15 Minutes on making March for women

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 minutes to change the world, where in 15 minutes you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it. My name is Lama Alsafi standing in for Kasia Souchen as host of this podcast. When an emergency strikes women and girls are often the worst affected women and children account for more than 75% of the refugees and displaced persons at risk from war, famine, persecution, and natural disasters. When clinics are wiped out by storms, pregnant women may face dangerous deliveries and recoveries. In unlit and unprotected refugee settlements girls face potential violence where even walking to the bathroom at night becomes a dangerous situation. After a crisis destroys a family’s livelihood, rates of domestic violence can increase dramatically.

Today I am joined by CARE’s own Simran Singh and Shaughn McArthur. Welcome Simran and Shaughn, thank you for joining us today. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about what you do with CARE?

Simran Singh: 01:29 So I’m our director of global strategy and gender equality, so that’s a fancy way of saying that I work on policy and advocacy and also lead our technical team.

Shaughn McArthur: 01:40 And I am CARE Canada’s policy and influence lead. And so what I do is I work with our technical experts, people like Simran as well as people operating programs on the ground around the world and try to take that evidence and bring it to bear on a Canadian policy and international policy and working along with a lot of our partner organizations to look at how, um, uh, international assistance can better be delivered and programmed for.

Lama Alsafi: 02:06 Before we dive in, can you tell us how we define an emergency?

Simran Singh: 02:09 It’s essentially a sudden shocked the community that you’re living in. So that could be a natural disaster like a flood. You know, currently for example, there’s significant flooding in Mozambique and Malawi and so that would constitute an emergency or it could be what we call a spike in the conflict. So there has been, um, there has been an increase in conflict that has lead to displacement of people, or has caused people to move across borders.

Shaughn McArthur: 02:34 I think it’s really helpful to think of it in terms of, uh, in terms that people can understand when they, you know, open up the newspaper or turn on the television. So I think there’s really three categories of emergency that we talk about and that we work in. And those are natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis as mentioned. Um, these climate related shocks, the droughts and flooding that can lead to things like crop loss, famine, and you need to make those connections. And then finally things like conflict and the displacement, um, as the aftermath of those conflicts.

Lama Alsafi: 03:07 Around the world, the month of March has become a time to highlight the challenges women and girls face in conflict and emergency settings. How did this global movement begin and why is it important?

Shaughn McArthur: 03:17 So, March 8th, every year is international women’s Day. And, uh, you know, that’s historically been attached to some really important, uh, women’s movements. Um, but it’s, you know, nowadays it’s really a moment to celebrate accomplishments around gender equality and women’s accomplishments, everything from a suffrage to, uh, you know, pay equity and the work that’s been done to improve equality between women and men in society. But it’s also I think increasingly nowadays as we see a regression of some of that progress, a moment, a really important moment to highlight areas in which women’s rights are not being upheld. And you know, when we look around the world, we see that disaster and conflict affected settings are where women’s rights are furthest behind.

So that’s why CARE International has over the years begun to use the entire month of March as a time to inspire action and push for change. Um, so it really represents for us a call to action to concentrate minds and resources and to reach out to our neighbors and friends and parliamentarians policy makers to demand the changes we know need to happen. Here at CARE Canada March for women has really become a moment to push for a more gender responsive humanitarian system. So last year for example, we worked with the Minister of International Development and others to uh, outline how Canada’s commitment to gender responsive humanitarian action could be realized and this year we’re working with Canadians to reach out to parliamentarians from all parties to make sure that they really understand that Canadians of all walks want Canada to do everything in its power to uphold women and girls needs and rights in humanitarian emergencies. Where as I say there furthest behind,

Simran Singh: 04:59 Can I just maybe explain a little bit about what Sean was saying around gender responsive humanitarian assistance? Because I think that sounds complicated, but it’s actually not. I think what we realize in the field, and as you will know in your personal life, that when a sudden shock happens, it’ll impact you differently than it might impact your brother or your father or your or your grandfather or your grandmother. And the, the idea is that in order for us to provide assistance, it needs to meet all of those different needs. Because if it’s not meeting all of those different needs, it’s not actually effective, efficient assistance. And recognizing right now that we’re at a point where there are so many competing humanitarian priorities, it, the onus is on organizations like us to ensure that we’re using the support that we’re getting in a, in a effective manner that’s actually meeting the needs on the ground and, and reflecting what people need, um, that responds to their age and gender.

