Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference

25 – 27 MARCH 2014

Women and Aid

Women on whom disasters and crises inflect a disproportionate amount of suffering, and women, essential providers of relief and assistance

Summary of Presentations


In her opening statement, HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, pointed to the rapid growth in the UAE foreign aid, making Emerati citizens among the most generous of the world. The Dubai International Humanitarian City (IHC) is now the world’s largest logistics centre, and His Highness was cited as aiming at providing aid through projects and not just words. “We must reach out to women as they are parts of families and communities with values and traditions and not isolate them”. Women and children suffer most in crises, such as in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan. They are also most of the victims of hunger and violent exploitation, but until recently have not been involved in decision making on humanitarian aid, which is still male dominated. With a female literacy rate of 90% and female registration in higher education of 77%, the UAE has one of the best records of female education in the world. As a UN Messenger of Peace, focusing on Millennium Development Goals addressing the reduction of poverty and hunger, HRH Princess Haya stressed the important role that women can play in bringing about an end to hunger and malnutrition with simple means, as she had seen during a recent visit to Liberia, the first African country with a female president. In conclusion, HRH Princess Haya expressed the view that there is proof that “women can be the solution”. (Download Speech)

Speaking both as a Minister and as a woman, H.E. Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of International Cooperation and Development, UAE, encouraged women to be seen as brokers of peace and not just as recipients of aid. She welcomed a discussion on how all can work together to meet the different needs of women as recipients. The UAE is strongly committed to gender equality through its aid programme, with gender related issues and women empowerment in the overall aid policy under preparation. As practitioners, recipients and implementers of humanitarian aid, women play an important role.

Dr Hamdan Musallam Al Mazrouie – speaking on behalf of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Red Crescent Authority – pointed at the IFRC strategy and targets set for gender equality and women’s welfare improvement, taking into account the dangers women are facing in crises and disasters. International humanitarian law (see Article 14, Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.) calls for special protection of women in times of war or conflict, and also for separate facilities for detention of women, in the promotion of which the UAE Red Crescent has actively participated. Current humanitarian challenges facing women in hotspots require increased support for the role of women in the humanitarian field. Coordination is important to mitigate the impact of disasters, reconstruct post disasters, and alleviate suffering of women in crisis.

H.E. Mr. Ibrahim Bumelha, Chairman DIHAD Higher Committee and President DISAB, stressed the importance of enhancing cooperation to meet the needs of all and come together to discuss best practices. Women on whom disasters have serious impacts need special support, and the UAE is keen to enhance disaster preparedness and provide assistance to relieve human suffering to refugees and displaced. It also provides financing of development projects, and support of food supplies and shelter. The UAE has become a vital contributor to international efforts to bring relief to human suffering as seen in the increased relevance of the International Humanitarian City.

WFP Executive Director, Ms Ertharin Cousin, expressed appreciation for the spotlight on women, and the forum allowing a review of how women are affected by conflict, and the impact on their health, safety and security, and education. She encouraged the participants to build a bridge here and together improve the services to women and girls. It is important to pay attention to women’s capacities and not just their needs. During a recent visit to the Central African Republic she saw how women survive in towns fully destroyed, facing rape and despair. Women are most often bearing the crippling effects of crises and disasters. As one woman said to her: “War; don’t talk of war, my daily life is battlefield enough.” Women and girls face barriers due to the existing inequality, making them most vulnerable. Today 80% of refugees are women and children, many of them living in female-headed households. Women are not a homogeneous group, so programmes to meet their needs must be adjusted to their specific circumstances. There is still a long way to go to ensure women’s needs are fully met in humanitarian and development programmes. Addressing gender does not compete with the humanitarian imperative, and must be effective in designing humanitarian responses. “We can make a difference in women’s eyes.” Addressing women’s needs is not an add-on, but it is essential. Women still face inequality in access to assistance. “We as humanitarian actors must hold ourselves accountable to address the different needs of women, girls, men and boys.” “We can do better, we must do better.” (Download Speech)

Ms Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, saw both women and aid as important issues in their own right. Women throughout history have shown that gender economics are simply good economics. Recognizing diversity of talents of both men and women make Europe a more peaceful society, although full gender equality is not yet achieved. Needs are growing because of more complex crises and disasters. The commitment for women and for aid come together, which means determination to work with partners to better understand specific needs of women in emergencies, and the best way to support them. Although women lack the physical strength of men and are the most frequent victims of disasters, and weapons of warfare, they face a higher burden than men in protection of and caring for their family.

