Women’s voices in Humanitarian Action

16 March, 2016
New York, 15 March 2016: OCHA’s Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-wha Kang opened the event "Women as First Responders: Featuring Testimonies and a Visual Gallery Elevating Women's Voices in Humanitarian Action". Credit: OCHA/Paolo Palmero
New York, 15 March 2016: OCHA’s Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-wha Kang opened the event "Women as First Responders: Featuring Testimonies and a Visual Gallery Elevating Women's Voices in Humanitarian Action". Credit: OCHA/Paolo Palmero
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Women’s role as first responders in humanitarian action was the focus of an exhibition organized by OCHA and ActionAid during CSW60. Captivating pictures of women in the field gave an insight into the ways women work in emergencies as first responders.

During humanitarian crises, women are often most affected due to their traditional role as caregivers (e.g., finding food, caring for the sick). Therefore, investing in the capacity-building of women’s groups and local partners before, during and after a crisis is vital to ensure links to long-term development.
OCHA’s Assistant Secretary-General, Kyung-wha Kang, opened the event on 15 March, highlighting the central role of women and girls as first responders in emergency response.

"In Fiji, following Cyclone Winston, women looked after the sick and elderly, they helped one another source food and water, and provided one another with support", she said. "In conflict-ravaged Sana’a in Yemen, women got involved in every aspect of response, from search and rescue and assessing needs, to using social media to convey information, and setting up a mass hosting network to house the displaced".

Ms. Kang emphasized the importance of including women and girls as equal partners and decision makers in humanitarian action, peacebuilding and development endeavours for years to come. She highlighted the opportunities to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment in humanitarian response, notably in the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit.

Women from Haiti, Liberia, the Philippines and Vanuatu gave powerful testimonies about their roles as first responders. They each illustrated some of the challenges, such as lack of resources, and they highlighted the importance of recognizing rural women and the leadership they provide in responding to disasters. A woman from Vanuatu explained: “Culture and custom in Vanuatu have been the biggest barriers to women’s leadership. Women are excluded from national decision-making.”

A participant from Haiti said: “Security and protection of women is an important priority and vital in response and ensuring women can participate actively. It is important to invest in the capacity-building of women’s groups and local partners before disaster and ensure linkages to humanitarian response.”