sunday, August 19, 2018
As the world marks World Humanitarian Day under the theme #NotATarget, to bring attention to the millions of civilians affected by armed conflict globally, we call for special attention to the extensive gender-based violence taking place during situations of conflict and disaster. The anguish seen in the faces of those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed is also likely to reflect losses and wounds that are less visible, equally devastating, and insufficiently acknowledged.One in five refugees and internally displaced peoples are experiencing sexual violence, and practices such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and human trafficking during emergencies are resulting in lives lost or damaged, societies destabilized, recoveries delayed and human rights neglected, particularly for women and girls. These are losses to all of us; prejudicing economic recovery, the sustainable success of peace processes, and the growth of human capital that restores the damaged balance.
Both natural and human-induced disasters are increasing, and with them rises the toll on affected populations. By the end of last year, more than 68 million people had been forced to flee from their homes due to conflict. We know that the risk of sexual and gender-based violence, fuelled by existing gender inequalities and power imbalances, increases during disasters and conflict. This is in part because the Women and girls who shoulder household care are particularly exposed to greater risk as they travel longer distances to find water, fuel, food and work opportunities, while protection mechanisms weaken or fail.
Addressing gender-based violence is life-saving. Despite its prevalence, prevention of and response to sexual- and gender-based violence are rarely undertaken from the earliest stages of emergencies. Moreover, there are insufficient mechanisms in place at the policy, funding, systems, and implementation levels to ensure that this violence will be comprehensively addressed and prioritized.
As members of the global initiative Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies, the European Union and UN Women have called on the humanitarian community to address gender-based violence in emergencies from the onset of a crisis and to ensure the participation and leadership of local organizations, specifically women’s organizations, in gender-based violence prevention and response. The particular risks faced by women and girls can be heightened when humanitarians overlook women’s strength and agency.
Important work has been developed under the EU-UN Women humanitarian partnership to explain why gender-sensitivity, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are essential to humanitarian action; how needs assessments can be used in strategic humanitarian planning and programming; how transformative, lasting change can be achieved; and how to integrate gender perspectives into the humanitarian programming cycle and into all sectors for more sustainable, long-lasting peace processes. This complements the work of the new EU-UN Spotlight Initiative,which is developing a comprehensive approach to ending violence against women and girls.
It is through such strong, multilateral partnerships, which harness our individual strengths, that we will tackle sexual and gender-based violence and ensure that women and girls are #NotATarget but instead a critical resource.
Today, we call on the humanitarian community to incorporate a broader, gender-responsive approach that addresses the root causes of gender-based violence; and to recognise women as leaders and decision-makers in times of crisis.Read more »
UN Women joins our sister UN agencies in today’s recognition of the vital importance of the world’s indigenous peoples. At a time when human mobility is on the increase, we recognise that together, they maintain 80 per cent of global biodiversity. All of humanity is indebted to their custodianship. Indeed, if we are to achieve Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15, to sustainably manage life on land, this vital contribution must be urgently recognised and protected. It is time that we all listen to what indigenous people have to say, and pay close attention, especially to the knowledge and concerns of the world’s indigenous women.
There are many reasons for people to leave their homes, with that mobility often bringing positive socioeconomic change, including improved incomes and GDP growth. However, when mobility is coerced or triggered by conflict, deprivation, or environmental stresses, indigenous women and girls are at heightened risk of consequences such as violence and loss of livelihoods.
A 2016 McKinsey Report on migration found that the likelihood of migration caused by climate change is greater in coastal areas, which face increased risk of flooding caused not only by rising sea levels, but the destruction of the coral reefs that act as a buffer for wave action. The report shows that flooding poses a “catastrophic” risk to coastal populations. We are seeing this effect already on people living in the Solomon Islands. Whole regions, like Southeast Asia, home to many diverse ethnic minorities, will be vulnerable to this risk in future.
The 2018 Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues found that extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure projects pose additional threats to indigenous people and the land they protect and depend upon, such as sexual and gender-based violence, displacement and forced migration. These violations result in family and community disintegration, with harmful consequences on the ability of indigenous women to access essential services, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes and justice and reparation.
At UN Women we know that when resources grow scarce, whether through climate change, land dispossession, natural disasters, economic or conflict issues, it is women who bear most of the responsibility for working harder and travelling further to find ways to feed their households. When indigenous peoples are forced to migrate, it is women who are the most vulnerable to violence and exploitation as they try to start a new life for themselves and those in their care. This is why, when UN Women conducted consultations to finalize the draft bill on Ending Violence against Women in Nepal, we made sure that we consulted with women representatives from the indigenous Tharu, Muslim and Madesi groups.
UN Women is working in several areas to ensure that indigenous peoples’ voices are heard and that their experiences inform our approaches to ending violence against women and girls. In Lenca, Honduras, we are supporting the development of the Gender Strategy for indigenous women. In Kenya, we have provided Disaster Risk Reduction sensitization to indigenous women. In Colombia, we support awareness forums for counsellors, authorities and indigenous guards on the prevention of gender-based violence in the Awá territory.