A recent European Union policy based on gender in humanitarian operations is built on mainstreaming needs of women and children. Its second pillar targets actions to address the needs of women, including health facilities, and specific funding such as vouchers or cash programmes directed to women. It also aims at capacity building of partners in gender sensitivity throughout the programmes. The Commissioner mentioned as examples the case of women, victims of rape in Panzi hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who are supported to work as outreach agents to create a sense for other women that they can cope; and the expansion of cash and voucher programmes for women, rather than in-kind food provision, to reduce the dependency and generate income to care for their family. She stressed the importance of leading by example for women empowerment, “not only talking the talk but also walking the walk”. (Download Speech)

In her address, Ms Baige Zhao, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Red Cross Society of China, stressed that violence against women after disasters as well as the effects on them during crises needs special attention. Girls and women between 4 and 40 years of age are most victims of disasters, and are around 80% of refugees. One in five women is pregnant when a disaster strikes. Different needs and capacities of women and girls need to be taken into account, such as the need to take on the productive role when men stay behind or fall victim to war. Protection of women and girls is recognised to be in need of being enhanced, together with all life saving actions to create a safer environment for them during and after conflict and natural disasters. It is a global human rights issue. In her view, the environment has never been more conducive than now to do better and more against violence of women and girls. The IFRC has made violence prevention, mitigation and response a central component of its 2020 policy. This includes the shift in allocation of resources to case based projects, challenging gender discrimination, and inclusive approach that gender based policies are a prerequisite, and listening to girls, boys and women is critical. Through the grassroots network, IFRC is committed to raising the voice of girls and women. Gender balance in its own staffing also has the potential of extraordinary impact. She stressed the importance of providing hygiene kits aimed at women to preserve their dignity. Therefore, the theme of the conference is an important sign of commitment of all and must be translated into action. (Download Speech)

In his special address the singer and Goodwill Ambassador for Peace of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), Mr. Mohammad Assaf, reminded the audience that he was representing five million Palestinian men and women. He felt the responsibility to talk about those in the refugee camps and under the care of UNRWA. He grew up as a refugee thanks to the health care, food and education provided by UNRWA. He pointed out that Palestinian refugees in Syria were even before the crisis the weakest segment of society, and about 80,000 of the over 500,000 have fled violence, hunger and lack of health care in the besieged and now destroyed camp in Yarmouk to other parts of the country.

SESSION 1 – Women and War

Dr. Fathima Gailani, Afghanistan Red Crescent Society (ARC) – Chair, emphasised the suffering of Afghan women she has seen during the last 35 years of war. Most of the different kinds of war victimised women and children, who lost their homes and thus their identity and sense of belonging. Many women lost their mental balance and need to be cared for. Of great concern is the lost opportunity of education for girls, in particular as their mobility was limited except for those who went elsewhere as refugees. There is also a great gap between women in urban and rural settings. The health system is devastated, leading to one of the highest mortality rates of women and girls in the world. One of the activities of the ARC is looking after a group of young widows, teaching them skills to regain their independence as well as assistance to women beggars. Early marriage for girls having lost their families and their support structure is another problem. Two extremely vulnerable categories of women are the physically disabled and those who are severely mentally disabled after the loss of their families. She pointed out that women play a central role in particular in crisis situations by creating some degree of stability.

Ms Wendy Fenton, Humanitarian Practice Network, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), focused her presentation on the recent literature review on preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV) in humanitarian crises, carried out by ODI. The limited literature on outcomes and impact available on this issue includes some incidental evidence and a diverse range of views on GBV, concepts, focus, priorities, and scope. As a result, a consensus on the best way for prevention and response was lacking. Awareness-raising activities using media and education were most effective. Among the harrowing practices in the use of GBV as a weapon of intimidation in camp settings is Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), most prevalent in the Eastern DRC. One of the key findings of the review was the importance of involving men in training and discussion groups, giving clear messages on root causes of the violence. Increased women’s access to response by addressing the stigma of GBV by increased use of and respect for local knowledge, group based therapeutic programmes, girl friendly services, and more flexible programmes involving men were found to be key in responding. (Download Speech)

Ms Amneh Saqer and Ms Lina Murrai, UNRWA Syria, referred to the status of Palestinian refugees in Syria, more than half of whom are now newly displaced and living in UNRWA tents or in tight spaces in public buildings, many having lost track of their husbands. The camps were set up 64 years ago and have witnessed great expansion over the years. Most affected by the new crisis are women and children, 140,000 of whom are now registered as poor by UNRWA. Girls with special needs are confined to their homes or tents and deprived of education. Social support and training are provided to Palestinian women, but the question remains what their future will look like as long as return to their homes is not possible. (Download Presentation)

Ms Murrai gave examples from Yarmouk camp as a member of the Humanitarian Country Team. She explained that 80% of the 160,000 refugees have been newly displaced since mid 2013, without access to food and health care in times of disease outbreaks.

Giving some precise facts and concepts, Ms Maria Teresa Garrido, ICRC, focused on women and war, and differences between their needs and those of men. Women tend to be affiliated with peace, tenderness and helplessness, while men are often associated with aggression and war, which both are misperceptions and incomplete truths. Women are also active and able to come up with their own resources, reconstructing and finding answers to their situations. It is inaccurate to define women as vulnerable by definition, but women are made vulnerable – as men are – by circumstances. The civilian population at large is vulnerable, but vulnerability is a key (and relative) concept. To the question whether women are more vulnerable than men in situations of armed conflict, she responded both in a positive and a negative sense: women risk more physical abuse, but men are more often victims of detention and disappearances. As a result, women remain on their own to fend for themselves and their families. Women are particularly vulnerable to displacement, having to assume new roles for which they have not been trained or prepared. Local cultural and / or socio-economic factors will determine their mobility or ability to flee to eventually reach an IDP or refugee camp, where they have to face other challenges. Women are also to deal with the disappearances of their mainly male relatives, putting them into an imprecise legal status and denying them access to assistance. ICRC has developed skills training for income generation, and supports both women and men in positive coping mechanisms to meet their different and complementary needs.( Download Presentation)

In the following debate, there was a call for strategic solutions and pragmatic outcomes as well as access for women to education and information on their rights, rather than focusing on problems only. It is the role of the international community to take care of all in need, independent of nationality or religion. More needs to be done to invest in disaster prevention and involve women in the relevant programmes. Gender is about rights for women, rather than a technical issue. The question was raised whether a situation could exist in which women rather than men took over the leadership of a post-crisis country. Access to justice as well economic empowerment is an important issue.

