Speech: “To promote gender equality and women’s rights, we need peace”—Lakshmi Puri

Closing remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the Panel discussion on Women Girls Gender Equality in Action, during the Helsinki Conference on Syria.

Date: Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thank you all for being here for today’s important discussion, for continuing to demonstrate your commitment to this issue. We have discussed at length the importance of responding to the specific needs of women and girls in humanitarian crisis and the dire circumstances many women and girls find themselves in within Syria and across the region.

We have stressed the importance of not only meeting these needs, but of also ensuring that we’re grounding our support and interventions in strategies that build their resilience and empower them – with the objective of creating just and equal societies and intuitions. And yet how to do this effectively continues to be our common challenge.

We have spent decades talking about the importance of gender equality. And while we talk, the situation of women and girls inside Syria, and in the countries neighbouring it is at risk of further deterioration.

We know that refugee female headed households not sharing resources with other households are those most vulnerable to food insecurity. We know that gender based violence and violence against women continues to destroy the lives of women and girls across the region, and prolonged displacement will deepen and exacerbate this. We know that women’s rates of empowerment amongst the refugee community remains woefully low—under 10 per cent; lower then it was in Syria pre-crisis—demonstrating the roll back effect displacement has on women’s access to opportunities and public space; deepening their sense of isolation.

And as our interventions shift—rightly so—to those that build resilience through the provision of assets, skills, jobs, dignity and protection, if we do not take special measures to target and include women in resilience and stabilization efforts women are at risk of being further left behind.

While women are central to community resilience and spend 90 per cent of their income on the family, data demonstrates that women are more reliant on humanitarian assistance then men due to barriers they face in accessing income generating opportunities.

If we are investing in community resilience we must invest in women, this is the smart strategy and it does not happen without vigilance and targeted strategies to ensure women are direct beneficiaries of this approach.

This said, we worked hard together, we have seen progress and for this we must be proud.

We’ve seen commitments from Governments around the region to address these issues, for example in the development of a national action plan on women, peace and in Jordan and its passage in Iraq.

National institutions,governmental and non-governmental, are taking the lead in providing shelter and relief for women and girls at risk and surviving gender based violence.

And donor governments and multi-lateral organisations are ensuring that gender equality and women’s rights are prioritized in the support they provide.

Collectively this serves as a reminder to all of us that we are doing better and must continue to do so.  

In closing today’s panel, I will summarise what I’ve heard, and what is needed for us to move forward on this agenda together. 

However before doing this I must pause to remind us all of what no one in this room needs reminding of: that fundamentally, to promote gender equality and women’s rights, we need peace. Our last speaker spoke powerfully to the importance of finding a political solution to this conflict.

To meet the call of the thousands and millions that are looking to us for action, within Syria and outside of it, and that are frustrated by our inaction,we must continue to strive to make good on our commitments to global peace and security, despite the multitude of hurdles that may seem impossible to overcome. And we must ensure that these efforts are grounded in inclusion and diversity.  

So what do we need moving forward, to keep women’s and girl’s needs at the forefront of the response to the Syria crisis:

We need a humanitarian structure that places women’s needs, rights and empowerment at its heart. That means longer term funding cycles  to enable us to take an empowerment approach to those we serve; effectively engaging civil society the response, not only as contracted service providers, but also as planners, leaders and advocates for their constituencies; ensuring adequate funding to the priorities of women and girls and ensuring that our interventions, such as those to support livelihoods, do not sideline women, even inadvertently.

We need an accountability framework that ensures that we all live up to the global commitments that we have made—in particular some of those I just listed that were made at the World Humanitarian Summit—as detailed in the Grand Bargain.

We need structures that breakdown the silos that exist between our different strategies, thinking and funding structures, and brings together humanitarian, development peace and security planning and funding for holistic responses. National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security serve as a good practice for this, where humanitarian needs, development needs and security priorities are brought together under one framework with the objective of stability and peace.

We need to ensure that we are raising the tide of everyone, not only refugees,  but also of those living in the communities generously hosting them. Many of these communities are also challenged by structural gender inequalities, and only until we also address these within the institutions and organizations that serve refugees, can we make good on our commitments to address gender inequalities within the refugee populations.  

We must always measure our success not just in whether needs are met, but also whether through meeting those needs we have also empowered those we are serving, and worked to ensure greater equality between men and women.

The planning framework presented at today’s conference offers an important entry point for us to drive this forward and as UN Women we look forward to standing side by side with Governments in the region, partner Governments, civil society, our UN agencies and other stakeholders in living up to the expectations of women, girls, boys and men across the region.