As we celebrate today, let each of us commit to making the voices of indigenous peoples, and indigenous women, louder and more impactful than ever before.Read more »
Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, for International Widows’ Day, June 23, 2018
In many countries around the world, a woman who learns that she has lost her husband knows that the years ahead of her will involve two struggles: in addition to overcoming her grief, she has to provide for herself and her family while surmounting enormous social and economic challenges. Rama Shahi from Dharmasthali, Nepal knows this all too well. In 2015, Rama lost her husband in the Nepal earthquake. Following her husband’s death, his family insisted that they inherit his property, denying Rama her legal rights to remain in her home. Because she had no access to legal support, Rama had to start again from scratch at age 46.
On the occasion of International Widows’ Day, we must consider both the vital role widows play in our society, the ways in which gender inequality impacts their ability to thrive on their own, and the specific recognition and attention that they need from all of us. Of the 258 million widows worldwide, nearly one in ten live in extremely poor households . Where social and legal protection systems discriminate against women, widowed women’s lifetime earnings and savings are restricted. Women are less likely than men to receive a pension in old age, and even in countries with good pension coverage, women are significantly more likely to suffer poverty in old age than men.
In one in five countries with available data, female surviving spouses like Rama Shahi do not have the same inheritance rights as their male counterparts. Yet even where the laws are responsive to women’s rights, there is often greater effort needed to ensure that women know their rights and are able to enforce them.
When widows with young children lose property, income and other assets—especially in the absence of support for unpaid care work—they may be forced to take their daughters out of school to work or help take care of siblings and housework. This is how gender inequality perpetuates itself, continuing the cycle of disadvantage for girls and women for decades to come.
It isn’t just middle-aged or older women who struggle. Widowed women are represented across the age spectrum, for example, as a result of the high male mortality rates in countries in conflict, or where there are high rates of child marriage. However, there is a troubling lack of data on the particular experiences of different groups of widows. Prevalence surveys on violence against women, for example, often refer only to women of reproductive age (15-49), and therefore fail to capture violence and abuse of older widows. Without data, policymakers cannot design truly responsive interventions, and women who are at a point in their lives when they most need support are left out and left behind.
To protect and empower women like Rama, it is important that governments address barriers to information, and to justice. In addition to laws that discriminate against widowed women, in many countries they face marginalization as a result of social stigma, which means that legal changes must be accompanied by plans to tackle the norms that have long justified discriminatory practices. Women must have access to legal aid and support, and their political, community and religious leaders must be included in reform processes.
On this International Widows’ Day, let us remember that widows are heroes, working hard to keep families, communities, and societies together following the loss of their spouses. As societies we owe it to the widows of the world to give them the respect, visibility and unique support they need.
 Analysis by Loomba Foundation, The Global Widows Report 2015. London. Based on compilation of UNSD (United Nations Statistics Division) population data and additional individual country census and population survey data.
Crises are lasting longer, solutions need long-term strategies to empower women and girl refugees
Right now, nearly 66 million people around the world are displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution and natural disasters.
We need to break away from traditional response strategies that are no longer adequate to support the reality facing refugees today. The average length of displacement is now 17 years or more, which means that those affected will spend a significant portion of their lives as refugees. This must shift our understanding of requirements and solutions from those of peoples on the move, to those of non-movement.
We must therefore look beyond immediate assistance and offer viable long-term solutions that protect women’s and girls’ rights, provide opportunities for growth, engagement and gainful employment, and maintain their dignity throughout the displacement cycle. Women and girls must be able to be self-reliant and to build a future of their own choosing. This benefits the individual women themselves, as well as their families, communities and host countries.
The women and girls who make up approximately half of those currently displaced experience both discrimination and violence. With the breakdown of protection mechanisms and the destruction of essential services and economic structures, their already marginalised position deteriorates further when they lack access to and control of resources, and when there are no further viable coping strategies.
Many refugee response strategies still neglect the capacity of women and girls to contribute to the delivery of critical information, services and long-term solutions themselves, their families and their wider communities, despite wide recognition that crises impact women and men differently.
UN Women works with refugee populations across the globe to provide solutions. For example, in Bangladesh, UN Women has formed a Rohingya women’s group that now actively takes part in official camp management meetings and ensures the needs of women and girls are given due consideration. In Jordan, Syrian refugee women participate in cash for work initiatives that provide an opportunity for more permanent employment or starting up microbusinesses in camp settings. And in Cameroon, UN Women provides refugee women and girls with resources and skills training to develop small-scale income-generating activities.
Currently underway is a global compact on refugees to ensure that all refugee response programmes worldwide deliver on the comprehensive commitments on the rights and needs of women and girls made in the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants.
On World Refugee Day, UN Women calls on the global community to ensure that the global compact on refugees provides the services, protection and resources that all refugees need, addressing the rights of all. Only by recognizing and promoting the contribution that women and girls can make to the refugee response, including through their leadership and equal participation, will we see delivery of more effective and durable solutions for all.Read more »