Co-operation Fundamental For Humanitarian Efforts

 The following is Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa’s speech during the Gender and Protection in Humanitarian Action workshop at the Holiday Inn yesterday.   The
22 Nov 2016 11:00
Co-operation Fundamental For Humanitarian Efforts
Hon. Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister for Women, Children And Poverty Alleviation

The following is Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa’s speech during the Gender and Protection in Humanitarian Action workshop at the Holiday Inn yesterday.


The Representative of UN Women, members of the Safety and Protection Cluster, participants and stakeholders, our friends of the media, ladies and gentleman:

A very good morning to all of you. It is a lovely beginning for a week in the Capital to have this very important training so that our nation can have a competitive advantage in humanitarian action.

It is my honour to be here with you this morning to officiate in this forum as I firmly believe that the focus of the training is very timely and at the perfect season as well.  I must thank UN Women for coming forth with the agenda and the commitment to implement the training for Fiji.

The notions of ‘humanitarian action’ and ‘humanitarian system’ have almost as many definitions as authors, organisations and institutions have defined them. Indeed, as an expert aptly stated, “a striking feature of the humanitarian system is the continuing lack of clarity as to what the ‘humanitarian system’ actually consists of and where its boundaries lie”.

One thing we do know for a fact is that humanitarian action or a humanitarian system is aimed at meeting the needs of a community (comprising men, women, boys and girls) following a crisis.

The humanitarian action sector has become a massive community of stakeholders and actors, who interact, collaborate, co-ordinate and sometimes even compete to succeed on their main objective; protecting lives and dignity of vulnerable populations and communities affected by natural disasters and conflicts all over the globe. Humanitarian aid is generally considered a fundamental expression of the universal value of solidarity between people and a moral imperative.

With such diverse agencies and actors, what is fundamental to the success in humanitarian action is the capacity to co-operate and co-ordinate our efforts and resources so that the assistance provided is done with precision, swiftness and efficiency  with of course the concomitant  effort to avoid redundancies and repetition of efforts.

In Fiji, natural disasters have become the impetus for humanitarian action. Tropical Cyclone Winston is a very good example of what massive destruction looks like and with it we have a case study of the humanitarian action rendered to Fiji post disaster.

The devastating effects of that cyclone is well-documented: – from the damage it did to infrastructure, homes and livelihoods to the humanitarian action taken post disaster with the heavy presence of our international partners – both Government and non-Government agencies working hand in hand with the Fijian Government and local non-government actors to give affected Fijians the immediate helping hand we needed at one of our bleakest periods.

The type and quantum of humanitarian action taken is also well-documented.  It was diverse in type, it was huge in quantum and it was certainly needed by the Fijian communities affected – some of which were a challenge to reach post disaster.  The forethought of our international partners in providing the means to deliver supplies to otherwise unreachable locations sure helped in what we can all agree to be a brilliantly executed humanitarian response.

The immediate intent was to help anyone and everyone affected. The core principles of humanitarian action is such after all; principles of Humanity, Neutrality, Impartiality, and Independence.

Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for all human beings.


So what has gender got to
do with all this?

Gender and Protection are key components of humanitarian action.  Training such as this which focuses on gender and protection in humanitarian action empowers humanitarian actors to ensure that nobody is left behind post-disaster.

It is a given that disasters impact women, men, girls and boys differently.  The norm has been that women and girls get affected more by disasters than men and boys due to inherent inequalities in access to political and socio-economic structures in society.  This is exacerbated by our traditionally inherent and perceived role as caregivers.

Because of this, it is vital that disaster preparedness teams and  humanitarian actors post-disaster see their roles through gender lenses and deliver their outputs through gender-mainstreaming.

And what better way to do this then to include women in disaster-preparation and mitigation efforts and also in post-disaster planning for humanitarian action.

I know that our immediate reaction when disaster strikes is to protect our women by keeping them indoors with our children and the elderly and disabled.  After all they are the vulnerable groups, right?  We tend to use the same thinking platform when we are planning for disaster preparedness and mitigation and post-disaster relief even before the onslaught of the cyclone season. Why??

In disaster preparedness and post-disaster relief planning, we must acknowledge these vulnerabilities as strengths!!! Specific and ingrained strengths which will help us as humanitarian actors target our assistance more effectively – to stretch the dollar a bit more and to ensure that needs are more efficiently and effectively met post disaster – leaving nobody behind.

Humanitarian action will be stronger and better informed when those who are more vulnerable define their own role in a response and define their own needs and protection they require from that response.

I will use an example here from my Ministry which also has the privilege of looking after the interests of Children.

We make policies in relation to children; we discuss what we think is best for them; we decide what we think is best for them. Well a week or so ago, we decided to have a Children’s symposium to hear from Children about their needs:- the Children’s Manifesto which was compiled by the children themselves has told us as advocates for children’s rights, as policy-makers and as planners that maybe we need to refocus our efforts a bit and to include children in our combined efforts to effectively handle the delicate issue of children’s rights.

So similarly, in disaster preparation and mitigation and post-disaster relief planning, let’s include the vulnerable groups in our conversations.

Fiji is in a perfect position right now to do that. How can we as humanitarian actors effectively address the plight of these groups and the best assistance we can give them post-disaster if members of these groups are not included in our conversation and our planning?

When the distinct needs of these groups are not taken into account, humanitarian assistance may fail to reach the most vulnerable and, in some cases, may actually lead to further harm.

In previous emergencies, including the 2013 Fiji floods, incidences of sexual harassment, assault and violence against women and girls were reported in evacuation centers and increased incidences of domestic violence due to the additional stress, pressure and trauma during crisis.

Equal access to humanitarian assistance and targeted support for people with specific concerns must be a priority. For all affected people, in particular the most vulnerable, psychosocial support and access to accurate and timely information on assistance and protection programmes are critically important.

Mainstreaming protection across all sectors should always be a priority. It is essential that the safety and protection of affected populations in evacuation centers or those without shelter is ensured. To ensure protection and support to vulnerable communities, women, girls, boys and men of different ages and abilities, in the humanitarian response, the Fijian Government, with support from the Pacific Humanitarian Team, activated the Safety and Protection Cluster, as well as the Child Protection Sub-Cluster and the Gender Based Violence Sub-Cluster.

We can see that some steps have been taken to take account of specific gender needs post-disaster. But there is opportunity to do more.  For starters, I could not find age or sex-disaggregated data for the lives lost during Cyclone Winston.  That in itself tells us that we need to do more.

Gender mainstreaming approaches are critical and should be applied across the spectrum of all humanitarian action.  This helps ensure that humanitarian response is evidence-based, that services are designed in a culturally relevant manner, and that protection considerations including gender-based violence are factored into the design of programs.

A better understanding of how this can be done is crucial and I am glad that UNWomen continues to push its international mandate in this area ensuring a relevant local response to gender and protection in humanitarian action.

With planning and implementation comes the need for monitoring and evaluation and gender focal points will play a vital role in doing this.

As the Ministry responsible for the interests of Women, children, the disabled and the elderly, we stand ready to make support UNWomen and the humanitarian actors here today to make our conversations about disaster preparedness and humanitarian action more relevant.

With these words ladies and gentleman, I wish you all a very productive discussion during the day.

Thank you.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj


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