BERLIN | NEW YORK | HAMBURG (INPS | World Future Council) – In a powerful joint statement, members of the World Future Council have urged governments, international organizations, humanitarian actors and civil society to step up action to protect refugee women, children and unaccompanied minors from violence.
Signatories including former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador María Fernanda Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Combating Desertification, Monique Barbut, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Scilla Elworthy, former Member of Parliament Tony Colman and Co-Founder of ‘Rising Women Rising World’ Rama Mani, called on world leaders to introduce comprehensive legal measures and services to ensure women’s and children’s safety in transit and reception facilities.
Over 60 million people worldwide, the highest number since World War II, are currently forced to leave their homes because of armed conflicts, climate change, desertification or other issues which make it impossible for them to stay in their home regions. Across the globe, refugees are exposed to unbearable conditions, in their own or other countries. A global humanitarian approach is needed to better address these challenges and to effectively combat the causes forcing people to flee, the joint statement notes.
An increasing number of refugees are women, children and unaccompanied minors. They face safety risks at every stage of their journey, including rape, sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment, psychological violence, trafficking, early and forced marriage, domestic violence, child disappearance, separation from family and extortion by smugglers.
The joint statement emphasized that insufficient measures are being taken to ensure that basic rights, safety and security of women and children are protected: “We believe that the capacity to prevent and respond adequately depends largely on national governments and international organisations developing the policies, programmes and response services that will protect these vulnerable groups from violence. We strongly urge these actors to increase the protection of refugee women, children and unaccompanied minors throughout their journey as well as in transit and reception facilities as an immediate priority.”
The statement highlights some key recommendations for governments, international organisations and other key actors to:
Develop a cross-border coordinated strategy to track and better protect vulnerable cases.
Ensure that transit and reception facilities are built in a child- and gender-sensitive manner, prioritising women and children’s safety, and are staffed with personnel trained to identify and assist victims.
Establish well-lit, gender-segregated facilities, as well as facilities for families, including private and lockable sanitation and health facilities, child-friendly spaces, and safe private spaces.
Ensure the availability of targeted response services for victims of violence.
Ensure that the principles of gender equality, non-discrimination and mutual respect are guiding principles in destination facilities.
Ensure effective systems of legal guardianship for unaccompanied minors, and that family tracing and reunification schemes are effective and fast.
Ensure that women, children, and unaccompanied minors are provided with comprehensive information on their rights in a language they can understand.
Increase political will to find humane solutions instead of closing borders. These include but are not limited to addressing the root causes of the refugee crisis.
The World Future Council brings the interests of future generations to the centre of policy-making. Its up to 50 eminent members from around the globe have already successfully promoted change.
A Planet 50-50 by 2030 is the target the international community has set itself. Ahead of the International Women’s Day on March 8, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “Women and girls are critical to finding sustainable solutions to the challenges of poverty, inequality and the recovery of the communities hardest-hit by conflicts, disasters and displacements.”
Women are at the frontline of the outbreaks of threatening new epidemics, such as Zika virus disease or the impact of climate change, she said, adding: “The participation of women at all levels – and the strengthening of the women’s movement – has never been so critical, working together with boys and men, to empower nations, build stronger economies and healthier societies. It is the key to making Agenda 2030 transformational and inclusive.” [INPS – 7 March 2016]
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown