Report of the Working Group on Refugee Women and Children
EC/SCP/85

International Protection (SCIP), 29 June 1994

Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme
Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection
24th meeting

29 June 1994

I. INTRODUCTION

1. The informal Working Group on Refugee Women and Refugee Children (Working Group) was convened on 22 April 1994 under the chairmanship of His Excellency Ambassador J.F. Boddens-Hosang (Netherlands), the Chairman of the Executive Committee.

2. The following members of the Executive Committee formed the Working Group:

Australia, Argentina, Canada, Ethiopia, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia and the United States of America.

II. OPENING REMARKS

3. In his opening remarks, the Chairman recalled that the Executive Committee had, at its forty-fourth session in October 1993, requested the establishment of the Working Group (A/AC.96/821, para 19(y)). This stemmed from a perception by the Executive Committee that there continues to be a significant gap between the policy of UNHCR on refugee women and refugee children and actual practice at field level. He noted that women and children comprise approximately 80 per cent of the refugee population worldwide and that specialized responses are required to address their specific needs. He recalled the task of the Working Group as being the identification and examination of obstacles to the effective implementation of the Policies and Guidelines on Refugee Women and Refugee Children, followed by a review of available options and the recommendation of concrete counter-measures.

4. The Director of UNHCR's Division of Programmes and Operational Support pointed out the unresolved dilemma between policies and the availability of resources to implement them: in this particular case, he stressed, the rhetoric is far ahead of the available resources. He noted, nonetheless, that positive developments should not be minimized, and highlighted the need for continued and additional support to UNHCR to ensure the essential link between protection and the delivery of assistance.

5. The Deputy Director of UNHCR's Division of International Protection introduced the discussion paper and explained why it focused on institutional obstacles hampering the protection of refugee women and children. This approach was felt to be more constructive than providing case studies of specific situations, given the impossibility of reviewing the myriad problems and the fact that many have their foundation in cultural constraints which require examination on an individual basis. He pointed out that while the policy of mainstreaming remains, it has proved insufficient. Many serious issues relating to refugee women and refugee children must still be highlighted to enable their proper incorporation into normal programme activities of UNHCR.

6. UNHCR announced the recent creation and filling of the post of Legal Advisor for Refugee Women and Refugee Children within the Division of International Protection, which was welcomed by the delegations.

III. GENERAL COMMENTS BY DELEGATIONS

7. Many delegations welcomed the background paper as a useful framework for discussion. One delegation commended the effort to move beyond rhetoric and to examine genuine dilemmas. The same delegation encouraged the Executive Committee to focus on partnerships between UNHCR and Governments to enhance the implementation of policies on refugee women and refugee children, recognizing that UNHCR faces constraints, and that efforts by countries of asylum are also needed. It was noted that UNHCR cannot replicate legal or police/security systems, which are the responsibility of the asylum country. In this regard there was a need to engage Governments in an active dialogue to determine how, collectively, results can be achieved. This delegation also stressed the need for donors to support UNHCR's General Programme with unearmarked funds in the interests of mainstreaming protection to refugee women and refugee children. Another delegation noted, however, that special projects could be established where needed in certain regions as models for future action. In this regard, limited earmarking of funds may be necessary, such as had been the case in the Anti-Piracy project in South-East Asia and the Women Victims of Violence project in Kenya.

8. Another delegation noted with appreciation UNHCR's willingness to undertake what in essence amounted to a corporate management exercise and highlighted the need for solid, reliable documentation accompanied by detailed statistics to enable an analysis of the success or otherwise of specific situations. In addition, it was suggested that UNHCR focus its efforts on particular situations, documenting progress where it could be identified.

9. Several delegations recognized achievements by UNHCR and encouraged further progress in the important areas of training and of collection of gender-related statistics.

10. One delegation called for inclusion of implementation of the policies on refugee women and refugee children in staff performance appraisals.

IV. CONSIDERATION OF SPECIFIC OBSTACLES HAMPERING THE PROTECTION OF REFUGEE WOMEN AND REFUGEE CHILDREN

11. In introducing this agenda item, UNHCR's Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women pointed out that, with regard to institutional obstacles to the implementation of policies, the World Bank had recently identified similar systemic barriers to gender-based programming in other international organizations, including in the areas of accountability, recruitment, training, monitoring and evaluation.

(a) Representation of female staff

12. In introducing this sub-item, the Working Group was provided with gender disaggregated statistics of UNHCR staff as at 21 April 1994. The statistics are found in annex 1.

13. There was broad support among delegations for increasing the number of female staff in senior management positions. The Working Group asked that the Executive Committee be informed annually of progress with respect to increased representation of women vis-à-vis United Nations targets, but considered that this was not necessarily directly linked to achieving benefits for refugee women. The need to engage more local female staff and to help empower refugee women themselves were identified as important factors.

