Statement of UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini on occasion of International Women’s Day: Female staff are critical to our mission and leaders in their communities

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Almost one year since the outbreak of the pandemic, UNRWA today commemorates International Women's Day under the theme "Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World", honouring the Agency's female staff in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Today, allow me to thank all female UNRWA staff for their invaluable contribution to the global fight against COVID-19. I would like to pay particular tribute to the thousands of Palestine refugee women working tirelessly at the frontline who stepped up to make a tremendous contribution to their community.

I am meeting with senior female staff in Gaza today to share my gratitude in person. Immediately after the onset of the pandemic, Gaza was the first field to establish telemedicine, now serving more than 5000 patients a day under the leadership of Dr. Ghada Al Jadba. I will also have the chance to meet with Dr. Randa Zaqoot, field Family Health Officer in Gaza. Dr. Zaqoot and health staff across all our fields worked tirelessly to ensure child immunization and ante-natal support to Palestine refugee women and families continuously through the pandemic, making sure no one is left behind.

We know the current pandemic is not just a health crisis. Our frontline female area, camp and community services officers (watch video here) our 15,500 female teachers and education staff and our more than 200 female social workers are vital to our mission: from bringing education to children to their homes, to promoting digital access for girls and boys, to delivering on our commitment to support survivors of gender-based violence.

But the pandemic has also underlined the disproportionate burdens that women carry globally, both in the home, where they often act as primary caregivers for children and the elderly, and within their professions, with women more often employed in health and other social sectors.

Through its Gender Equality Strategy 2016-2021 and Gender Parity Action Plan, UNRWA has encouraged flexible working arrangements for all staff and introduced an Agency-wide telecommuting policy to help staff balance professional and personal commitments. This is only one element of the future of work including female leadership in UNRWA. Meeting senior female staff in Gaza today provides an opportunity to listen and learn as we build a modern UNRWA, an organization where everyone can thrive with parity in senior positions, including unions that represent the interests of frontline staff.

Looking ahead in our work, we are tackling the acute and long-term impacts of the pandemic for women and girls. The UNRWA microfinance programme supports nearly 10,000 women and female-headed businesses for an equal economic recovery from COVID-19. Our emergency appeals targetPalestine refugee households facing acute shocks to counter food insecurity and negative coping mechanisms used for survival that often affect women and girls first.

Our capacity to support a truly equitable recovery is also a question of sustainability. UNRWA has called for US$ 1.5 billion to fund its essential services, emergency appeals and priority projects in 2021, yet the Agency's financial situation remains precarious, affecting all, including frontline female staff.