Shaughn McArthur: 05:52 One of our key messages is really that we need to stop thinking about women and girls, solely victims of humanitarian emergencies to evolve that thinking and organizational cultures to recognize that women and girls are rights holders, they’re wielders of agency, um, and they have unique and underutilized capacity. And so as Simran was saying in a time when we have multiple protracted crises around the world and not enough resources to meet needs there, the humanitarian response system undervalues women and girls contributions, ideas and perspectives at its own peril. So we’re at a really important moment now where, uh, you know, UN agencies, uh, donors and governments around the world, declarations by G7 leaders, so on and so forth, NGO’s like CARE Canada. There’s a confluence of energy to say, uh, if we are going to maximize the use of scarce resources while upholding rights, uh, in these, uh, really volatile situations, we really need to put women and girls at the center of the way that we think, uh, of our approaches in these, in these contexts.

Lama Alsafi: 07:01 What do you think are some of the biggest challenges women and girls face in an emergency situation? And what is the best way to overcome these challenges? How can we work towards solutions?

Simran Singh: 07:12 So I think from a practical perspective, um, you know, there’s a lot of easy things that we need to do when we are undertaking a humanitarian response and they’re not necessarily quick, but they’re, they’re not complicated. So for example, in the beginning of a humanitarian response, it’s really important to undertake a gender analysis and that’s just basically a fancy way of saying you’re going out, you’re talking to people, but you’re not just talking to men or boys. Like, so in my experience, I’ve worked in, worked in responses where, you know, even though 75% of the people displaced are women, the conversations were only had with men. So that meant that when it came to actually designing the services that we needed to provide, we, we hadn’t taken into account what women’s requirements were. Um, and was in a, this was in a very fairly conservative society where women weren’t allowed to leave the house so if we, we hadn’t taken that into consideration, we weren’t being able to access them and provide support.

So at the very beginning is understanding what those differing needs are. And then as I said, you need to adapt your programming and it can be as simple as if you’re building a a bathroom, making sure there’s lights, making sure that it’s there, it’s locked, making sure it’s in a place that’s accessible for women and girls. So we’ve had experiences where the, you know, the, the bathroom is far away from where women are living, so they have to walk really far and that, that exposes them to increase gender based violence risk. So things like that. Like it’s, there’s a, the basic basic mechanisms that need to be put into place. But then there’s also a lot around the work that we’ve been doing and Shaughn’s alluded to around women’s voice and hearing women’s voice it’s not that difficult to sit down and ask women what they want. And one of the things that CARE is really focused on right now is ensuring that women’s voices and girls’ voices are heard. And also they’re part of the decision making when it comes to humanitarian responses. As Shaughn said, all too often their voices aren’t heard.

Even though they’re, the women are often the first responders we know in other contexts they’re the last to leave their homes when a flood or earthquake happens because they’re the ones taking care of their family, but they’re not often asked about what they want. And so asking them about what they want, it sounds kind of trite, but it is actually really powerful. Um, and it empowers women to be able to make decisions around what their choices are and what they need. Um, and I think that’s a really critical thing that CARE feels really strongly about because that’s where we see the biggest change when we ask women what they want and we support them to make their own decision making that makes a significant impact at their, within their homes, and in their communities.

Shaughn McArthur: 09:34 What I might just add to that is that when you’re working with and building the capacities of women’s organizations on the ground, as Simran has said, they’re the ones that stay there. So you’re defending your investment. You’re not just coming in, responding to the emergency, responding to that spike in need and then leaving. You’re empowering people on the ground to continue to see that community through the recovery towards longer term development. It’s just the smart thing to do. And this is about making sure that, um, when we’re working with those communities, when we’re making those investments, we’re making those investments in a way that are as durable as possible and that lead to the long-term recovery and prosperity of those communities.

