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Protecting Girls and Women in Emergencies

Volume 570: debated on Monday 18 November 2013

I would like to inform the House of the outcomes from the high level event on protecting girls and women in emergencies, which I co-chaired with the Swedish Minister for International Development Ms Hillevi Engström in London on 13 November 2013.

The high level event was attended by senior Government, UN, NGO and civil society representatives and its purpose was to agree a fundamental new approach to protecting girls and women in emergency situations, both man-made and natural disasters. It is part of my call to action to protect girls and women in emergencies which I launched in March this year, working closely with the Foreign Secretary’s preventing sexual violence initiative.

Crises leave girls and women more vulnerable to violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual assault, early and forced marriage, and trafficking. Targeted interventions are often not prioritised in the first stage of an emergency because the violence is not considered life-threatening. The UK is leading efforts to make sure such support is prioritised right from the start in crises such as the response to typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, as well as in Syria.

The high level event endorsed a communiqué underlining the importance of such early action to protect girls and women in emergencies. Participants agreed to act, or fund action, to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls from the first phase of an emergency, without waiting for evidence of specific instances of violence to emerge. They further recognised the need for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial and mental health services for women and girls affected by crises. Participants also made commitments specific to their own agencies.

These included pledges to increase levels of expertise, and to share best practice and conduct gender disaggregated reporting in humanitarian situations.

In response to typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the UK is ensuring that its partners have included protection of girls and women as part of its overall response. We have deployed violence against girls and women technical specialists to support the UN effort. We are also supporting specialised programming. Key UK support has included both anti-trafficking programming, and the distribution of equipment to ensure girls and women are better protected. For example, we have supplied solar lamps to ensure they are safer when moving around at night and, because the lamps contain a mobile phone charger, are able to maintain communication with family members.

At the high level event I announced £21.6 million in new funding to help protect girls and women in emergencies, including support for the United Nation’s Population Fund work to protect girls and women in Syria; assistance to help vulnerable girls and women in Lebanon and Jordan; funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross to help survivors of sexual violence; and support to the International Rescue Committee for its work with adolescent girls in Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

Other funding commitments totalling £20 million were also made by the United States, Switzerland, Japan and Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

I am determined to ensure that the commitments from all participants, including the UK, are monitored and reported upon over the coming year. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has agreed that the US will take on the leadership of the call to action in 2014 and will promote accountability amongst the humanitarian community for the agreements reached on 13 November. The US will host a follow-up event next year.