Humanitarian Action Report 2007: Gender bias harms children in times of crisis
By Jane O’Brien
NEW YORK, USA, 29 January 2007 – In 2006 natural and man-made disasters continued to cripple the lives of children around the world. Devastating floods swept the Horn of Africa; conflicts continued in Darfur and elsewhere; and in countries such as Haiti, extreme poverty took its toll.
In emergencies such as these, women and children are disproportionately affected. And discrimination against women makes children even more vulnerable.
UNICEF’s 2007 Humanitarian Action Report, released today in Geneva, says tackling gender inequality is critical to saving children’s lives during times of crisis.
Exposed, excluded and deprived
“Women and children are particularly vulnerable in these situations,” says UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs Dan Toole. “These situations of conflict and displacement are perfect opportunities for abuse and exploitation. If you don’t stop that, you can’t protect children either. Protecting women helps us achieve their rights and it helps us achieve protection for children as well.”
During a crisis, women become vulnerable to disease and pregnancy complications. They are also:
But an emergency can also offer enormous opportunity to advance gender equality.
Crisis as opportunity
“UNICEF can do a number of things in emergencies,” says Mr. Toole. “The easiest thing for children is to restart education and make sure that girls are in the education system as well as boys. If you look at a situation like Darfur, for example, more children are in school than ever before because of the emergency operation – and more girls are in school than have ever been in school in Darfur.
“So although emergencies are terrible situations,” he continues, “they are also incredible opportunities to enhance and jump-start assistance, and jump-start progress towards the rights of women and children. Likewise for health and nutrition.”
The new report calls for $635 million to ensure the protection of women and children in 33 emergency countries around the world. Unless women are protected and empowered during emergencies, the report states, it will more difficult to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of women's equality and gender equity by 2015.