New York, NY, April 1, 2021 — The International Rescue Committee (IRC) cautiously welcomes the draft outcomes of the first conference of the Generation Equality Forum (GEF), hosted by the government of Mexico from March 29-31. While the conference provided an important space for governments, activists, and allies to exchange ideas and recommit to gender equality, the IRC is concerned that millions of women and girls living within conflict and crisis settings are largely absent from draft blueprints, and will once again be left behind.
IRC welcomes and congratulates the Mexican government on the launch of the “Group of Friends of Gender Equality, "a group of 20 states that intend to champion Gender Equality at the UN and in multilateral negotiations. This is a timely and much-needed development, as women’s rights are frequently under attack, and we are seeing a roll back of rights and opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We echo calls by many who attended the GEF to fund feminist movements and request that this funding extend to feminist humanitarian leadership from women-led movements already active and making a difference during protracted conflict and forced displacement. The commitments already made to funding feminist movements are to be commended and built upon, including by aligning outcomes to other relevant fora, such as the Grand Bargain, G7, and the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (Cop26).
Given fragile and conflict affected states (FCAS), will be home to 85% of those living in extreme poverty by 2030, it is concerning that - with the notable exception of the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Action Coalition - the outcome document of the conference, the “Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality,” fails to adequately acknowledge the specific needs of women and girls in FCAS. The work plans of the different Action Coalitions must include refugee and internally displaced women and girls explicitly and provide specific targets, indicators, and tactics in the monitoring framework to ensure crisis-affected women and girls, who are among those most at risk of violence and poverty, as well as lacking access to education, health care, and economic opportunities, are not left behind.
For instance, many women’s economic empowerment policy initiatives overlook the barriers to economic opportunities specifically facing refugee and displaced women, such as legal barriers for refugees’ right to work. Commitments to inclusion of refugee women in national economic empowerment policies are therefore critical through the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition. Likewise, the Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) does not reflect the challenges displaced women and girls experience in accessing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care and commodities. Commitments to humanitarian contexts, such as to maintaining full stocks so humanitarian actors can provide a full range of SRH services, are critical to ensuring the full enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights is not limited to a privileged few.
Likewise, efforts to include education in the existing workstreams are a welcome endeavor, particularly regarding the protection and empowerment of adolescent girls, since there is no Education Action Coalition. Given that an estimated 20 million girls may not return to school after the COVID-19 pandemic, these efforts are especially critical. Similarly, technology can be a lifeline for women and girls. During COVID-19 particularly, technology helped women access GBV services and girls access education in humanitarian contexts, but women and girls in humanitarian contexts are overlooked within the Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality Action Coalition. The GEF could broaden the technology gap instead of closing it.
We commend the leaders of the GBV Action Coalition for going furthest to include women and girls in humanitarian contexts in specific goals and targets. We call on leaders of this Action Coalition to further champion the inclusion of crisis-affected women and girls and lead by example by continuing to add specificity to the GBV Action Coalition Blueprint for how commitments and solutions will be applied to humanitarian contexts and strengthen links to existing frameworks, such as the Call to Action on Protection from GBV in Emergencies 2021-2026 Roadmap.
The GEF can drive progress towards gender equality in humanitarian contexts. The Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Compact should strategically link to existing humanitarian frameworks; commitments from the Action Coalitions should build on existing expertise and resources within established and agreed frameworks to make the bold, innovative, and game-changing commitments to women and girls that the leaders of the GEF have called for. We will fall short of that ambition, though, if we leave out the most at-risk groups of women and girls on the planet in consultations and commitments. We can and must do better on the way to the second conference in Paris in June.
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 over 20 U.S. cities 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.