Speech: Addressing the needs and rights of at-risk and crisis-affected women and girls

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the Humanitarian Donor Roundtable: Strengthening gender in humanitarian action for the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan


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Colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen,

Women have proven time and again that they can be on the frontlines of disaster response – whether in the home, the community or at the highest levels of government – if only they are given the chance. 

We see this in the crucial role women have played as community mobilizers and communicators in the COVID-19 response, as well as in the recent Ebola and Zika epidemics.

We know that the integration of gender into humanitarian response, and a focus on women’s self-reliance and empowerment, leads to better humanitarian outcomes. UN Women’s research found that when women are provided with direct financial or resource contributions, they enjoyed greater control over household spending decisions and improved results for all family members. The benefits of gender-focused action far outweigh the cost: global studies show ratios of USD 8  benefit for every USD 1 dollar spent.

Since we formed our humanitarian team in 2012, UN Women has worked to successfully carve out a space in the humanitarian system, both globally and at field level. 

As co-chairs of the IASC’s Gender Reference Group, UN Women led on the formulation of the IASC’s 2017 Gender Policy and its associated accountability framework. This set out and monitored IASC’s standards, roles and responsibilities to prioritize the integration of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. We also developed the key guidance resource – the IASC Gender Handbook – with 7,000 copies distributed in four languages (Arabic, English, French and Spanish) and over 40,000 users of the online version.

UN Women has significantly contributed to the integration of gender into the Grand Bargain space, through its coordination of the Grand Bargain Friends of Gender Group in partnership with other actors, including UN agencies (UNFPA, OCHA, UNICEF, IOM) and INGOs (CARE, OXFAM, Actionaid).

We continue to produce evidence-based research on the benefits of gender in humanitarian action, including on positive humanitarian outcomes and localization.

For instance, a recent study with UNFPA on global levels of funding for gender-focused humanitarian programming found that only 39 per cent of requested funds for programmes targeted to the needs of women and girls are met.

At the field level, UN Women provides support directly to crisis-affected populations and to the coordination of humanitarian response. In 2019, UN Women provided much-needed services to over 500,000 women and girls through its Leadership, Empowerment, Access and Participation programme; directly contributed to the coordinated humanitarian response as a member of the Humanitarian Country Team or its equivalent in 18 countries; provided technical assistance in the preparation of the Humanitarian Needs Overview/Humanitarian Response Plan or its equivalent at the national level In 16 countries; trained more than 2,250 humanitarian actors and frontline responders on gender-responsive humanitarian action; and provided financial and technical support to 752 local women-led and women’s rights organizations. This enabled them to guide humanitarian and refugee response plans, as per standards of the IASC Gender Policy and Grand Bargain commitments to localization.

We recognize the unique gender focus of this ongoing pandemic. That is why we are using our experience and ability to add value to continue expanding and integrating our capacities and networks to complement the global response for COVID-19. To date, UN Women has provided rapid gender analysis and assessment in partnership with key strategic partners such as CARE International, as well as policy guidance covering 20 humanitarian contexts, including leading on the development of the IASC COVID-19 Gender Alert.

We have extended gender expertise to the UN humanitarian system in over 18 humanitarian settings. This includes support to Humanitarian Country Teams clusters, other UN agencies (WHO, UNHCR, OCHA) and government bodies to collect and use sex- and age- disaggregated data.

Today, we will be able to share with you in much greater detail our approach to humanitarian response and our forward plans with regard to the pandemic response. But we would also like to take this opportunity to walk you through our broader vision of what UN Women can and should be allowed to contribute in humanitarian settings and across the wider humanitarian-development-peace nexus to ensure that the needs and rights of at-risk and/or crisis-affected women and girls are adequately identified and addressed.

Thank you.