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Speech: Will we cede power to help women in crisis?

The following remarks were delivered on April 13, by Caroline Kende-Robb, secretary general for CARE International, at a special event at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC. She attended to discuss how we can come together to better support the rights of women and girls facing humanitarian crises. The event included Maryam Monsef, Canada’s Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality, and Kristalina Georgieva, Interim President of the World Bank Group and Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank.

 

Let me begin with a story of a remarkable woman named Angelina Nyajima Simon Jial, from South Sudan.

In October 2018, her NGO had a breakthrough: They received $130,000 from the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund. It was enough to open a safe space for women and girls, dedicated to helping survivors of gender-based violence.

But only six months after opening, it lost its funding.

This, in a country that suffers some of the highest rates of gender-based violence.

This, just a stone’s throw away from the town of Bentiu, where the United Nations reported 134 rapes between September and December 2018.

As Angelina put it when she addressed the UN Security Council on March 8th:

“How do you tell someone who has been subjected to horrific acts of violence that you can no longer help them? It is very disheartening.”

Why do scenarios like this continue to happen around the world?

Because women's rights and agency are still not central to humanitarian planning and decision-making. Because our compliance systems privilege established organizations. Because too many powerful humanitarian actors remain unwilling to cede power to local women's rights actors.

These are the real obstacles that stand between our many commitments, and a more accountable, gender-responsive humanitarian system.

There is no longer any question of women being passive victims waiting for help. They are volunteers, activists, and first responders. They are risking their lives to help and speak up for others.

 

To ignore this reality is not only discriminatory. It also leads to less effective and efficient humanitarian responses. And it puts lives at risk.

Caroline Kende-Robb

CARE International

We are at critical moment. We are seeing multiple protracted crises, record forced displacement, rising inequality, and climate-induced disasters.

Resources are stretched. But we are also learning to be more resourceful. Policy, best-practice, and political will are coming together in promising new ways. From the Grand Bargain, to the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-based Violence in Emergencies.

There is no longer any question of women being passive victims waiting for help. They are volunteers, activists, and first responders. They are risking their lives to help and speak up for others.

To ignore this reality is not only discriminatory. It also leads to less effective and efficient humanitarian responses. And it puts lives at risk.

We know this to be true. Yet we continue to be inconsistent in upholding women’s a girls’ rights and agency on the ground.

On April 4, CARE, along with more than 40 organizations around the world, released a blueprint entitled “Women and girls' rights and agency in humanitarian action: A life-saving priority.”

This inter-agency position was inspired by the G7 Whistler Declaration.

It is based on months of consultation – with humanitarian organizations, networks, advocacy groups, and the countless partners like Angelina, with whom we work every day.

The position covers five broad areas:

  1. Women’s and girls’ voice and leadership;
  2. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights;
  3. Gender-Based Violence;
  4. Prevention of Sexual Harassment, Exploitation and Abuse; and
  5. Women's Economic Empowerment.

But its call to action can be summed up in three key points:

Ensure meaningful participation of women and girls - both at high-level roundtables in Washington, as well as at cluster meetings in countries like South Sudan.

Hold humanitarian agencies accountable to work with women’s and girls’ rights actors – including through quantitative and qualitative reporting.

Mobilize long-term, predictable funding for local women and girls' rights actors – because these organizations alone are capable of putting women at centre of conversation before the response even begins. And they will still be there when everyone else has left.

But leaders like Angelina need our support to operate on a more sustainable basis.

A more systematic approach for upholding women’s and girls’ rights and agency in humanitarian action is within reach. The question is whether all of us are willing to cede some of our power to bring about that shift.

Whether we’re talking South Sudan, Yemen or Bangladesh, I hope you’ll agree that the only answer is that we must.

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The remarks refer to a special joint position paper endorsed by CARE and 40 other organizations. Read the recommendations here: Women’s and girls’ rights and agency in humanitarian action: A life-saving priority.