* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.International community must rally together to uphold women’s and girls’ rights where they are furthest behind: in conflict and emergency settings
Caroline Kende-Robb, Secretary General for CARE International.
With several global summits, international fora and high-level conferences committed to ending sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) happening with regular frequency, what tangible changes have since been made? How far have the rallying cries of #CalltoActionGBV, #endGBV and #GBV rang to convert global centres of power into prompting real change?
Norway will make history this week as the first country to raise money for theme rather than a specific country in crisis by hosting the pledging conference; Ending Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Humanitarian Crises. The United Nations refers to gender-based violence as a global pandemic. But worryingly we are seeing increasing trends against gender equality and women’s human rights that are threatening some of the hard-won gains of the last two decades.
World leaders at G7 gender equality ministerial meeting held in Paris a fortnight ago, missed the mark on gender. At that summit, a declaration in favour of women’s and girls’ rights was endorsed, which was a good step forward. Yet they left a notable gap in their agreement by not acknowledging the central issue of women’s sexual and reproductive rights.. Furthermore, the final agreement remains unclear about financial support for grassroots organizations at the forefront of fighting SGBV.
This compromise is not dissimilar to an incident a few weeks before at the UN Security Council where language stating that survivors of sexual violence in conflict were entitled to “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services” was dropped. This language had prevailed for over six years.
We know from studies and experience that the scale and severity of humanitarian emergencies is worsening while protracted crises are on the rise. Just take the double whammy of cyclones that hit Mozambique in March and April this year – Idai and Kenneth – events that are likely to worsen with the growing threat of the climate crisis. Add to these an increasing number of intra-state conflicts, record levels of forced displacement and rising inequality and the result is a precarious existence for billions of people, with women and girls most at risk.
The dynamics of disasters are inherently gendered because they have different impacts on women than men, and on girls compared to boys. We know that conflicts, natural disasters and mass displacement exacerbate existing gender inequalities, which triggers patterns of increased gender-based violence. This might include an increase in intimate partner violence, but it could also give rise to new forms of GBV like trafficking or early child marriage.
The need and demand for life-saving sexual and reproductive health services increases during times of conflict and crisis because this is when women and adolescent girls are at increased risk of unintended pregnancy, life-threatening complications from pregnancy and maternal death. Some 60 per cent of all preventable maternal deaths take place in fragile and crisis-affected settings.
Yet too often women and girls can not access these critical and life-saving services because they simply don’t exist. Providing comprehensive emergency medical care in the wake of a cyclone or during an armed conflict is possible but currently it is simply not a priority These services are not optional; they are the bare minimum that women and girls are entitled to access in emergencies and at any other time.
The Oslo conference provides governments with a rare opportunity to listen to the voices of some 150 women from around the world who will be in attendance. They will hear some truly amazing success stories about what women-led organisations are doing to make sure no one is left behind in their communities. These are the organisations that communities know and trust. These are the first responders that women and girls will turn to when crisis strikes. They need to be there, providing a comprehensive range of services in a non-discriminatory manner.
CARE is calling on all actors in Oslo to ensure a comprehensive approach in addressing all forms of gender-based violence. We believe in a survivor-centered approach where women and girls are at the center. Donors, civil society organisations, local actors and governments (including the G7) are taking important steps to enact new policies and establish new standards to tackle SGBV. But we need to quicken the pace of change. Shockingly, only 3-4% of all humanitarian spending goes to protection activities. Less than 1% is spent on gender-based violence.
Long-term, predictable funding for local women and girls’ rights is a crucial part of the transformation we seek, without which policies stay on the page and are not implemented. Other vital steps include ensuring more meaningful participation by women in the very fora where decisions are taken (frequently by men) on issues that concern them specifically.
The international community must rally together to uphold women’s and girls’ rights where they are furthest behind: in conflict and emergency settings. To achieve this, humanitarian funding structures and compliance systems must be adjusted to put women's and girls' rights actors at the forefront of every humanitarian response.