Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians on Protecting Girls in Crisis

Article Date

09 March 2015

Article Author

Erin Kelly

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Ahead of International Women’s Day, ICRW joined with the Georgetown Center on Women, Peace and Security, Plan International and the Women’s Refugee Commission to cover an issue which has, for far too long, flown under the radar: The protection of adolescent girls in crisis and conflict situations.

The day-long symposium, “Girls in Conflict,” brought together influential members of the media, the policy community, implementing organizations, and researchers to discuss the path forward and the necessary actions that must take place immediately to protect girls living in crisis.

Around the world hundreds of thousands of men, women and children live in conflict and crisis zones. And while we know that conflicts rip apart communities and families, affecting everyone in its path, when it comes to the horrifying consequences of crises and conflict, women and adolescent girls face particularly unique and horrific challenges. Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians gave the keynote address, highlighting some of the most egregious forms of discrimination.

“In Nigeria, Boko Haram terrorizes entire regions of the country. Amongst other violations, it has kidnapped large groups of adolescent girls from their schools and villages. Few have escaped. Most have undoubtedly been forcibly married off or reduced to slavery. Very young girls are even used as human bombs. In Syria and Northern Iraq, as well, adolescent girls are subjected not only to the terrors of conflict, but to the misogynistic dogma and sexual violence of Islamic State,” said Her Majesty.

Further, in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and around the world, displacement and insecurity halts girls’ education and often their chance at improving their economic circumstances. Additionally, girls in refugee settings are at risk of early marriage, physical and sexual violence and, tragically, premature death.

And while we know that girls face unique challenges, we know little about the best ways to protect them when crises hit, and to empower them to be an active part of re-building communities and ensuring lasting peace. Without this knowledge, efforts from multilateral operations like the World Bank or United Nations, and efforts from on-the-ground implementers, who are working in refugee camps and conflict settings, are hampered.

To fill this gap and better prepare global efforts for success when crises and conflict hit, participants in the Symposium heard from a variety of experts who helped outline what we know about girls in conflict. Ambassador Melanne Verveer of the Georgetown Institute on Women, Peace and Security, Sarah Costa, CEO of the Women’s Refugee Commission, and Gayle Lemmon, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations were joined by Sandra Uwiringiymana, a young woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who survived a violent attack on her village in Gatumba, Burundi and now advocates for girls living in conflict throughout the world.

Discussions then brought the audience to an overview of the Women, Peace and Security framework and elements within the framework that relate to girls in crisis. Panelists including Ambassador Donald Steinberg, President and CEO of World Learning, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Mirgration Ann Richard, Salam Kanaan of CARE Jordan, and ICRW’s Director of Gender Violence and Rights Stella Mukasa discussed some of the successes within the framework, but acknowledging where gaps have led to efforts to protect girls falling short.

The final discussion, on how we can move forward in protecting and empowering girls in conflict, brought up questions around how to produce better research and data, the status of ongoing humanitarian efforts, and the role adolescent girls themselves must play in efforts to protect and empower girls in crisis. Experts including Lori Heninger of Plan International, Michele Moloney-Kitts of Together for Girls, and UNICEF’s Erin Patrick contributed to the conversation.

Acknowledging that efforts that are currently underway are more piece meal than holistic and that efforts must be more comprehensive and multi-sectoral, and must be better documented so practitioners and global leaders can assess lessons learned, Major General Adrian Foster, Deputy Military Adviser for Peacekeeping Operations, closed the day’s discussions with a plea for participants to work closely and vigilantly to tackle some of the greatest challenged faced by girls in crisis.

Echoing this sentiment in her earlier remarks, Her Majesty said, “It is my sincere hope that our work today will enable us to fill the gaps in our knowledge, to move forward and take more effective action.”

Thanks to the energy in the room, the audience’s eager participation, and the collective excitement for turning a new page for girls in conflict, we’re confident that the story of adolescent girls in conflict will no longer be one that has flown under the radar for far too long, much to the dismay of advocates and indeed girls themselves.

Moving forward, ICRW and its partners will work to ensure that adolescent girls’ needs are taken into account, action by local governments, implementers and multinationals will be targeted where girls’ needs are the most acute and success will be measured and documented so that when future crises and conflicts hit communities, we’ll be better prepared to ensure those who live through them will be protected first and foremost, but will also be empowered to build a better tomorrow.