Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director
Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies Opening Session
May 23, 2019
On behalf of everyone at UNICEF, I’d like to thank our Norwegian partners for bringing us together to discuss this important issue.
And especially for dedicating today’s discussions to the vital role that civil society partners play.
Thank you for all that you’re doing to directly support and protect women and girls in the midst of emergencies.
We want to support you in this vital work.
At the same time, we know this issue is too complex for any single agency or organization to tackle on its own. We all must come together.
Over the next two days, I’ll be advocating for stronger programming, including safer interventions across all sectors of humanitarian response…a more central role for local women’s organizations… …putting gender-based violence front-and-centre in our humanitarian appeals…and new innovations to end this epidemic.
And I’ll be urging that we do so together, as partners — each bringing our mandates, expertise and added-value to the table.
From frontline service providers, like many of you in this room. To the highest levels of government. To UN agencies and NGOs.
The stakes are huge — and the job is daunting.
One in three girls or women — over one billion worldwide — will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.
And being a women or girl in the chaos of a conflict or a natural disaster multiplies the risk.
In the chaos and confusion of an emergency, a temporary shelter, or a school, or a toilet, or a clinic or a food-distribution centre can all be potential dangers.
Sadly, we know that even peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers — the very people entrusted to provide help and support — can be a threat.
Sexual abuse and exploitation. Early marriage and pregnancy. Physical violence. Intimidation and harassment.
For millions of girls trapped within humanitarian emergencies, these are not distant nightmares — these are daily realities. Realities that put them at a double disadvantage in the uncertainty of an emergency.
In my visits, I’ve met these women and girls.
I’ve heard their stories.
I’ve seen the impact of gender-based violence on their lives, their families and their communities.
But I’ve also seen their strength.
I’ve witnessed their determination to move past the violence that’s been inflicted on them.
And I’ve seen their inspiring commitment to overcome the past and build the future they want and deserve.
To go to school. To find a job. And to support other women and girls who have endured the same hardships.
Though they have experienced terrible injustices, what they’ve endured does not define them. Their determination does.
As women and girls travel this path, UNICEF walks with them.
With our partners and generous donors, we’re supporting survivors and women and girls at risk through our programming.
Like psychosocial support, case management, and clinical management in cases of rape.
Like establishing safe spaces for women and girls.
Like taking concrete measures to make our water and sanitation programming safer — including by building separate, well-lit toilets in communities and schools.
Like innovative technologies, including the Primero system that helps women and girls in hard-to-reach locations gain access to GBV case-management services — and helps us collect and analyze data on the issue.
And through co-operative community efforts to change harmful social norms that underpin various forms of GBV, such as sexual violence, exploitation, and child marriage.
But we cannot do it without you — our civil society partners, who are there before, during and after these emergencies. On the frontlines of this work.
Groups like Active Youth Association in South Sudan, which is shaping programming around the specific needs of women and girls to help reduce GBV.
Like the Somali Women’s Development Centre, which operates support centres and a hotline for survivors of gender-based violence in Mogadishu.
And like the Iraqi al-Amal Association, which runs women’s centres offering counselling, case-management and life-skills programmes for adolescent girls.
So often, groups like these are the “first responders” in times of crisis — and those that keep the services running long after international agencies have left.
But just as I’ve heard from girls and women about their struggles, I’ve also heard from CSO staff who have been working side-by-side with survivors, often without sufficient staff care or sustained job security.
These stresses worsen the daily anxiety of living in a crisis-affected community. It makes such taxing work all the harder.
I’ve also heard from local CSO leaders themselves, who have told me how difficult it is to access the funding they need. Especially when a fast-moving emergency suddenly strikes.
This is unacceptable. These groups risk their own safety — and often, their own lives — in delivering help and hope for women and girls in emergencies.
We must find new avenues of support for them.
First — We need long-term, multi-year funding commitments to continue this vital work, before, during and after emergencies.
At this conference, UNICEF is calling on governments and donors to invest in this issue, and give civil society groups the long-term, sustainable and accessible funding they need.
We must never allow bureaucracy to get in the way of serving and supporting women and girls quickly and effectively.
And second — as part of this, we need better tracking of funds and resources to women’s civil society groups addressing GBV in emergencies.
As a concrete step, UNICEF is committing to strengthening our own systems at country level to better track the support we provide to local women’s groups.
We want to keep it simple, by focusing our tracking efforts at the country level — in our humanitarian response plans and in our Country Offices.
We’re calling on our partners across the humanitarian family to do the same, and we look forward to further discussions on the way forward.
Throughout our discussions, let’s remember why we’re here — to support the survivors of gender-based violence, and to ensure that, even in humanitarian emergencies, women and children are protected.
The people in this room are all part of this ecosystem of support.
So let’s take this opportunity to learn from one another.
Let’s hold ourselves accountable to these women, girls and communities in crisis.
And every step of the way — let’s match the determination and bravery of survivors and front-line responders alike with our own.