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Opening remarks for the Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ramesh Rajasingham at the Commission on the Status of Women Side Event, 16 March 2021

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Online, 16 March 2021

Excellencies, distinguished Panelists, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you to Canada for moderating this important event on promoting and ensuring the meaningful participation of displaced women and girls in humanitarian decision-making. Thank you for being the model for us in terms of your leadership.

I am very pleased to be here today among colleagues and allies in the continued effort to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in humanitarian and displacement settings.

This discussion is putting into practice a key finding of the first system-wide evaluation on women and girls in crises by bringing women to the table, to inform and lead on decisions that concern their protection and rights.

Making up the majority of the more than 70 million displaced people across the world, women and girls need to be more directly involved in all decisions that are being made – not only those that concern women and girls but those that impact all displaced populations, including their families and communities.

I am honoured and humbled to join refugee women activists, advocates and government leaders from Afghanistan, Mali, Rwanda and Syria here to discuss the impediments and barriers that hamper women’s access to humanitarian services and the realization of their rights. Today we will also be discussing actions that the international community can take to support their participation and protection.

Ensuring displaced women are able to actively engage in leadership and management structures in humanitarian contexts continues to be challenging. Restrictive and deeply rooted gender norms, discriminatory practices, as well as limited levels of literacy and education can result in tokenistic, rather than meaningful, participation.

We have to change this.

The risk of gender-based-violence in crisis settings, burdensome household and care responsibilities, as well as time away from income-generating activities, continue to prevent women from taking on leadership roles and participating actively in their communities. Humanitarian agencies and their leaders must take proactive steps to reduce these barriers to equal and meaningful participation. These efforts can include:

Leadership training and capacity building

Providing support for women's committees and female community leaders

Holding awareness-raising sessions focused on gender roles, and

Supporting empowerment-oriented policies and livelihood initiatives.

These efforts must include working to shift the mind-set of men and boys, and importantly institutions and leaders so that they create the space for women’s leadership.

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) gives us a framework for more equitable responsibility-sharing. It recognizes that sustainable solutions to refugee situations can only be achieved with international cooperation. Crucially the compact recognizes forcibly displaced women and girls. And it stresses the importance of our collective responsibility to protect and include displaced communities.

We are here today to amplify this call for collective action and to urge strong partnerships with member states, donors, civil society, and displaced people themselves.

Making progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment requires practical solutions. And this incorporates increasing gender financing across the humanitarian system, including by increasing funding for local partners and in particular, for local women-led organizations.

Only by dedicating financial resources will we advance gender equality in the face of persistent and deeply rooted discrimination and inequality.

As countries in crisis reel from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, women and girls were particularly hard-hit. Supporting and empowering girls through access to education, employment can offer greater protection from child and early marriage. UNICEF warns that closures of school during COVID can push girls into early marriage, with estimates that up to 10 million more girls will become child brides as a consequence of the pandemic.

Last year the humanitarian system increased financing for gender equality through the OCHA-managed Country Based Pooled Funds. In 2020, over two thirds – of the US $764 million distributed by Country Based Pool Funds contributed to gender equality. This is a considerable achievement.

These allocations were underpinned by robust gender analysis in Humanitarian Response Plans relating to refugee and IDP contexts and were informed by displaced women activists. This is a great example of a practical approach that we can collectively take to empower displaced women and girls. I look forward to seeing the fruits of many more.

Thank you.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.