SESSION 2 – Women and disaster

H.E. Ms Najla el Kaabi, Assistant-Under Secretary, Ministry of International Cooperation and Development, UAE (replacing H.E. Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of International Cooperation and Development, UAE) chaired the session and introduced the three other panellists.

Mr. David Kaatrud, World Food Programme (WFP), referred to the gender-informed approach of WFP, called the Gender Lens, which is based on the difference in needs, access to basic services as well as roles between women and men. Many vulnerable zones slip into actual crisis, calling for early preparation for possible disaster with disaggregated data. Sensitivity to gender considerations is relevant in the composition of response and monitoring teams. UNSWAP – UN System-Wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women – is one of the key inter-agency concepts. The gender marker – introduced in the Consolidated Appeals Process – is adhered to by WFP for its programmes. The IASC Transformative Agenda includes a protocol on the Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP), to be applied with the newest and traditional techniques, and currently applied in CAR and ROSS to build synergies in programming. Also the GMAF (gender mainstreaming accountability framework) is being used as a tool to improve the integration of gender in the Organisation itself. The key challenge is to balance the urgency in responding to sudden onset disasters with the ability of ensuring a gender-sensitive approach. When not responding, WFP staff use their time to prepare for gender-sensitive response multi-segment mechanisms as a responsibility for all staff. (Download Presentation)

Dr. Mona Chaya, UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), pointed out that when disaster strikes rural communities are left without their sources of survival and need outside help to regain their independence. Rural women are even more vulnerable than men, suffering more from displacement and lack of access to health care, sexual abuse, property loss and other rights. Although women make up 43% of the agricultural labour force, they earn less than men in general. Influence of women on nutrition and households is essential, with serious impact on the wellbeing of their families. Nevertheless, women have less access to resources in peace time, becoming increasingly vulnerable in crisis times. There is evidence that hunger in the world could be reduced by 12 – 15% by involving women in agricultural enterprises. The building of resilience by women in Chad through gardening activities for increased food production for household consumption was given as an example. . Investing in the collective power of women in Gaza and the West Bank has given economic success to women and provided them with marketing skills. In Afghanistan, women have been empowered to become agents of change. A determined management decision can empower a woman to be an agent of change. Women are key to building resilience to disasters, and their needs and capacities are central to humanitarian programmes. Gender inequality brings insecurity, and closing the gap will bring about security and benefit both women and men. (Download Presentation)

Ms Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), stressed that half of the 144 million people affected by disasters between 2008 and 2012 are women and girls. They are particularly vulnerable due to their physical conditions and are 14% more likely to die in natural disasters. Focus on good actions in the programmatic response is on preparedness for community-based disaster risk reduction to build on existing knowledge. Women are also involved in designing early warning systems, geared towards specific conditions of the target population, in particular in the prepared societies. Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) trainings are extended to staff in governments and national communities as well as other actors. Post-disaster response should involve both men and women to create better understanding for their respective needs. Simple measures can lead to important protection of women in camp settings against trafficking of women and children; and including women in cash for work programmes can improve the livelihood of their families. The Migration Crisis Operational Framework (MCOF) of IOM addresses the problem of trafficking of girls and women in times of disaster, in particular in areas where traffickers are already active. Windows of opportunity should be used to train women to become actors of change such as in the post-disaster construction of housing.

In the ensuing debate, the need for involving local communities and women in decisions on disaster response and preparedness was agreed to be extremely pressing and is becoming increasingly part in developing resilience and transition from emergency. The resilience agenda includes a multi-disciplinary approach among different organisations and working with the affected communities.

SESSION 3 – Women and development

By way of introduction, Dr. Mukesh Kapila, University of Manchester, Chair, mentioned that the “Women in development” phrase was first used in the 1970s in big conferences to state that women could be lifted out of poverty by a move into the paid labour force, in particular in the agricultural sector. In the ‘80s came the phrase “Women and development” with focus on special projects aimed at women as islands within the bigger sphere of development. In the 1990s came the recognition that gender is about male – female relations to transform society as a whole. This led to the debate on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and whether a special goal for empowerment of women should be introduced. The resulting Goal 3 has – despite its importance – been reduced to three limiting indicators for education and a nominal involvement of women in quota systems. He launched the question whether we are now on a sustainable path of full women’s participation, acknowledging regional diversity in the universal value system and down to community level. He introduced as a topic for reflection whether, within the debate of globalisation vs localisation, the status of women has been advanced by the one rather than the other.

