United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Kevin Kennedy – Statement on International Women’s Day [EN/AR]

Amman, 8 March 2017 UN Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Kevin Kennedy is calling for greater efforts to address the needs of more than 7 million women and girls in Syria impacted by the conflict.

“Responding to the specific needs of Syrian women is an absolute priority for the humanitarian community,” said Kevin Kennedy, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, said in marking International Women’s Day (IWD) on Wednesday. “It’s imperative we do more.” Today, women and girls account for 52 per cent of the 13.5 million Syrians across the country in need of humanitarian and protection assistance; many of them living under particularly harsh conditions of vulnerability. Of the more than 643,000 people living in 13 besieged locations, over 340,000 are women and girls.

Across the country, women and girls confront a daily threat of gender-based violence (GBV), while conservative practices imposed by extremist groups in some parts of the country, such as prescribed dress codes, negatively impact women’s lives. Reports of abductions, killings, trafficking, forced marriage and sexual violence are alarming.

“After six years of conflict, Syria’s family structure has changed dramatically” said Kevin Kennedy, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis. “Women are taking on roles more traditionally associated with men, such as paid labour and heading households. While this leads to greater empowerment, it also increases the risk of violence against women and girls.”

The length of the crisis, in conjunction with the deep-rooted patriarchal structures underpinning Syrian society, is normalizing this violence. 85 per cent of sub-districts assessed by the UN in 2016 reported that child marriage had become a major concern, followed by domestic violence (71 per cent) and sexual violence (51 per cent). Widows and divorcees, often the main breadwinners for female-headed households, face rising stigmatization and discrimination, potentially threatening their access to humanitarian aid.

While GBV services have improved and expanded to more geographical areas, three quarters of subdistricts continue to identify gaps in specialized GBV services. Key priorities for displaced women include access to humanitarian assistance and support for livelihoods, as well as GBV risk mitigation and accessible services for survivors, including capacity building for staff working with displaced populations.
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