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G7: On World Humanitarian Day 300 women aid workers and allies call on world leaders to better protect the women and girls caught up in conflict and crisis.

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  • 300 women humanitarians and their allies have signed an open letter to world leaders calling for more money, more expertise, and more efforts to ensure women and girls are better protected in the midst of the global crisis of displacement.
  • G7 Heads of State will meet in Biarittz this weekend (24-25th Aug) to discuss gender equality, climate change, and the Sahel.
  • Despite strong rhetoric on gender equality from world leaders, for women and girls in humanitarian settings the situation is still bleak with progress painfully slow.

As the UN’s World Humanitarian Day recognises the work of women humanitarians on the frontline of disasters, more than 300 aid workers with collective experience from the most difficult places on earth are calling on world leaders to listen to their concerns about the pace of progress to make the global humanitarian system more responsive the needs of women and girls – more than half of the people it is supposed to help.

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable during emergencies and often bear the brunt of the effects of forced displacement. Evidence from the field tells us that issues such as gender-based violence (which includes sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, child marriage, abduction, and female genital mutilation) spike quickly during crises and remain at extremely high levels throughout. 

Meanwhile in protracted emergencies access to services can be hugely restricted. That means girls don’t get an education, and women don’t have the opportunity to access decent and safe work.

There have been many initiatives to address this problem but progress has been slow. A recent report by humanitarian agency, the International Rescue Committee that collected the signatures, showed that just 0.12% of all humanitarian funding went to tackling the epidemic levels of gender-based violence in emergencies. Meanwhile girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school in countries affected by conflict than boys. Indeed, in 2015 39 million girls were out of school or had their education disrupted because of war and disaster.

Imogen Sudbery, IRC’s Director of Policy, Europe, said:

“It’s important that these international moments are being dedicated to raising the voices of women aid workers who risk everything to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people and it’s not surprising at all that they would respond by turning our attention towards the needs of the people they support every day, especially the women and girls who are so desperately under-served by a humanitarian system that seems stuck in its ways. A staggering 1 in 5 refugee or displaced women have experienced sexual violence and yet a woeful 0.12% of humanitarian funding can be tracked to programmes that tackle violence against women and girls.

“Today’s letter is a call to world leaders, both donors and those at the top of the UN system, from those on the frontline of humanitarian response bearing witness to a system that still lets women down. We hope they will respond by turbo charging efforts to ensure women and girls are at the centre of all humanitarian efforts.”

Cokie Van Der Velde, Emergency Humanitarian worker who has worked in crises all around the world, said: 

“I am inspired every day by the incredible, strong and resilient women I meet in the course of my work; from those affected by crisis themselves who tirelessly support their families and communities, to sector leaders managing large scale responses.

“Being a woman in a humanitarian emergency allows for a unique perspective on peoples’ experience of crisis and as a woman I am often able to gain trust and access to sections of society that might otherwise remain hidden. It is no exaggeration to say that places designed to provide safety to displaced people are often fraught with risks. It is our duty to protect women in times of crises and ensure that their voices are heard and they are given the opportunity to help rebuild their lives and communities.”

To view the full text of the letter click here.

The letter is open to humanitarians all over the world: sign here.

The IRC’s Report ‘Where’s The Money: How the Humanitarian System is Failing to Fund an End to Violence against Women and Girls’ is available here.

Spokespeople are available:

  • Imogen Sudbery, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Europe, International Rescue Committee,
  • Melanie Ward, Deputy Director of Programmes, Nigeria, International Rescue Committee
  • Cokie Van Der Velde, Humanitarian worker - with more than 15 years experience working for NGOs and UN agencies in contexts including Yemen, DRC, Bangladesh, Liberia, Guinea and South Sudan. 
  • For more information, interviews and case studies please contact: Lucy Keating, Media Manager, IRC Europe, +44 07468 694 568 Lucy.Keating [at] rescue-uk.org


The International Rescue Committee helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. IRC teams provide health care, infrastructure, learning and economic support to people in 40 countries, with special programs designed for women and children.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.