Ms. Farah Kabir, Action Aid Bangladesh, member of the START network, focused on women leadership, development and aid, and expressed concern about the dwindling resources and the lack of progress from MDGs to SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Of the 95% of disasters occurring in developing countries, 90% of lives lost were those of women, who are 14 times more likely than men to die in disasters. The importance to address the women’s specific needs in humanitarian assistance has not been fully recognised. In her view the major question is whether the SDGs can move the transformative agenda for women empowerment forward. Examples of emergency response led by women in the local communities illustrated the need to include women in the design and execution of – and follow-up to – project activities, e.g. supervision of construction of shelters. As long as female leaders are working in male dominated social structures, their power for leadership and transformation of society remains limited. (Download Presentation)

Ms Colleen Lafontaine, Present Purpose, referred to honour violence and killings in Pakistan to illustrate the struggle in certain societies for women to have better lives. She elaborated on the need to invest in women and girls as a sound investment in the global economy. Although global institutions have policies to address the status of women, these do not improve the household level rights of girls and women, such as access to education, a halt to child marriage, or opportunity costs. By support through networking and partnering with grassroots and community level female-led organisations, her organisation hopes to have a big impact leading to social change. She called for support to women at the frontlines of development to accelerate change, which needs to start at the micro-level. “It is now time to put women in the driver’s seat for development.” (Download Presentation).

Some insights into the challenges to female leadership were given by Mr. Arun Muttreja, Humanitarian Leadership Academy. Women affected by crisis and disaster face insurmountable barriers to playing their role in society, while already facing challenges in normal life. Just sticking to pilots and scale is not sufficient to bring about change. The only way to bring about change is by creating opportunities and access to training in the humanitarian and development sector in a sustainable and affordable manner within the local context, working together with a host of organisations throughout the world to remove the barriers.

Various questions or remarks from the floor dealt with the protection of women in conflict zones. It was agreed that collective leadership at the community level is valuable for more effective change in society, such as illustrated by the powerful voice of women coming from marginalised and discriminated communities in India. The paradigm is shifting to collaborative advantage to bear a lot more fruit than in the past, while a youth dimension in disaggregating data on gender and on the role of young women in decision making processes must be included.

SESSION 4 – Women and food security

Mr. Mohamed Beavogui, IFAD, Chair, set the context for the discussion by describing the role of IFAD in investing in poor rural communities to help them to lift women out of poverty. Promoting women as equal partners in the agricultural labour force by support to micro-finance institutions and granting them equal rights is imperative for the reduction of malnutrition. Furthermore, this is the international year of family farming. A close connection exists between the empowerment of women, food and nutrition security, and rural development. Access to education by youth is the basis for change of the society as well as the status of women. (Download Presentation)

Ms Florika Fink-Hooijer, ECHO, pointed out that 80% of ECHO funding goes to food assistance. As women can be actors of change, they should be involved in these projects. Provision of cash and vouchers to women should be preferred over food aid, in order to build resilience and promote local purchasing and food production, and reduce dependency. Of the Euro 800 million allocated by ECHO for food assistance, 80% is allocated to cash and vouchers. But a multi-sectoral approach is needed to address the problem of malnutrition, mainstreaming gender in policies, working with local communities for resilience building, and targeting hygiene and other issues. Implementing partners are held accountable through indicators requiring women’s involvement in the whole project cycle. This approach has demonstrated specific benefits for women as a safer way of access to support rather than food parcels. The gender marker has been built in the whole programme cycle. For example, women are asked what impact the granting of cash and vouchers has on them as a signal to partners that women must be included in the full project cycle. (Download Speech)

Ms Joyce Luma, WFP, referred to the global commitments through the MDGs, part of which is to reduce hunger and malnutrition, and pointed out that global statistics do not include a gender perspective. More than half of the world’s undernourished population are women and children. Comparison of data between female and male-headed households shows a variance, depending on region or economic status, but on average female-headed households do face a higher degree of food insecurity. One of the reasons is limited access to resources and assets, social networks and information by women, and their lack of – or lower – payment for labour in the agricultural sector, which reduces their capacity to prepare for disaster. Food consumption levels do not always vary between female and male-headed households in Nepal and Bangladesh, probably thanks to remittances from migrant workers, which make up about 11% of GDP. Loss of income post-disaster often leads to negative coping strategies, such as women seeking employment at the cost of the social structures and childcare. Access to education, income generation for girls, and special support to female-headed households do contribute to reducing food insecurity. (Download Presentation)

Ms Amina Ibrahim Sheikh Abdulla, Concern Worldwide, pointed out that of the 840 million people going hungry in developing countries most lack access to the means to produce. Reasons are poverty, conflict, and climate change. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 413 million people live below the poverty line and 25% are undernourished. While food is sufficient, access is the limiting factor. The resulting child stunting has long-term irreversible impacts on development and productivity in the future. As targeting women alone has failed to have the desired result, the RAIN (Realigning Agriculture for Improved Nutrition) project in Zambia includes a gender component for empowerment of women at individual, relational, structural, and associational levels. Households and not just women are targeted in behavioural change activities to reduce food insecurity. Empowerment of women has led to a decrease in the diversity in child dietary habits and increased access to health care. Key actions for improvement include investing in women to be effective to reduce food insecurity, including women in designing instruments and tools, proper monitoring, and truly inclusive and empowering projects. (Download Presentation)

SPECIAL ADDRESS – Former UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ms Muna Abu Suliman – pointed out that the story of women and aid is often placed in a situation of loss. A myth of development is that funding is generous also for women’s organisations, which is often fragmented. Despite major strides made, there is a long way to go to achieve equality. There is a need for positive discrimination for female initiatives. As women’s participation in peace negotiations is still only 8%, humanitarian organisations might benefit from quota systems. There is also a myth of cultural sensitivity that faith, religion and culture are issues that need to be resolved. In fact, worldviews are only a side point and are not the very basis on which policies are to be built. She was strongly convinced that a new Syria will be built with the help from the outside world.