Simran Singh: 10:20 And just to add to what Shaughn was saying, uh, CARE is a dual mandate organization. So we are, we do both work in humanitarian and long-term development work. So oftentimes we’re already working with those communities before it starts. And so having humanitarian funding that links to our long-term development programming and is working with those similar organizations is really critical because it enables us to like, like Shaughn was saying, increase sustainability and not just go, all right, we’re here for humanitarian let’s pull out and not look at what, what we were doing before, what, what, what will happen after we leave?

Lama Alsafi: 10:52 And finally, how can someone who’s listening right now say at home or in their car at work, how can they get involved and make a difference when it comes to supporting women and girls in times of emergency?

Shaughn McArthur: 11:03 I’m glad you’re asking that question. Um, cause I’m really excited. Firstly, CARE Canada has recently launched a petition calling on Canadian parliamentarians and policy makers to support Canadian leadership on gender and emergencies worldwide. Um, Canada’s really recognized as a leader in this space, but we need to ensure that the focus is not lost through the upcoming election campaign Uh, as attentions turn domestic, we’re encouraging Canadians to sign this petition and engage in different ways to send a strong signal to our political leaders and representatives that this is something that they care about and that they expect Canada to raise the bar and lead the shift from declarations and commitments to action on the ground.

Second thing Canadians can do is to engage in discourse on social media. Uh, they can use the #march4women um, share and reshare posts by CARE Canada and others engaging on this topic, tag their MP and add their own personal touch. You know, tell us why you think that defending women’s rights in emergencies matters to you. And finally, uh, there are opportunities if you go to our website to go the extra mile. Um, you know, looking for people that are really passionate about this subject to be March for women ambassadors to, uh, write letters to the editor of their local newspapers or a letter to their member of parliament and really take this issue out of what we like to call the, uh, the Ottawa bubble. And as I say, show a confluence of, uh, of interest, uh, of Canadians and communities across Canada.

Simran Singh: 12:36 One of the things I find is that, you know, I’m a Canadian, my parents were, my grandparents were refugees, my parents were immigrants. And my story is very similar to a lot of other Canadians. And so I think it’s really important for us to be engaged because so many of us are impacted by what happens in different parts of the different parts of the world because our families are there, or we came from there. And I think as Canadians, we are so lucky to live in a place where we have the ability to walk out our home and feel safe, or we know if there’s an earthquake that there’s going to be support available right away.

And so I think there is an onus on us to be able to act and to, you know, as Shaughn ‘s outlined, write to your parliamentarians talk about this on social media, because the more people that are talking about it, the more attention is drawn to what’s happening in different parts of the world. And, and again, like we’re just really lucky. Like I’m every day that I walk out and I don’t have to be worried about, um, where I’m going or as a woman, am I safe. Uh, you know, I, I feel thankful about that and I think that that drives me to want to support other people who don’t have the same kind of privilege that I do.

Shaughn McArthur: 13:40 And it’s really important not to underestimate the impact of us speaking out on these issues for the women and girls on the front lines around the world. You know, just two days ago I was at the commission on the status of women in New York and CARE was working there with a, a young women’s rights activists from the Democratic Republic of Congo and her message to world leaders was extremely clear. It was, when you speak up on our behalf, when you shine the spotlight on us, you protect us. You also amplify our voices. And you know, in, in a context where we’re saying that women’s voices are key to getting this right, Um, there is a role that we can play even though we may be several thousand miles away.

Shaughn McArthur: 14:28 Thank you so much Simran and Shaughn for taking the time to talk with us today. Thank you. To all of our listeners for tuning in, please visit care.ca/march4women that’s number four march4women to add your name to our global call to support women and girls in times of emergency. As always, you can stay up to date on our newest episode of 15 minutes to change the world on Spotify and iTunes.

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