Sharing experiences in addressing gender-based violence: Women & girls in crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of South Sudan
UN Headquarters, New York, 24 September 2019
I am so thrilled that Natalia [Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA] will be taking up the leadership role in one aspect of this horrible problem that we are trying to deal with within the humanitarian community next year when she becomes our champion on dealing with preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. Thank you again Natalia for agreeing to take that on. Thank you again to Henrietta Fiore [Executive Director of UNICEF].
Like Natalia I would like to start by picking up on what we did and didn’t do in Oslo. Thank you again to Norway for hosting us. It was a very powerful experience. We had more than 100 countries, we had leaders from multiple sectors and dimensions. Hundreds of specific commitments were made to take action whether it was changing the law or to provide more money or change the regulations or build more capacity.
What we are trying to do through this evening’s event is to illustrate some of the ways we want those commitments to be taken forward. Thank you particularly to the governments of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for allowing us to discuss the particular things that we can learn from your countries.
I was in the DRC in March, and while I was there, I went to Heal Africa in Goma. A female colleague and I spent an hour with a woman who had been raped and made pregnant. She had been brutally assaulted by a gang of armed men. I thought it was the most courageous thing for this woman, who was an older woman, to agree to sit down with me – you know, a grey, white person of some authority - and have the courage to tell her story. I listened as carefully as I could to her story.
We had a conversation about what she wanted to happen. She basically wanted three things to happen, which I hope gives us inspiration because these are universal and need to happen. The first thing she needed was medical care of good quality and psychosocial care. One of the things Natalia often says is the greatest wound is the one that doctors cannot see. Providing psychosocial care is very important.
The second thing this woman wanted was justice. If we are going to change the behaviour of men who commit these atrocious crimes it is because there is justice and accountability.
We are not investing enough in that yet. It is very important for us to understand that is what the survivors want.
The third thing she wanted was, help to rebuild her life, in particular, to deal with the reality of stigma that she and people like her face after this experience.
We are all involved in running big systems and managing large amounts of money. What we have to do is think about ways to motivate system-wide action so that not only on an individual basis but for millions of women across the world who suffer these appalling crimes we have a much better collective response.
There are four things that I want to flag that we need to do.
The first is we do need to spend more money. I am pleased that for example, through the Central Emergency Response Fund that I manage, we have been able to fund things like support programmes for women and girls that Natalia’s organization runs in the DRC. We have also been able to make this a priority in the 18 Country-Based pooled Funds that I am responsible for. We are dealing with these issues better than we have done in the past when these things have been underfunded. If people like us decide we want to spend more on this, it will happen. If you, our financiers decide that – it will happen doubly.
The second thing we need is leadership. I have asked all of the Humanitarian Coordinators, who report to me to make addressing violence against women and girls in humanitarian crisis a priority. And they know I am expecting them to tell me how they are doing that.
The third thing we need is more professional capacity to address this issue. So, we are hiring additional experts in six countries at the moment to do a better job on protection and gender issues that I hope will support the Humanitarian Coordinators.
The last thing I want to stress is we always have to remember that these crimes arise because of an imbalance in power relations. One thing we can do to address that is to have more female leaders or role models. So, a real priority for me is to make further progress – we have made good progress – but we need to make further progress in having more female colleagues as Humanitarian Coordinators specially in these sorts of environments and as heads of offices. If we do these four things, we will do a better job for survivors like the woman I met in Goma.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.