SPECIAL SESSION – The Syria crisis: in-country assistance requirements

Dr. Abdul Rahman Attar, Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARC), Chair, referred to the three-year crisis in Syria, and lives – including those of 34 SARC volunteers – and materials lost. More than 200 ambulances, 3,000 schools and many hospitals have been destroyed. The most important challenges have been the access restrictions and logistics. The SARC has been designated to be the leading agency, and it has established a security cell to reduce loss. (Download Presentation)

Mr. Atta Almanan Bakhit El-Haj, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), recalled the joint mission in early 2012 between the OIC and UN to make a first-hand evaluation of the humanitarian situation in the country, which reported the need for urgent humanitarian assistance for one million IDPs and 25,000 refugees. The fact that there are now between three and four million refugees shows how this unprecedented humanitarian tragedy has developed. The OIC has not received government agreement to work inside the country since July 2012, and the Government of Syria has stopped all negotiations. The four main impediments are the growing number of needy Syrians inside the country with limited resources of the international community; safe access problem for NGOs and International Organisations; weakness of Syrian civil society; and difficult coordination between different actors working in the country. Ways to find solutions – a political one is needed – include for the access problem the establishment of a safe corridor to inside the country to bring in aid for millions now inaccessible; and support to local NGOs and civil society through coalitions to be able to properly deliver and reconstruct. As there are fewer donors for Syria, there not being a political solution in sight, transparent coordination and use of the limited resources are needed.

Mr. Nigel Fisher, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis, reflected about trauma and trauma recovery, protection and abuse, and voices of moderation. Giving people a meaning in their lives and some hope for the future is an important factor in trauma recovery. So are consistency and stability for children through access to schools as the road to psychological healing. These are key issues for protection. Violent rape of women and children and other atrocities are committed with impunity. Protection of Civilians is enshrined in the principles of international humanitarian law, but these are limitlessly violated. Preponderance of crimes lies with those who have preponderance of power. Basic cruel facts include that 1,400 people could be removed from Homs only after months of negotiations. Although Yarmouk camp has received hundreds of food packages daily, needs are desperate. Three million people live in hard to reach areas and have not received assistance for months.

As the discussion on humanitarian access is still too much remaining in the political domain, the question of respect for sovereignty must be brought to the public through e.g. social media. International standards must be understood to be non-negotiable, and violations of rights must not continue with impunity. “Voices of moderation must be heard by leaders inside and outside Syria.”(Download Presentation).

Mr Muhannad Hadi, World Food Programme, started his presentation by paying tribute to the many humanitarian workers delivering the aid, many of whom are IDPs themselves. Monthly more than 1,000 trucks deliver food aid, targeting 4.25 million people, in partnership with the SARC and 28 other partners in all 14 governorates. WFP got prepared for the worst by establishing a presence with 180 staff throughout the country. Furthermore, by the end of this year 2.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries will be assisted with credit cards or paper vouchers to give them their dignity back by allowing for their own decision making, and efforts will be made to copy this inside Syria. The full dependency on foreign aid to survive is regrettable, and decrease in such assistance will lead to negative coping mechanisms for the families.

In the ensuing debate the need for training of local NGOs in humanitarian standards and the establishment of safe corridors was stressed. It was admitted that the crisis had not been seen developing and all parties were taken by surprise, and therefore there was no preparedness for it, as is often the case in such situations. It was suggested to look into the possibility to create a pooled funding mechanism to support smaller and / or newer organisations as well as training for accessing donor funding. (Download Presentation).

SPECIAL SESSION – The Syria crisis – continued: assistance requirements in neighbouring countries – Syrian refugees.

Amb. William Lacy Swing, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Chair, acknowledged the profound and deeply troubling wounds with 2.5 million refugees and 6.5 million needy people inside the country. Summarising the discussion on the situation inside the country, conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging due to heavily controlled and conditioned humanitarian access in active conflict zones, in particular to over three million people in hard to reach areas. He paid tribute to the SARC, and mentioned Security Council resolution 2139, authorising additional cross border assistance. Funding of the humanitarian appeal is worrisome with only 12% of pledges having been paid. The situation in neighbouring countries shows negative repercussions on all Syria’s neighbours and beyond, with the many refugees lacking access to health care and facing an overwhelmed infrastructure, in particular in Lebanon and Jordan. Protection against recruitment, Sexual and Gender Based Violence as well as human trafficking of women and children are of major concern. Concerned to try to do more among partners with its 180 staff in 12 locations, IOM continues to provide health care and non-food items, to profile refugees and vulnerable people, and work on the rehabilitation of collective centres.

