World Humanitarian Day

Statement: The invisible wounds to women and girls damage all of us

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 recognize women as leaders and decision-makers in times of crisis.