When Tropical Cyclone Pam slammed into the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Friday last week, it was a grim reminder that women and girls are particularly vulnerable in catastrophes--and that their sexual and reproductive health must be a mainstay of disaster risk reduction plans. Trust.org.
As the 2015 Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) enters the second week, it’s clear is that, collectively, we’ve made great strides in the 20 years since the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted. New York is brimming with dynamic women from all over the world who daily work to combat the challenges that keep us from achieving the goal of equality.
The amount of international attention and collaboration focused on this goal is a testament to the women who pushed against a wall of inertia 20 years ago. We can all agree that there is still not enough funding and not enough commitment from international governments, and there has not been enough progress. But we cannot deny that the necessity of women’s participation in society is now commonly understood.
As one of only a few organizations focused on displaced women, we were excited to be a part of the Beijing + 20 CSW to promote the programs that we know address the needs of and empower the world’s most invisible women. Our research has led us to understand that the development, women’s rights and humanitarian communities must collaborate if we are going to make progress for these women.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama just announced Let Girls Learn, which will consolidate efforts by the U.S. government to educate and empower girls abroad. I think the Obamas are on the right track and I look forward to tracking the success of this initiative. In the humanitarian community, we’ve been struggling with the best way to give girls tools and opportunities.
Despite the fact that adolescent girls typically have begun to take on adult responsibilities – indeed some of them already are mothers themselves – they often lack the knowledge, skills and networks to help them navigate the world. Gender inequity becomes more pronounced in adolescence. Girls are less likely than boys to attend secondary school and are far more likely to be socially isolated.
In conflict and disaster, when adolescent girls are forced to flee their homes, sometimes without their families, their vulnerability significantly increases. They lack the life experience to help them handle forced displacement at the same time they are targeted for sexual and gender-based violence at much higher rates.
On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and rendering almost 2 million homeless. Five years later, the country is still struggling to rebuild. Since then, natural disasters have continued, affecting millions more people around the world. Untold thousands have died, been injured or lost their livelihoods as a result.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable in disasters. If that is to ever change, steps must be taken before disaster strikes to address the particular needs of women and girls to ensure that they not only survive but maintain their dignity while recovering and rebuilding their lives.
2014 has been an amazing year for the Women's Refugee Commission. Check out our new infographic and take a glance at what we were able to accomplish this year with your support. On behalf of the Women’s Refugee Commission, thank you so much. We hope that you will continue to support our work and allow us to accomplish even more great things in 2015.
Every year, the international community marks 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, and this year's theme is "Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Gender-Based Violence!" Militarism is both a direct and indirect cause of violence against refugee women and girls--they are vulnerable both to conflict and to the violence that militarism imbues in societies.
On Tuesday, the Security Council met for the 14th time to hold an open debate on Women, Peace and Security. It was the first time that the theme of a Security Council open debate was about refugee and internally displaced women and girls.
A young mother, Rosa, fled Central America this July after gangs violently threatened the family with kidnapping, the destruction of their home and death. Rosa and her seven-year old daughter, Ana, were detained at the Artesia Family Detention Facility shortly after entering the United States. Traumatized by conditions in her home country and the added stress of confinement, Ana was unable to keep down any food. Her weight loss became so extreme that medical staff told Rosa, they would force feed her daughter through a catheter.
The number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict has passed 50 million worldwide, a level not seen since World War II. This is one of the reasons why the UN Security Council will focus on women refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) during its annual open debate on women, peace, and security on October 28.
“In emergencies, we continue to hear the excuse that we can't stop to think about people's specific needs, and that usually means women and girls lose out,” according to Elizabeth Cafferty, senior advocacy officer at the Women's Refugee Commission.
"Never before in United Nations history have we had so many refugees, displaced people and asylum seekers," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told government ministers and representatives gathered in Geneva to discuss the state of the world's refugees. This was the first time Ban Ki-moon had ever addressed UNHCR's Executive Committee (ExCom) and the first time in nearly 10 years that a UN Secretary General had attended the annual meeting. His presence was perhaps a reflection of the gravity and magnitude of the global refugee crisis: 51.2 million people worldwide currently displaced by conflict -- if refugees were a nation, it would be the 26th largest in the world.