Amb. Swing pointed out that little attention has been given to the generosity of Syria’s neighbours. The biggest danger for all is the kind of numbing effect setting in, and we have to guard against global indifference.

Mr. Mohamed Ateeq Al Falahi, UAE Red Crescent Authority, summarised his organisation’s aid to Syria since the start of the crisis, for the three pillars of shelter, health care, and food security. In Jordan, the UAE Red Crescent co-established a camp for 25,000 refugees, mostly women and children; a hospital and 60 health teams and a field hospital in the camp; and provides support to 25,000 families in basic services outside the camps; airlifts and truck loads of food parcels, clothes and blankets. The UAE RC also provided assistance in Erbil with shelter and cash and basic services. While in Lebanon the situation is slightly different, the UAE RC has provided food and medical assistance and winterisation products. Cash support for refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Erbil was provided, and distribution of assistance has been closely supervised. (Download Presentation)

Mr. Amin Awad, UNHCR, focused on the security for refugees as well access and the civilian character of asylum, and vulnerability in what is now becoming a protracted crisis. The regional response plan asks for USD 4.3 billion for the more than two million refugees, more than half of whom are children. The expectation is that an additional 100,000 Syrians will cross the border per month, and the number of IDPs will increase. Vulnerability has increased as refugees lose their traditional coping mechanisms. Women and children make up at least 75% of refugees in camps. Programmes need to respond to the protracted nature of the crisis, also addressing refugees outside camps in municipalities for health, education and infrastructure. Central governments must be supported by burden sharing for financial and economic support. UNHCR is shifting to cash support. Vulnerabilities are not only affecting women and children, but also boys being recruited for child labour for bakeries, factories and restaurants in support for their families, or forced to return to Syria to fight. Outreach to host communities takes place in 1,600 locations in Lebanon for needs assessments through public media and phone messages to meet their increased needs for survival. Challenges are the lack of financial support, and ways to provide multi-year assistance.

Its protracted nature, the increasing plight of those inside and outside the country, the generosity of its neighbours, and the need for new ways for continued support are the key characteristics of the Syrian crisis. (Download Presentation)

Dr. Abdallah Mohammed Habhab, International Islamic Relief Organisation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (IIROSA), summarised the Kingdom’s longer term support for some two million refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan with healthcare, education, heating fuel, and psychological support. IIROSA partners with more than 16 councils and organisations through cooperation for relief, rehabilitation and development.

Comments from the floor suggested that a strategy of charity and humanitarian assistance is needed to go beyond the transformation from consumers to producers to provide for their own society’s needs. It is also important to empower the vulnerable to become self sufficient through support to students.

The Security Council resolution 2139, aiming to find safe corridors to provide access for humanitarian assistance, was welcomed. Since the Syrian – Jordanian borders and areas of responsibility are not clearly defined anymore, agencies are working with low profiles because of security concerns.

SESSION 5 – Women and health in crisis / disaster settings

Dr. Nahid Toubia, Reproductive Health Group, Sudan, Chair, reminded that the need for empowerment of women is clear to all, but not how to empower them. Women’s power in society in stable times has to be clarified, while in times of crisis when the social fabric comes apart there is a window of opportunity. If relief organisations can use this opportunity and truly empower women to take places not taken in normal conditions, they can give them a chance to become leaders. If services of women are being used, they need to be recognized. Sexual reproductive health and post-traumatic services do require the right training of the service providers.

Ms Nicole Ruder, Swiss Humanitarian Aid, pointed to the special needs of women in times of crisis and emergencies. While life-saving medical care is important for all, the protection needs of women are quite specific. Women and girls need safe access to services and all bottlenecks need to be removed. Breakdown of law and order leads to insecurity and violence against women and girls. Non-communicable diseases have a disproportional impact on women and girls. Therefore, health care systems with decentralised services are key to minimise a negative impact on women and girls. As a donor, Switzerland supports global health systems, with a specific focus on gender equality and gender sensitive approach, and protection as an approach, activity and a policy issue. The way a donor funds, through institutional dialogue and engagement at the multilateral level and working with rapid response teams, can influence the impact on women and children. Women’s health is a lynchpin in women’s development and empowerment. (Download Presentation)

Dr. Adelheid Marschang, WHO, addressed the issue of gender through the health cluster coordination system. Using the Democratic Republic of the Congo for illustration, she set out how through such a coordination structure gender can be effectively addressed, making use of the gender marker and needs assessments. Monitoring and reporting and the “who does what” system would address gender issues. Out of 270 projects by 80 organisations, 26% did address issues of reproductive health and gender based violence, and 10% addressed mother and child care. Challenges are how to remain neutral while carrying out multiple activities, and how to fund transition and address transversal elements such as equal access and gender mainstreaming. Emergency risk management and reporting on outcomes must be convincing to allow for successful fundraising, but data needs to be disaggregated by gender.  (Download Presentation)

Dr. Adel Abdulaziz Al-Rashood, Al Basar International Foundation, explained how his foundation through preventive ophthalmology prioritises a focus on women. He described the role of NGOs and eye-care. Of the 39 million blind, 2/3 of whom are women, and the 285 million visually impaired, 90% are living in developing countries. Of these, 80% of cases can be prevented or treated. This can be due to cost of surgery, lack of mobility, or a different perception of the value of surgery. These serious conditions have led to the Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness, aimed at intensifying and accelerating the elimination of avoidable blindness by 2020. The way the foundation works is through base eye hospitals, mobile eye services / eye camps, human resources development with 80% female staff, and interventional eye-surveys for schoolchildren. (Download Presentation)

In the interaction, it was pointed out that in many cultural settings women are already frequently facing restricted access to medical services. This is why mobile clinics with female doctors and nurses are an important and successful mechanism applied in Afghanistan. Recruitment and training of midwives and nurses for voluntary services are important to obtain valid data on medical status. Intensive efforts to have basic and lifesaving data from all affected areas do exist.

