Paying tribute and strengthening the role of #WomenHumanitarians on World Humanitarian Day

18 August 2019

The work of women humanitarians makes a “huge difference” to the lives of millions of women, men and children in urgent need, the United Nations chief said in his message for World Humanitarian Day.

©UNICEF/Brown
A volunteer at the Primary Health Centre in on of Cox’s Bazaar’s vast refugee camps inoculates the baby of an 18-year-old mother, Bangladesh 2019.

Marking the official day’s tenth anniversary on Monday, the UN is honouring the contribution of tens of thousands of women humanitarian aid workers who provide life-saving support to vulnerable people caught up in crises in some of the world’s most dangerous places.

The day is commemorated each year on 19 August, the date back in 2003 when the UN headquarters in Baghdad was targeted by a large terrorist truck bomb, killing 22 people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN’s top representative in Iraq.

This year’s focus salutes the efforts of women humanitarian workers across the world who rally to people in need and are often the first to respond and the last to leave.

“From supporting civilians caught up in crisis to addressing disease outbreaks, women humanitarians are on the front lines”, said Secretary-General António Guterres.

These unsung heroes have long been working in their own communities in some of the most difficult terrains – from the war-wounded in Afghanistan, to the food insecure in the Sahel, to those who have lost their homes and livelihoods in places such as Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“Their presence makes aid operations more effective by increasing their reach”, said the UN chief. “It also improves the humanitarian response to gender-based violence, which increases during emergencies”.

Across the globe, 250,000 aid workers are women – a figure that amounts to more than 40 per cent of the humanitarian workforce. But aid work is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Since August 2003, more than 4,500 aid workers of all genders have been killed, injured, detained, assaulted or kidnapped while carrying out their work. That averages out to five attacks per week.

Moreover, women humanitarians are at particularly high risk of robbery, sexual assault and other violence.

Protect humanitarians

The UN emphasizes that under international law, all humanitarian workers must be safeguarded.

“World leaders, and all parties to conflict, must ensure that humanitarians are protected from harm, as required under international law”, Mr. Guterres stressed.

And yet, serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law continue around the world, which “must be investigated and prosecuted” always, he added.

As part of this year’s WHD commemorations, the UN and partners are launching the #WomenHumanitarians global campaign to pay special tribute to and raise support for the work women do to save lives and alleviate human suffering.

The campaign tells the stories of 24 women over 24 hours, to show the range and diversity of their roles in humanitarian action. They include a driver in the Central African Republic who brings food to people in need; a woman who provides legal advice to refugee women and children from Somalia; and a midwife in Liberia who has cared for mothers and babies for three decades and has more than 800 girls named after her.

“This World Humanitarian Day, we showcase the commitment and drive of some truly amazing women in the humanitarian community”, said UN humanitarian chief and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock.  “The dedication of these women to help the world’s most vulnerable people is admirable, particularly those women who are often the first to respond in their communities when faced with a crisis,”

Today, and for the rest of this month, Mr. Guterres invites everyone to share through their online and social media platforms their own “powerful stories” of humanitarian aid workers to “reaffirm our common commitment to strengthening the role of women in humanitarian operations”.

“On World Humanitarian Day and every day, we stand up for humanitarian workers around the world”, concluded the Secretary-General.

The attack sixteen years ago on UN Headquarters in Iraq was one of the most lethal in the Organization’s history, and marked a turning point in how the UN and aid groups operate in the field. Here are hear first-hand accounts from some of the survivors.

Listen to an interview with Silvia Risi from the Food and Agriculture Organization. She talks about her humanitarian work in DR Congo and what it means to be a woman humanitarian: 

 

Terrorism survivors: Forced to farm, fish, fight, ‘they slaughtered three of my friends’

15 August 2019

To mark next week’s International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, UN News travelled to Chad and the Far North region of Cameroon in West Africa earlier in the year, to interview people who have personal stories to tell about how terrorism has shattered their lives.

In 2015, the island of Ngomiron Doumou in Lake Chad was attacked by armed extremists who said they belonged to the outlawed Boko Haram group. The island is home to some 5,750 people. Up to 300 men, women and children were abducted at gunpoint by Boko Haram fighters who had travelled to the island from Nigeria. Twenty-five-year-old Kedra Abakar is one of around 100 people who made it back to the island. Here is his story.

Cameroonian soldiers patrol parts of Lake Chad that have been effected by terrorist activity. (February 2019). UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

 

“My name is Kedra Abakar. I am 25 years old and live on Ngomiron Doumou island. I was 21 when Boko Haram invaded my island; they created confusion and fear. Many neighbours fled, but those who were unable to do so, maybe 2-300 people, were rounded up. I was one of those people. We were kept under a tree and they slaughtered three of my friends in front of us. It was terrible. We were told that if we didn’t go with Boko Haram, the same would happen to us. We were very fearful.

