High Level Discussion on Girls in Crisis and Conflict Zones

Article Date

14 March 2016

Article Author

Rachel Clement

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

In honor of International Women’s Day, ICRW and Women Deliver co-hosted a conversation to discuss where we currently stand and how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality for a demographic that is often the most vulnerable among us: girls.

As we have seen with the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the sexual enslavement of Yazidi women and girls in Iraq, the increase in child brides among Syrian refugees and the “drought brides” of the Sahel, girls are disproportionately affected by crises and conflicts. These injustices not only affect girls individually, but the effects of the challenges girls face can also affect the global community. When girls lose the opportunity to be girls, to grow up free from violence and fear, attend school and delay pregnancy and motherhood until – and if – they are ready, the world also loses out on their potential and future contributions to the economy and society at large.

Just one year ago, ICRW, along with several partners, convened a high-level symposium to examine how adolescent girls are uniquely impacted by natural disasters, conflict and civil unrest around the world. Participants included Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians, U.S. Ambassadors, and representatives from civil society organizations that work to shape policy around development, as well as those who implement programs in times of crisis and conflict. Participants discussed what we know about how girls are uniquely impacted when crises hit, which solutions work to meet their needs and what additional support is needed to ensure that girls are protected and empowered, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Last week, ICRW co-convened a follow-up meeting, with the goal of sharing lessons learned from the past year and moving the conversation on protecting adolescent girls forward. Attendees included Danish Ambassador to the U.S. Lars Gert Lose, Ambassador Catherine M. Russell of the State Department’s Global Women’s Issues Office, Margaret Pollack, Director for Multilateral Coordination and External Relations at the Populations, Refugee, and Migration Bureau of the State Department, Melanie Schellens, First Secretary of Development at the Belgian Embassy, Katja Iverson, CEO of Women Deliver, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of the Council of Foreign Relations, Donald Steinberg, President and CEO of World Learning, Joan Timoney, Senior Director of the Women’s Refugee Commission and Elizabeth Cafferty, the UN Gender Advisor for the UN World Humanitarian Summit.

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit and the Women Deliver Conference, both in May, participants have crafted a set of recommendations in order to ensure that girls are not only not forgotten, but are at the forefront of commitments made by those working in the humanitarian sector.

Thanks to this discussion, and the convening in 2015, ICRW and its partners now have a living document that will be the framework for how adolescent girls’ needs should be taken into account, guide action by local governments, and provide recommendations for how implementers and multinational organizations can target their resources where girls’ needs are the most acute. The actionable recommendations from this meeting are directed at those responsible for policy, programs, and research at global, regional, and national levels.

The recommendations call for global actors to adopt a rights-based approach, with the inclusion of girls themselves at all levels—from policy creation to program implementation—in order to comprehensively address the needs of girls. Additionally, the recommendations call for actors to hold governments accountable for commitments made by requiring reporting language and transparency. This could be as simple as collecting sex and age disaggregated data at the program level to ensure girls are included in interventions or could go as high up as asking the UN Security Council to hold global leaders accountable for commitments made to girls.

At national and regional levels, countries that have existing policies on topics related to adolescent girls should ensure that these policies take adolescent girls’ unique needs into consideration, and include elements of girls’ empowerment. Countries without action plans should develop them in concert with girls themselves. In programming, girls should be included at all stages—from design to evaluation—to ensure that girls’ voices are heard and that programs are truly girl-friendly. To properly evaluate and improve programs, sex and age disaggregated data on program beneficiaries is necessary, and will also help future scalability and learning.

Crucially, the recommendations for researchers call for greater funding for and research on girls in crisis and conflict-afflicted settings. The participants also called for the development of appropriate ethical standards for human research on very young adolescents (10-14 years old), who are omitted from research in such settings, and whose input is desperately needed. Participants also discussed ways to pioneer more participatory methods that would allow for girls to develop agency and voice through this research, since girls know best what they need, and should be seen as vital actors in developing solutions that will not only protect, but also empower them.

ICRW is hopeful that these recommendations will be taken to Women Deliver, the World Humanitarian Summit, and events beyond 2016, so that future commitments made are aligned with the discussions today. The participants reiterated that, while circumstances are often dire for girls, there is also great hope. Commitments at high-level fora and summits allow civil society to hold governments accountable. Efforts can then be measured and documented so that when future crises and conflicts hit communities, leaders will be better prepared to ensure that girls’ needs are integrated, that they are protected at the onset, and empowered for the future.