SESSION 6 – Women and education

Ms Nahla Haidar, CEDAW – OHCHR, Chair, pointed to the essentials of the right to education as a basic human right and a potential tool for the prevention of conflict. Girls are still discriminated against in their access to education, even where in governments women are frequently more represented. Sexual terror as a weapon of war remains a deterrent for girls to attend school, although local communities strive to maintain education. One of the challenges is that donor funding does not prioritise education, and the share for education in humanitarian budgets has dropped even further in the last few years. Therefore, the post 2015 MDG framework needs to include comprehensive targets for education at the centre of the humanitarian aid efforts, and promote it as the defence for peace, mutual respect and as conducive for dialogue. (Download Presentation)

Ms Bayarmaa Luntan, IFRC, stressed that women’s education is more strategic than men’s as it impacts all families and transcends through generations. Nevertheless, women often lack access to education and their literacy rates are still lower than those of men. IFRC supports non-traditional education projects and runs vocational training centres for basic skills. Although women have less access to traditional education, they do have access to other forms of non-formal education. Volunteering for the IFRC – 53% by women – allows for gaining of new skills and economic opportunities through leadership skills, social media and other. More can and must be done though as education and training can help change the attitude of men in general. Although external aid can help to change attitudes, it must come from inside the communities. The role of women in taking initiatives is important, because, despite the same access to education in the developed world, the employment opportunities remain unequal. Gender imbalance is still prevalent in leadership positions, but women are learning to organise themselves and create informal networks. For example, Red VIWO, an informal group of mid and high level managers in IFRC, aims at influencing gender balance, extend to partners, and create collective leadership. The international humanitarian and development sector can do more to improve access of women to education. “Marriage can wait, education cannot”, according to Khaled Hosseini. The speaker suggested that rather than gender mainstreaming there needs to be a focus on mainstreaming of education in assistance programmes.

Ms Ourania Dionysiou, UNICEF, focused on the education for Syrian children. Out of 5.5 million children affected by the Syrian crisis, more than three million are no longer attending school for various reasons, in particular security. In Syria enrolment and school supply campaigns have reached one million children, including development of risk education and training packages, and self-learning materials for alternative education. For the future it is important to pay more attention to the children and their families by investing in education and psycho-social support through the “No lost generation” approach. One way to achieve this is through the virtual schooling initiative, with an online learning platform of the Syrian curriculum through an interactive and multimedia-enhanced approach, together with an online certification (for grades 1 to 12). In short, education helps to understand how to make a change. (Download Presentation)

Imam Qasim Rashid Ahmad, Al Khair Foundation, expanded on the hardship that uneducated women and girls have to face in poor areas in order to serve the male segment of their societies. One way to overcome this and bring about change is by skills training for women and their resulting focus on education for their children. “Education is like oxygen without which we cannot live. A marriage without education cannot work at all.” “Men are key to implementing and promoting education for girls.” We should not allow there to be a lost generation.


The World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, May 2016); themes and preparatory activities / consultations

Ms Gwi-Yeop Son, OCHA, addressed the reasons for organising the World Humanitarian Summit: the changing humanitarian landscape with larger and more crises and greater requirements, limited resources, new actors and technologies. The summit will aim at increasing ownership and make the humanitarian system fit for purpose. Involved will be governments, partners, communities & grassroots level actors, and formal international humanitarian organizations. Focus will be on four themes, i.e. humanitarian effectiveness, reducing vulnerability and managing risks, transformation through innovation, and serving the needs of people in conflicts. Special attention will be paid to giving a voice to women and girls affected by crisis and disaster. Consultations will be regional, thematic and online (www.worldhumanitariansummit.org), and link to ongoing discussions such as Post 2015, Paris Summit, Hyogo 2, and Red Cross / Red Crescent movement consultations.

Eight regional steering groups – involving ten non-traditional actors – are asked to propose, discuss, advise and endorse recommendations on the agenda, participation, background documentation, reports, and recommendations of the summit. The consultations in the MENA region are foreseen for early 2015. Important is to mobilise the political will of governments and political leaders. (Download Presentation)

The importance of women playing a key role in decision making

Dr. Mukesh Kapila, Professor, University of Manchester, asked whether the belief exists that gender equality is to be an end in itself. In the humanitarian and development sector, this is reflected in the growth and further sophistication of the system. Among International Organisations there has been progress in the realm of female leadership, but much less so in the Red Cross / Red Crescent movement and in the NGO community where only 20% in the senior management are female. Constraints to women assuming leadership roles are discrimination and the prejudice that women are less capable for leadership; there is impunity and no accountability when gender equality policies are not put into practice; no social progress has ever been achieved on any rights or subject without a struggle or fight. Even if these institutional barriers are removed, women often do not feel up to the challenge to assume leadership roles, despite their overall superiority in most competencies, according to recent research findings. If on objective grounds women are better leaders, does the institutional scene confirm this? Women at top levels in primarily male oriented structures are not necessarily bringing about the desired change.

