Janelle Weissman, 1 March, 2018
When a crisis occurs, our lives change in an instant. In recent times, we have witnessed more and more of these moments. Natural disasters and armed conflict have led to the displacement of people, death, and destruction of communities. Over the past decade, the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance has almost doubled, a trend that is sadly expected to continue. The crises we’re responding to are increasingly complex and prolonged, leaving people vulnerable and in need of humanitarian support for many years.
And on top of all of this, we know that crises discriminate. In armed conflicts, it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier and women and children are 14 times more likely to die or be injured in natural disasters. As society’s protection structures and support networks break down, and people flee impacted areas, women face heightened risks. UN Women is working with women around the world to change this.
This International Women’s Day, UN Women National Committee (NC) Australia’s theme is ‘Leave no woman behind’. We’re focusing on the vital role that women play in humanitarian and disaster planning and response. We will discuss the impacts that disasters have on women, but also highlight the important role women can play in rebuilding, rehabilitation and peace processes. When women are central to planning, response and recovery efforts, everyone benefits. When we commit ourselves to ensuring that women’s voices are included, listened to, and respected, we give communities the best chance at recovering after conflict and disaster.
Just a few weeks ago, we heard from UN Women’s Marie Sophie Pettersson, a Humanitarian Specialist working in Myanmar. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, more than 800,000 Rohingya people live in refugee camps, having fled from persecution. While Bangladesh has been hosting refugees for almost three decades, August 2017 marked a crisis point with almost 700,000 people displaced. The majority of these new arrivals are women. And yet it almost seems hard to see them – there’s a high level of gender segregation in the camps.
“The Rohingya women and girls often live under restrictive socio-cultural norms. The violence they have experienced and witnessed in Myanmar has made their movements even more restrictive. They are also at risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse within the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. While the men showed up for meetings and distribution of relief items, were consulted about their needs, and had a say in decisions being made within the camps, the women were mostly sidelined. They had limited access to information, livelihood options, community activities and decision-making. They even lacked adequate sanitation facilities.”
Without the voices of women, we’re missing critical information. Their knowledge and connections to family and community can help inform and shape our humanitarian response to make it more effective and inclusive.
Thanks to our incredibly generous supporters in Australia, we’ve been able to support women through simple and practical solutions. In January 2018, UN Women has set up the first Multi-Purpose Women’s Centre, a safe space where women can meet and build networks, acquire skills that will help them earn a living and access information and referral services for gender-based violence, and seek psycho-social counselling. Other things are even simpler – in March, we’re running a campaign where you can text HELP to 0497 222 444 to donate $5, which can provide a solar powered light for women. Women and girls are incredibly vulnerable to all forms of violence, especially under the cover of darkness – a light is vital to help keep them safe.
Your support this International Women’s Day will help ensure that when crisis hits, no woman is left behind. UN Women works to ensure that women and girls are equally consulted in order to understand and address their unique needs and vulnerabilities during and in the wake of crisis. UN Women also works to ensure women’s knowledge is shared, their talents are utilised, and their voices are heard in disaster and conflict preparedness, planning and response. Leave no woman behind. Support UN Women NC Australia this International Women’s Day.
QUT Business School is the QLD & ACT Education Partner of UN Women National Committee Australia. QUT Business School will be well represented at UN Women National Committee Australia’s upcoming Brisbane International Women’s Day breakfast, on Tuesday 6 March, where we will hear from UN Women leaders working in Myanmar and across the Middle East on women’s participation in preventing and responding to conflict and disasters.
Image credit: UN Women/Samir Jung Thapa