Why crisis response must put women's rights first


Why crisis response must put women's rights first


Horrific photos from Ukraine show the vulnerabilities of women caught in battle, from pregnant women being forced to leave to mothers giving birth in bomb shelters to maternity hospitals being under siege.

Let's not forget the myriad other sights of pain that are taking place throughout the world as the world watches in horror at the events in Ukraine. These scenes of suffering almost always feature women.

Women's rights need to take center stage in crisis management.

Women in crisis situations face danger on a massive scale. They have limited access to social services and medical treatment, as well as constant hazards to their health and safety. Childbirth can be tragic for pregnant women who lack access to basic reproductive and maternal health services; in a terrible twist of fate, deprived of their agency at all levels, women's risk of unwanted pregnancy is dramatically enhanced just when it poses the greatest threat.

Gender-based violence poses a serious concern to people who are escaping violent areas. Many women who are traveling face the grim realities of intimate relationship violence, sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment, as well as the possibility of being the target of sex traffickers. As destructive as any bullet or bomb, rape is one of the unpleasant realities of war.

Deep and ingrained inequities exacerbate the predicament of women and girls during times of crisis. Women are excluded from leadership positions in peacebuilding processes and continue to be kept out of rooms where decisions regarding their needs are made, despite the crucial roles they play in communities and as first responders.

We continually fall short of gender equality as a result of our collective failure to protect women's rights. We must put humanitarian promises into practice and make sure that women and girls are at the center of all crisis and catastrophe responses as the globe deals with numerous, interrelated crises and record-high levels of displacement.

I encountered Ukrainian ladies who had left with nothing more than what they could carry when I traveled to a refugee center in Moldova. I heard tragic tales of lives that were abruptly changed. It was understandable that getting a new supply of birth control pills was the last thing on their thoughts. However, it needs to be in the thoughts of those making decisions in the wake of humanitarian catastrophes.

When a crisis arises, early and ongoing involvement with women and women-led groups must be a top priority, not an afterthought. They should be full and equal partners in all efforts to promote recovery, resilience, and peacebuilding since they are aware of the local context and the special needs of women and families. Governments must also allocate enough money with a specific purpose to safeguard women and girls' safety and dignity when they are most in need.

We have a decision to make: either we stick to carrying out international agreements that respect women's agency and defend their fundamental rights, or we continue along the current path where women's gains continue to crumble. We cannot ignore or exclude women and girls if we wish to create a more tranquil, just, and resilient future.

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