Q&A with Shaughn McArthur about CARE’s #NotOptional campaign

Q. CARE recently brought together more than 40 international agencies and women’s rights organizations to publish a joint policy position. What does the statement say and who is it directed towards?

This group of 40 agencies acknowledges that gender equality is lagging in conflict and emergency settings. The position proposes that organizations who plan and implement humanitarian response take key actions including:

  • making humanitarian response more accountable to women’s and girls’ needs and priorities
  • ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services in every humanitarian response
  • doing more to address gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse
  • enabling women to generate an income in disaster-stricken communities.

Q. What is the significance of milestones like the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to women around the world?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by United Nations members in 1995 as a means of pursuing "a world where each woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize all her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for equal work." (UN Women)

The declaration paved the way for advancements in women's rights such as paid maternity leave, legal abortion in many parts of the world and increased access to education for women. The policy position seizes the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration to call on world leaders to commit to concrete and measurable actions to support gender equality where it is furthest behind: in conflict and emergency settings.

Q. One of the five areas considered in the statement is Women’s and Girls' Voice and Leadership. Can you explain what this means, and what this actually looks like in the context of the agencies who support the statement?

Organizations, governments and people with a mandate to uphold women’s and girls’ rights often make assumptions about the challenges that women and girls face. We know women and girls face challenges unique to their context and experience. Women's and Girls' Voice and Leadership refers to an approach to decision-making that ensures that the perspectives and feedback of women and girls is fully and equally considered by those working towards a more effective and efficient humanitarian system.

Q. What would you say are the three most important recommendations included in the statement?

It is difficult to prioritize one recommendation over another. The policy proposal is holistic and a coordinated roll out is a requirement for lasting change. But women’s voice and leadership is a clear thread that ties the whole package together.

Q. Why do you think the issue of women’s rights in emergencies is more important than ever before?

Gender inequality will always be more pronounced in the world’s most troubled places. Issues such as conflict, violence, natural disasters and migration are challenging us to do things differently. With an estimated 67 million women and girls around the world in need of humanitarian assistance, governments, United Nations agencies, humanitarian organizations, women’s rights actors and national and local authorities are starting to wake up to the fact that we cannot continue to treat women’s and girls’ rights as optional in these settings.

Ready to take action in support of women's rights in crisis?