Countries and humanitarian agencies meet to commit to protecting girls and women in emergencies.

Leading humanitarian agencies have met in the UK to endorse a global commitment that will prioritise the protection of girls and women from violence and sexual exploitation in emergency situations.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening and Sweden’s International Development Minister Hillevi Engström co-chaired a high-level event in London for governments, UN heads, international NGOs and civil society organisations to agree a fundamental new approach to protecting girls and women in emergency situations, both man-made and natural disasters.

Crises such as the current natural disaster in the Philippines and the Syrian conflict can leave girls and women more vulnerable to violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual assault, forced marriage and trafficking. Targeted interventions are often not prioritised in the first stage of an emergency because the violence is not considered life-threatening.

The endorsement of today’s communique will mean agreement on early action to protect girls and women in emergencies saves lives. Participants also agreed that the needs of girls and women are acted on as soon as crisis hits. Progress on these commitments will be monitored and reported on.

Justine Greening said:

“When a country is hit by disaster, as we have seen in the Philippines this week, girls and women are particularly vulnerable. The international community learn more with every response, but I want to make sure we are prioritising the needs of girls and women. They may seem simple but things like lockable toilets, safe access to firewood, or adequate lighting can make a huge difference.

“The commitments made today mean that in future when crisis hits, the safety of girls and women will be a major priority for all humanitarian agencies alongside delivering other essentials like food, water and shelter.”

Read Justine Greening’s full speech.

Hillevi Engström said:

“Around the world, up to one out of three women will or have been subject to violence. We all recognise that prevention of and response to violence against women and girls is life-saving and must be prioritised from the outset of an emergency. In addition to adequate preventive measures and services, including sexual and reproductive health services, we should focus on the root causes to stop the violence. More must be done to promote women’s rights. Empowerment and protection should go hand in hand.”

The Department for International Development today announced £21.6 million in new funding to help protect girls and women in emergencies, namely:

  • £3 million to support the United Nation’s Population Fund (UNFPA) work to protect girls and women in Syria by establishing safe spaces and strengthening the capacity of health services providers;

  • £4 million and £1.6 million for projects in Lebanon and Jordon, respectively. The funding will reduce the indebtedness of vulnerable families removing the need to rely on negative survival strategies such as child labour, forced and early marriage of young girls and women and risky sexual behaviour or “survival sex”;

  • £1 million for a Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) project in Jordan creating 400 new housing units in affected communities to ensure privacy and security of households, and especially girls and women;

  • £3 million* for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) programme to ensure that survivors of sexual violence in situations of violence receive comprehensive support services and that field workers have proper tools to help prevention; and

  • £9 million for DFID programmes with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia to empower girls to be able to protect themselves better in humanitarian settings.

Other funding commitments totalling £19.7 million were also made by the United States, Switzerland, Japan and Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

Participants at the high-level event included David Miliband President and CEO of the IRC, and the Executive Directors of six UN agencies. US Secretary of State John Kerry also delivered a pre-recorded statement giving America’s backing to the event. The USA will take over leadership for this issue in 2014.

Examples of recent emergencies where girls and women have been exploited or abused are:

  • Syria - research shows violence towards women and children has increased as some men vent their frustration and abuse their power within the household. Outside the household, women and girls are further vulnerable to physical and verbal harassment, including sexual harassment, and in many areas they fear kidnap, robbery, and attacks;
  • Haiti - 18 months after the earthquake sexual abuse and exploitation were widespread mainly because girls and women could not get the goods and services needed to survive;
  • Horn of Africa - during the 2011 drought families married off daughters as young as 9 years old, to receive their dowries in kind before their livestock died;
  • Bangladesh - 62% of under-18 year olds married between 2007 and 2011, were married in the 12 months following Cyclone Sidr;
  • Kenya - following droughts reports of sexual violence increased by 36% between February to May 2012 in Hagadera and Kambioos camps, compared to the previous three months. At the same time, funding for VAWG programming decreased by 50%; and
  • Rates of unintended pregnancies, maternal mortality, disability, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, rise in crisis situations.

Communiqué 13 November 2013

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Commitments 13 November 2013

Notes to editors

  1. Attendees included:
    • Countries: US (Secretary of State John Kerry via video statement); Belgium Development Cooperation Minister Jean Pascal Labille; DRC Gender Minister Geneviève Inagosi; representatives from the governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland and USA.
    • Donors: Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) Director General Claus Sorenson.
    • UN agencies/representatives: UN Under Secretary-General and ED of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Baroness Amos (via video statement); United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) ED Babatunde Osotimehin; UN Women ED Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ED António Guterres; UN Secretary General Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura; UNICEF Head of Public Donor Relations, World Food Programme (WFP) ED Ertharin Cousin; WHO Director, Dr Richard Brennan.
    • Other international agencies: ICRC Assembley Member Doris Schopper; International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Head of National Society Development and Support Getachew Ta’a; International Organization for Migration (IOM) ED Bill Swing.
    • NGOs: ActionAid UK, Age International, BOND, British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International UK; Christian Aid; Doctors of the World; Gender Action for Peace and Security, Girl Hub, Handicap International, Help Age, International Medical Corps (IMC), International Planned Parenthood Foundation, IRC, Marie Stopes, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam UK, Plan UK, Save the Children, Global Justice Centre, Tearfund, War Child, Womankind, and World Vision.
  2. *In addition DFID provided a further £1m for the ICRC programme mentioned above.

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