The adapted version of some practical tips given by a group of women leaders includes: To get to the top don’t be afraid to start at the bottom; find your voice while you are young; being spontaneous and intuitive can lead to success; make sure to be adaptable and invest in own learning; keep calm and stay healthy; emotions make a leader authentic; and learn to communicate your own vision in a human way.

With regard to institutional barriers, the problem is not at top but at middle-level management; anti-discrimination laws need to be properly enforced (discrimination is illegal); tailored programmes whether for men or women are useful; women working in the field face an additional challenge; organisational cultures are best influenced from within; women need stronger support networks; and success is not just about getting to the top but all roles must be respected.

Finally, to the question why he as a man presumed to talk about this matter, speaker responded that gender discrimination is an issue to be addressed by men, and men are to resolve to become different; at the same time, the current system does not work for men either. The world needs women to achieve success. (Download Presentation)

The “Salam Ya Seghar” initiative

Ms Noura Ahmed Al Noman introduced the initiative of HH Sheikha Jahawer Bint Mohammed Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, which aims at saving children’s lives and transforming their future through education. Skills training pre-university and establishment of family centres for counselling in Sharjah Humanitarian City for people with special needs such as autism, services for orphans and health associations. The Pink Caravan campaign has provided screening for breast cancer throughout the country as part of the Friends of Cancer Patients Society. Charity work is also extended to fundraising for Palestinian children through the Salam Ya Seghar initiative launched in 2011, focusing on sustainable development, education, food and health care in Gaza; in 2012 the initiative supported UNHCR for IDPs in Somalia, and Syrian refugee children through the Big Heart Campaign.  (Download Presentation)

The roles and responsibilities of the media

Ms Imogen Foulkes, BBC, posed questions to the audience about their views on the challenges for the media in reporting on crises. What sells a story and how can it be brought to the world’s attention? Engaging in a story, journalists have to ask how to convey in a responsible way the story to catch the audience and help to bring about an understanding of the situation or issue. Common standards of decency for media prohibit showing certain aspect or images in crisis situations, and this entails the dilemma whether to do more to be reaching the audience, showing the effect of situations such as the exodus from Yarmouk in a way that matters. This raises the question whether the media are there to campaign. Being embedded with the military may sometimes be the only way to get access to conflict zones. In particular in the aftermath of conflicts more female journalists should be engaged.  (Download Presentation)

Ms Heba Aly, IRIN, referred to the fine line of focusing on a story such as related to child marriages, or portraying women as heroines in a non-sensational way or perpetuating myths. IRIN tries to tell empowering stories, giving women a voice they otherwise do not get. She reiterated that women journalists’ involvement should be more promoted in the Gulf region.

In the ensuing question and answers session there was reference to the Humanitarian Media Centre as an independent body which tries to have female issues in conflicts increasingly covered. There is no clear evidence of the involvement of celebrities as a good way to get attention, which is seen to be more the role of the agencies themselves.


H.E. Ms Shaima Al Zarooni, International Humanitarian City, agreed that women and children are the most vulnerable in crisis and disasters. In Syria, a whole generation is at risk for good, with increased vulnerability. Women face serious threats to their security, including lack of access to basic health and education. Investing in women is investing in the future, and is one of the most effective ways of building resilience. The right of Emirati women to take part in decision making processes is greatly improving as is the important aspect of women’s empowerment. She urged to consider how each can contribute to making a change to women’s lives. She called for women to be acknowledged equally as vulnerable in crisis and as leaders in development. (Download Presentation)

H.E. Dr Sergio Piazzi, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), recalled some of the discussions in the PAM with focus on the fate of women and children in conflict and the question whether violence against women and children is acceptable. There was overall agreement that it is a moral and legal duty to take action, in particular by the national and regional parliamentarians as they are elected and represent the people, and are able to influence their governments’ policies. In the next hearings of the PAM, three teams are directly related to the discussions in DIHAD, including human trafficking, women and children in displacement, and a strategy for guaranteeing respect for human rights of women and children. He referred to the work done on behalf of Syrians affected by conflict, and the lifting of humanitarian obstacles.


H.E. Amb. Gerhard Putman-Cramer, Director, DISAB, concluded by stating that the Conference had echoed that there is a growing awareness that, when tackling challenges related to women’s issues, we should collectively move from reactiveness to preparedness; and from victimization of women to their empowerment. Education and responsive health services are, therefore, prerequisites to women’s lives and livelihoods. Women’s issues should first and foremost be approached from a rights-based perspective.

“We have to believe that global indifference will not last. We have to believe that the prejudice we have alluded to will disappear over time”. In the context of humanitarian assistance and development, and as stated by HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein: “it is now time to provide aid and development for women through impactful projects that extend beyond words.” It had become very clear, from all sessions and all speakers, that this position is indeed the collective intention of all participants. (Download Presentation)