Protecting girls and women during emergencies is an essential part of humanitarian work. However, aid workers neglect protection and instead focus on other tasks such as saving lives, moving trucks, bringing in tents and distributing food. All necessary work, but protection measures also need to be established during emergencies.
Conflicts and natural disasters result in mass displacement, often leading to a breakdown in social structures. Through this breakdown women become more exposed than men to sexual violence.
Typhoon Haiyan has affected millions in the Philippines. According to the United Nations (UN) at least 4,200 people have been killed, 500,000 homes have been damaged, 3 million people have been displaced and a total of 9.8 million people have been affected by the typhoon. These numbers are devastating.
Additionally, thousands of women and girls have also been uniquely affected by this disaster. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs estimates that 47,600 women between the ages of 15 and 49 affected by Typhoon Haiyan are at risk of sexual violence.
Currently, there is great efforts of protecting women and girls during conflicts. The UK government has especially been acknowledged for their efforts in addressing violence against women. Through The Department for International Development, the UK Government led talks for a new resolution on conflict prevention, resolution and peace-building. The UN Security Council has since passed this resolution. Additionally, through their Foreign and Commonwealth Office an initiative preventing sexual violence was launched in an effort to better prevent and respond to sexual violence during conflicts and prosecute perpetrators.
However, according to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, more attention needs to be given to the practical responses to an emergency in order to protect women and girls.
Mlambo-Ngcuka, along with other aid leaders, suggests instituting several measures to assist the women and girls who are abused in this manner.
1. As refugees, these women and girls do not experience the same level of rights or access to necessary emotional and physical services. Policies need to be implemented that protect these women as refugees.
2. Well lit toilet blocks or water points need to be built close to where people live. As women and girls have higher visibility, the chances of being abused are diminished.
3. Women often look after orphans during a conflict. Resources need to be provided to these women, whose efforts are often overlooked by governments and local leaders.
4. As sexual violence is prominent, women must have access to appropriate health services such as emergency contraception.
5. Cooking facilities need to be easily accessible, not requiring women to travel long distances into isolated areas in search of firewood.
6. Aid workers need to make sure that women have equal access to food vouchers during distribution. Often times the men get the vouchers, and then women are forced to compromise themselves to get the vouchers they need to provide food for their children.
7. Long-term support in the form of policies and programs is necessary to ensure the rights of these women and girls are upheld.
Lastly, Mlambo-Ngcuka states that the battle of combating violence against women will be won in countries where women engage and confront their governments, and where boys and men are supportive of protecting women.
– Caressa Kruth