25-year old Kedra Abakar was abducted from his home on the the island of Ngomiron Doumou in Lake Chad by extremists from the Boko Haram terrorist group. (9 February 2019)

We were taken to Nigeria by Boko Haram. We had three duties; farming, fishing and fighting for Boko Haram. I had to fight when it was my turn. I was given a gun and told to attack a village – I was forced to do this – If I refused, they would have killed me. I did shoot my gun, but I do not know if I killed anyone.

I spent two painful years with Boko Haram and I was not happy. I looked for an opportunity to escape but knew if I was caught, I knew I would be killed, so I was very scared. In the end, I was able to flee. I took a canoe at night time on the shore of Lake Chad. I was not able to come directly to Chad but had to travel through Cameroon.

The United Nations is committed to supporting people who have been attacked, abducted, injured or traumatized by acts of terrorism wherever they are in the world. Ahead of the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism marked annually on 21 August, read more here about how the UN is showing solidarity with victims and survivors.

When I think of the time with Boko Haram, I am very unhappy. Only 100 of the 300 people who were taken, have returned to the island. Many died in the fighting and some are still there; those who believe Boko Haram is a good thing.

My advice to other young people is to understand that Boko Haram is very bad. I tell them that they must remain in the village if they can. We were cheated by Boko Haram as we did not know any better.

My community has welcomed me back. Whatever I needed they gave me. I hope that in the future there will be a school on the island, so people can be educated and not fall under the spell of Boko Haram.

 

“People joined Boko Haram because of ignorance” – listen to an interview with Youssouf Mbodou Mbami, traditional leader of the Canton of Bol in Chad:

Winnie Byanyima ‘honoured to be joining UNAIDS’ as next Executive Director

14 August 2019

The UN programme dedicated to the elimination of AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, has warmly welcomed the appointment of Winnie Byanyima as its new Executive Director.

“I am honoured to be joining UNAIDS as the Executive Director at such a critical time in the response to HIV,” said Ms Byanyima.
“The end of AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 is a goal that is within the world’s reach, but I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead. Working with all its partners, UNAIDS must continue to speak up for the people left behind and champion human rights as the only way to end the epidemic.”

Secretary-General, António Guterres, appointed Ms Byanyima as the UNAIDS Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General “following a comprehensive selection process” that involved a search committee constituted by members of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board, said the statement.

UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
Winne Byanyima pictured at a UN event on Women’s Economic Empowerment.

Ms Byanyima began her career as a champion of marginalized communities and women 30 years ago as a member of parliament in the National Assembly of Uganda.

She became the Director of Women and Development at the African Union Commission, in 2004, working on the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, an international human rights instrument that became an important tool for reducing the disproportionate effect of HIV on the lives of women in Africa.

The UN chief also extended his appreciation and gratitude to the UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Gunilla Carlsson, for her service as the Executive Director, a.i. following the departure of former head, Michel Sidibé, earlier this year.

Humanitarian assistance to be scaled-up for millions of Venezuelans in need 

14 August 2019

The United Nations humanitarian wing launched a new Response Plan (HRP) on Wednesday, that aims to help around 2.6 million people in Venezuela through to the end of the year, almost half of whom are youth.

 

NRC/Ingebjørg Kårstad
Food distribution in Venezuela.

Noting that the plan “only represents a limited number of all people in need”, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that $223 million was required from donors, to achieve this goal.

A collective effort to coordinate and intensify the ongoing humanitarian response, the plan aims to significantly mitigate the impact of the crisis on the country’s most vulnerable populations.

“The HRP includes 1.2 million girls and boys, in the areas of health, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, nutrition, protection, shelter and non-food items and education”, Peter Grohmann, Humanitarian Coordinator for Venezuela, said in the strategy’s foreword.

HRP’s objectives to assist vulnerable population groups

    • Improve access to basic goods and services.
    • Strengthen community and institutional mechanisms to protect and promote people’s dignity.
    • Build resilience, support livelihoods and contribute to the sustainability of basic service provision.

During the first half of 2019, the UN set up a coordination system to increase humanitarian response capacities that included national and international non-governmental humanitarian organizations (NGOs) and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as an observer, with OCHA lending overarching support.

“This HRP provides an internationally recognized framework for a principled, transparent, well-coordinated and effective response, targeting the most vulnerable people”, said the newly designated Humanitarian Coordinator, who leads the humanitarian country team. “I urgently call on donors to support this plan”.

At the same time, Mr. Grohmann also called on the Venezuelan Government, society and the international community “to work together and jointly commit to helping Venezuelans in need of assistance, including by creating consensus on ways to finance the plan”.

By strengthening the capacity of humanitarian organizations and further opening the operational space in country, the HRP lays the foundation to enlarge its response next year to reach a larger portion of the population.

While its operational capacities are on target to deliver, the HRP is “modest in terms of responding to the scale of needs”, Mr. Grohmann maintained, adding that the plan would be revised and expanded next year, “based on new available information on needs and capacities”.