WHS 2016: Vowing to Ensure the Human Rights of Women in Crises and to Put Them at the Centre of Decision-Making

By Angelina Kaneva

International Women's Initiative Staff Writer 


(Photo Credit)

“We are one humanity, with a shared responsibility. Let us resolve here and now not only to keep people alive, but to give people a chance at life in dignity,” said the outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his remarks at the opening of the first World Humanitarian Summit that took place last week in Istanbul. Representatives from 175 countries, including 57 heads of states and governments, convened for the Summit on 24th and 25th of May and tried to restructure the way the world responds to major humanitarian crises by leading a number of discussions on how to be better prepared to meet future challenges more effectively and inclusively.

The idea behind the summit was for it to be more than a conference of financial pledges. Its main objective was to put forward ideas of actions to alter the way the international community operates in order to better address the needs of people suffering from horrific forces beyond their control. During the two days of talks, governments, humanitarian organisations, various UN agencies, companies and multilateral banks collectively made more than 1,000 commitments.

Some of these pledges included placing the people we aim to help at the centre of our work and having their voices heard by not treating them as beneficiaries of aid but rather as partners in the process. ‘Education Cannot Wait’ was launched – a fund that helps millions of children forced out of school because of emergencies have the opportunity to obtain education – and the ‘Grand Bargain’ was announced which is a high-level panel on humanitarian financing aimed at improving the efficiency of how donors and organisations work so that more resources reach the people in crises. 

In addition, the ‘Connecting Business’ initiative was launched in order to include private sector representatives in problem-solving by not only leveraging their resources but also their skills, technologies and expertise. A broad agreement that going local is essential was also reached – meaning that local organisations and actors working on the frontlines of humanitarian response need more support, inclusion and recognition in the global humanitarian system.

A key takeaway from the Summit for us, however, were the commitments made by UN Women which focused on the specific needs and challenges that women and girls face in crises as well as the central role they play as agents of change. ‘Standing Up for Humanity: Committing to Action’, which is the Chair’s Summary reflecting the main discussions that emerged from the WHS, reads that “there were widespread calls at the Summit for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights to become pillars of humanitarian action… Plans to end tolerance of gender-based violence against women and girls were launched, and commitments were made to ensure the right to sexual and reproductive health care is fulfilled for all women and adolescent girls in crisis settings.”

A number of pledges were also made to increase the numbers of programmes intended to strengthen women and girls’ roles as leaders and decision-makers. New methods and new financial support for creating accountability to gender equality programming were announced, including enabling adolescent girls to stay in school and escape gender based-violence, as part of the ‘Educational Cannot Wait’ fund.

Another very strong message came from the WHS side event hosted by the UN Women Deputy Executive Director Yannick Glemarec who emphasised on the need to substantially increase the representation and participation of women in the leadership and delivery of humanitarian assistance, recognising the important work that women’s organisations do as first responders and caregivers during crisis.

Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, on the other hand, announced that UN Women will “lead efforts to ensure that, by 2020, we at least reach 15 per cent of funding for humanitarian action that will be devoted to interventions targeting gender equality and women and girl’s empowerment, in line with commitments that have been made under the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. This may seem little, but at this point we are in the one-digit percentage in terms of humanitarian resources that are achieving results for women and girls.”

The world is most certainly not the same place it was a year ago. Because of all the protracted crises with regional implications and the high levels of displacement with very few political solutions in sight, today we have a record number of people in an urgent need of humanitarian assistance – 125 million. This is why we hope that all these discussions and promises at WHS 2016 will not prove to be an ‘expensive talk shop’ but will turn into the much needed catalyst for change.