If the international humanitarian system could hold a mirror to itself, it would see an urgent need for change reflected.
That’s according to ActionAid, which issued a statement last night declaring it’s disappointment in the lack of female voices being heard at the two-day World Humanitarian Summit that kicked off in Istanbul this week.
They were right to feel dismayed. At a time when women continue to be disproportionately affected by humanitarian emergencies, women still continue to be ignored when it comes to discussions on how to address and prevent such events.
At the Summit this week, 175 countries are represented including 57 heads of state and 6000 senior aid workers. They’ll discuss measures that aim to improve the global humanitarian system.
But while German Chancellor Angela Merkel will serve as the highest profile person to attend, and Australia will be represented by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, they’re just a handful of women in a list of speakers dominated by men.
ActionAid often calls on the world to recognize the “unsung heroes” of disaster-affected communities – women who’re the first responders, and who help those in need long before the official response arrives. While women are vulnerable during such disasters, they’re not merely victims – rather, they offer excellent capabilities in preparation, response and recovery.
It notes this was particularly evident during the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa, where women took on unpaid, dangerous and difficult roles in caring for the sick.
There are around 125 million people currently in “grave need” of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, especially as the number of civil wars has tripled in the last 10 years. Violent conflict, climate change, drought, and natural disasters all contribute to the desperate and growing need for assistance across the globe.
But the humanitarian Summit’s already been accused of being a Talkfest, and it’s hard to think it’ll be anything less than that when one half of the population is so clearly underrepresented.
A number of organisers have already pulled out of the event, including Médecins Sans Frontières, declaring that while there are plenty of good intentions for the next couple of days, there’s also much empty rhetoric.
As Michelle Higelin, Co-char of ActionAid’s International Humanitarian Platform said: “Ignoring gender equality in the limited space made available at the Istanbul Summit does little to build confidence that this is more than a talk fest and that the Agenda for Humanity is just words on paper.”
Women play a significant role in the recovery effort of conflict and natural disasters, they must also be valued, supported and empowered on the world stage.
And at a time when the humanitarian system is already stretched, the advancement and protection of women’s rights should be even more of a priority, with women given the opportunity to share their stories, their ideas and their needs.
The World Humanitarian Summit will no doubt provide another great photo opportunity. Just remember that any women who do appear in the images, have probably been put there strategically.