Generation Equality – What’s Next for Displaced Women and Girls?

By Stephanie Johanssen, associate director of advocacy and UN representative, Women’s Refugee Commission

Earlier this month, UN Women, France, and Mexico convened the Generation Equality Forum, Paris, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the World Conference on Women and its Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The organizers intended this conference—more than two years in the making—to capture a moment to both celebrate progress made on the Beijing Platform and for governments, UN agencies, civil society, and the private sector to outline how to advance this agenda further.

The Forum launched the Global Acceleration Plan, a comprehensive blueprint outlining steps to achieve progress by 2026 in areas such as economic rights, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and climate justice. A coalition of UN agencies, member states, and civil society organizations also launched the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action, a framework with action items building on existing commitments in humanitarian policies and the women, peace, and security agenda.

Stakeholders made policy and program commitments, as well as nearly USD 40 billion of “confirmed investments” to advance gender equality. This funding represents an impressive and welcome achievement, recognizing that efforts to advance gender equality remain chronically underfunded and are frequently sidelined, including during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

While these developments are encouraging, whether the Forum can translate to real action for displaced women and girls remains to be seen.

At the Forum, activists from around the world made strong calls for gender justice. Ashrafun Nahar, Founder of the Women with Disabilities Development Foundation in Bangladesh, reminded us that “we should not overlook the importance to empower refugees from host communities” and called for the “systemic redistribution of power and dismantling of harmful structures, including patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia.”

Displaced women and girls remained largely absent from the Global Acceleration Plan, which makes no explicit mention of refugee women and girls, in contrast to the Beijing Platform for Action, which references refugees over 60 times. This is a missed opportunity to recognize and advance the rights of refugee women and girls and makes it all the more important that sections where the Plan mentions humanitarian settings are fully implemented. This is particularly true of the section on addressing gender-based violence, which asks that30% of humanitarian funding to address GBV go directly to women’s rights organizations by 2026, and the section on economic rights and justice, which mentions fragile and conflict situations.

The Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action, which currently has over 130 signatories, is more consistent in centering displaced women and girls throughout, including refugees and stateless persons. Building on existing frameworks, the compact offers a list of action items that will be critical to implement if it is to lead to real change for displaced women and girls. This entails addressing discriminatory legal and policy barriers, including those denying refugees economic opportunities in host countries; ensuring humanitarian aid is sensitive to different ages, genders, and disabilities of displaced populations; lifting restrictions on sexual and reproductive health services in foreign assistance; and building inclusive social protection systems in collaboration with humanitarian agencies that provide cash assistance.

The Forum rightly drew criticism for not being accessible to all women and girls, in particular to women and girls with disabilities. Organizations mobilized in solidarity through the Inclusive Generation Equality Collective, as well as an affirmation of feminist principles advocating for stronger inclusion, including of individuals with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics, and affirming that the realization of the human rights of one group must notcome at the cost of the rights of any others.

What's next? Promises made at the Forum must be followed by concrete action.

For starters, pledging entities should ensure the majority of funding goes to diverse feminist movements, including refugee-led women’s rights organizations, and is disbursed transparently. Funding to feminist and grassroots movements, in particular in humanitarian response, is critical to providing them with sustainable resources to bring lasting change. During crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or conflict, refugee-led organizations often provide direct support to affected populations and understand best the needs of their communities. Using existing funding mechanisms such as the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund can help ensure resources go directly to women leaders and their representative organizations, including those facing barriers to their participation in peace processes.

Commitments are important and it was promising to see major humanitarian donors, like the United States, renew their support for initiatives such as Safe from the Start and the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies. But pledges alone do not let governments off the hook from fully implementing their obligations under human rights law, refugee law, and international humanitarian law, as well as UN Security Council resolutions on women, peace, and security.

Twenty years after the adoption of Resolution 1325, which called for women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation, the UN must finally make the direct participation of women a requirement in all UN-led and co-led peace processes. Concrete steps outlined in the roadmap by the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security are still waiting to be implemented and are as urgent as ever with increasing attacks against women speaking out for peace and justice.

Generation equality means gender justice for all, including displaced women and girls.