UNHCR chief calls for empowerment of women in a world in crisis

News Stories, 17 June 2014

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
High Commissioner António Guterres receives a gift from Luz Mery Mesa of Asylum Access in Ecuador at the NGO consultations today in Geneva. Guterres talked of the importance of empowering women.

GENEVA, June 17 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Tuesday told hundreds of aid workers in Geneva that the empowerment of women was vital to better resolve a multitude of problems facing the world, including multiple conflicts and gross human rights abuses.

"The key question for the world to be able to become more peaceful, to be more effective, with more solidarity and with better capacity for humanitarians to deliver [aid] in accordance with our principles... is the involvement of women," Guterres said, opening UNHCR's annual three-day consultations with its NGO (non-governmental organization) partners.

While welcoming the theme of this year's gathering, "Women's Leadership and Participation," the High Commissioner stressed the importance of empowering women and girls. He added that he hoped the meeting would lead to "a meaningful commitment from all of us to do everything possible to make this empowerment happen."

Guterres noted that "one of the problems of today's world, one of the reasons why we see this multiplication of conflicts, we see this dramatic violations of human rights everywhere is indeed that we still live, especially from the political perspective, in a clearly male-dominated world. And it's still a clearly male-dominated culture that prevails in the way government's act, in the way that many international organizations... act, and in which even in some societies, civil society is organized," Guterres noted.

"This is a world in crisis and we as humanitarians are in trouble," he told the close to 500 delegates from more than 260 organizations attending the opening plenary session. "The challenges that we face are growing and growing in an unprecedented way," he said, while adding that record forced displacement was being caused by a series of new crises at a time when old conflicts, like Somalia and Afghanistan, remain unresolved.

"This is leading to an enormous increase in humanitarian needs everywhere and an enormous challenge to our capacity to deliver. But it's not only the conflict damage that is getting worse. It's also the combination of factors, from climate change, to population growth, to food insecurity and water scarcity."

He said that while the myriad of problems increases humanitarian needs, the lack of resources available, shrinking of the humanitarian space in which people can find shelter and be helped, and manifestations of xenophobia and racism, "are making our work more complex, more difficult and more demanding" and this affects the capacity to deliver to people of concern.

That, he stressed, is why UNHCR's ties with NGOs are so important. "In this context, the value of partnership becomes more and more important. As environments become more difficult, we can only do it [get the job done] if we do it together," he said.

"I think it is very important that our partnership... is global," the High Commissioner told the meeting, while adding that "partnership needs to be strategic, we need to have a common view of the problems and a common strategy to face them... that is why I am so enthusiastic about our structural dialogue and efforts to make sure that that dialogue is projected in the fieldwork."

Guterres also mentioned key protection areas that UNHCR would focus on this year rescue at sea, detention, sexual and gender-based violence, detention of asylum seekers for illegal entry, and child protection, especially unaccompanied minors and asked the NGOs to give UNHCR strong commitments on these issues.

The annual consultations will cover a wide range of issues in side events, thematic sessions and regional sessions. Aside from women's leadership, topics include partnership; achieving self-reliance; protection at sea from the perspective of women; monitoring places of immigration detention; internal displacement; mental health and psychosocial support, and more.

For the first time, the annual consultations are making use of social media to allow an even more interactive discussion and enable NGOs as well as people of concern unable to be present in Geneva to share their views.

The closing plenary session can be watched online on https://new.livestream.com/4am/unhcr. People can join the event's conversation via Twitter by following @UNHCRIAU and using the hashtag #UNHCRNGOs. Participants are also encouraged to submit their stories at the event's Tumblr website, http://unhcrngos.tumblr.com.

For more than two decades, the consultations in Geneva have brought together NGOs and UNHCR managers to examine all aspects of their partnership on behalf of the world's uprooted people. NGOs are vital partners for UNHCR, implementing programmes for refugees and internally displaced people in some of the world's most remote and difficult places.




How UNHCR Helps Women

By ensuring participation in decision-making and strengthening their self-reliance.

UNHCR's Dialogues with Refugee Women

Progress report on implementation of recommendations.


Women and girls can be especially vulnerable to abuse in mass displacement situations.


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Partnership: An Operations Management Handbook for UNHCR's Partners (Revised Edition)

A practical guide for those working with UNHCR in protecting and assisting refugees.

Non-Governmental Organizations

A priority for us is to strengthen partnerships with non-governmental organizations.

The High Commissioner

Filippo Grandi, who took office on January 1 2016, is the UN refugee agency's 11th High Commissioner.

Annual Consultations with NGOs

An important yearly forum.

2015 Annual Consultations with NGOs

The 2015 Annual Consultations with NGOs will take place from 01 to 03 July at the International Conference Centre Geneva (ICCG). For further information, visit our website:

Women in Exile

In any displaced population, approximately 50 percent of the uprooted people are women and girls. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and sometimes their family structure, females are particularly vulnerable. They face the rigours of long journeys into exile, official harassment or indifference and frequent sexual abuse, even after reaching an apparent place of safety. Women must cope with these threats while being nurse, teacher, breadwinner and physical protector of their families. In the last few years, UNHCR has developed a series of special programmes to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

On International Women's Day UNHCR highlights, through images from around the world, the difficulties faced by displaced women, along with their strength and resilience.

Women in Exile

Refugee Women

Women and girls make up about 50 percent of the world's refugee population, and they are clearly the most vulnerable. At the same time, it is the women who carry out the crucial tasks in refugee camps – caring for their children, participating in self-development projects, and keeping their uprooted families together.

To honour them and to draw attention to their plight, the High Commissioner for Refugees decided to dedicate World Refugee Day on June 20, 2002, to women refugees.

The photographs in this gallery show some of the many roles uprooted women play around the world. They vividly portray a wide range of emotions, from the determination of Macedonian mothers taking their children home from Kosovo and the hope of Sierra Leonean girls in a Guinean camp, to the tears of joy from two reunited sisters. Most importantly, they bring to life the tremendous human dignity and courage of women refugees even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Refugee Women

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

Hopes, fears and the way forwardPlay video

Hopes, fears and the way forward

António Guterres, who served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015, reflects on the dramatic acceleration of displacement around the world and calls for a surge in diplomacy for peace in an interview with his chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming.
Greece: Ramping up refugee receptionPlay video

Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

UNHCR staff are working with Government authorities, NGOs and volunteers on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesvos to receive cold, wet and fearful asylum seekers making landfall around the clock. They wrap them in thermal blankets and take them to warm, safe emergency accommodation at transit sites, with power and Wi-Fi connectivity.
2015 World Day against Trafficking in Persons: ICAT Video StatementPlay video

2015 World Day against Trafficking in Persons: ICAT Video Statement

The second annual World Day against Trafficking in Persons is being marked on 30 July 2015. To mark this special day, the Principals of eight of the world's key organizations working to tackle this crime have come together to issue a special statement. Together, these eight heads of organizations are urging more to be done to help the millions of women, men and children who fall victim to one of today's most brutal crimes, and to join forces to improve trafficked persons' access to remedies that respond to their individual needs. This video includes statements from the following members of the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT): ILO, INTERPOL, IOM, OHCHR, UN Women, UNHCR, UNICRI and UNODC.