Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for World Humanitarian Day 2020

On 19 August, the world celebrates World Humanitarian Day to commemorate the humanitarian workers serving in crisis contexts around the globe. As we remember the humanitarians who were killed and injured in the course of their work, this year we also honour all aid and health workers who continue to provide humanitarian assistance in the midst of a pandemic, in increasingly challenging circumstances.

At UN Women, we wholeheartedly join the 2020 World Humanitarian Day campaign to pay tribute to #RealLifeHeroes who have committed their lives to serving others in the most extreme circumstances throughout the world. I also join the global community in advocating for the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers and for the survival, well-being and dignity of women, men, girls and boys affected by crises.

UN Women colleagues are working in more than 26 humanitarian contexts to address the immediate needs of crisis-affected women and girls; and to strengthen the resilience of crisis-affected and at-risk populations by empowering women and girls, and leveraging their leadership and engagement in decision making processes. We are inspired by the resolute spirit of the local women-led and women’s rights organizations who are frontline humanitarian leaders and responders and who continue to fight for gender equality, often at great risk to their own safety and well-being. UN Women partnered with more than 750 women-led and women’s rights organizations in humanitarian settings last year and we remain strongly committed to supporting local women humanitarian responders and leaders, including through our role as the Secretariat of the United Nations’ Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.

We are also painfully aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, created humanitarian needs in new locations and deepened the challenges faced by humanitarians in serving communities. The impacts on women and girls – especially those in humanitarian contexts – will be particularly severe. The shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls has intensified; their livelihoods will be hit harder and take longer to recover, increasing the risk of their reliance on negative coping mechanisms, such as child marriage; and the barriers to women’s participation and leadership in humanitarian response have grown. Against this backdrop, in July 2020, UN Women launched a dedicated programme to ensure that the most affected and at-risk women and girls play their fullest role in response to COVID-19 and are protected from its impacts. As the Secretariat of the United Nations’ Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, UN Women has also supported the design and roll-out of a dedicated COVID-19 Emergency Response Window, which has funded 42 women’s organizations working on the frontlines of COVID-19 in 18 countries.

On this World Humanitarian Day, as we commend the commitment of humanitarian workers across the globe, let us learn about, support and celebrate the efforts of humanitarian workers – women and men who persevere with humility – to support those affected by conflicts, disasters and the pandemic, often all at once.