14. One delegation noted that appropriate training, experience and personal qualities needed to be ensured among all UNHCR staff, not solely women. The importance of training was generally acknowledged.

15. One delegation expressed interest in seeing a description of the pool of female staff members, particularly national officers, who could be drawn on for service in situations were refugee women are particularly at risk.

Recommendations:

16. The proportion of UNHCR female staff in the field should be increased, particularly in protection posts and in countries where male staff have limited access to female refugees. Efforts should be made to ensure that female staff with appropriate training, experience, personal qualities and seniority are deployed in situations where refugee women are particularly at risk. UNHCR should report regularly on proportions of female staff by grade, title and location.

17. UNHCR should strengthen its efforts to ensure that more local female staff are engaged, and strengthen its activities to involve and empower refugee women.

(b) Training and attitude

18. In introducing this sub-item, the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women stressed the impact of staff attitude and accountability in the implementation of the policy on refugee women and refugee children. She also highlighted the interrelationship between training programmes and attitudinal change. People-Oriented Planning (POP) training provides a tool for all staff to ensure that age and gender components are considered in designing assistance and protection programmes. Resources are needed to expand this training. To date 783 people comprising staff from UNHCR and NGOs, government officials and Executive Committee members have received training. Two half-day POP sessions have been held for senior managers at UNHCR Headquarters; an estimated 80 per cent of Directors and Deputy Directors had received this orientation. POP training modules have been translated into various languages in response to field requests, and it was hoped to create an indigenous training capacity. The Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women expressed the need for a more concrete analysis of the impact of the training, noting the difficulty in establishing a definite cause and effect relationship between the courses and improved programming, given the many variables which may influence this.

19. UNHCR stated that elements of People-Oriented Planning training were included in all other training, noting examples of its incorporation into areas of emergency response, protection and programming.

20. Many delegations strongly endorsed making POP training mandatory for all UNHCR staff, and observed the need to link the implementation of people-oriented planning principles to staff accountability. Some delegations also expressed concern that not all senior staff in Headquarters had undergone POP training and underlined the importance of appropriate attitudes and commitment on the part of senior management.

21. One delegation suggested that at the very minimum one Protection Officer and one Programme Officer in each location should have People-Oriented Planning training prior to their deployment. The same delegation supported the idea of creating regional training capacities which could continue training without UNHCR involvement. Another delegation stressed the need for training to take into account cultural awareness, language skills and previous experience of the trainee.

22. There was broad support for the suggestion by one delegation that the Division of Human Resources Management document scheduled for the June meeting of the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters should illustrate how UNHCR's overall human resource management reflects requirements of the policy on refugee women and refugee children, notably through such measures as training, career development, performance evaluations and recruitment and deployment of female staff.

Recommendations:

23. All UNHCR staff members should participate in People-Oriented Planning training on a mandatory basis, with priority being given to senior managers, new recruits, and personnel serving in key posts and field locations. Such training should be more frequent and accorded more attention and a higher priority.

24. The costs of mandatory People-Oriented Planning training for all staff should be analysed and sufficient resources allocated to this training from the regular budget.

25. Efforts to integrate People-Oriented Planning approaches into other UNHCR training activities should continue, particularly in the areas of emergency management, protection and programming.

(c) Emergency approach

26. The Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women noted that a number of measures to remedy deficiencies in the field of emergency response were already in place. One example given was the recent agreement with Rädda Barnen, whereby highly skilled and trained community service workers were on standby to be part of UNHCR's Emergency Response Teams, specifically tasked to identify vulnerable groups. Mention was also made of the success of the food distribution system in Malawi in providing fair distribution of rations by giving this responsibility to the female refugees. A number of delegations were strongly in favour of replicating this measure elsewhere and monitoring results.

27. Delegations observed the importance of taking into account women and children at the earliest stages in the emergency and in planning and welcomed the Rädda Barnen agreement as a significant development. One delegation stressed that priority should be given to updating UNHCR's Emergency Handbook.

Recommendations:

28. Staff members or seconded employees with special expertise in gender and children issues should continue to be included in all UNHCR emergency response teams. Such personnel should play a central role in the assessment of refugee needs and the creation of food distribution systems.

29. On an experimental basis UNHCR should attempt to place food distribution in the hands of women in one of its new operations and evaluate its impact.

30. Gender-sensitive approaches and the special needs of children should be incorporated into all training and team-building activities established for UNHCR's emergency team members, as well as UNHCR's regular emergency management training programme.

31. Priority should be given to updating the UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies to ensure that it fully reflects the principles of the policy on refugee women and the policy on refugee children.

(d) Effective integration into programming

32. In introducing this sub-item, the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women highlighted the difficulty in reconciling the Senior Coordinators' roles of advocacy at Headquarters, and presence in the field to monitor programmes. One delegation observed that this dilemma may be partly resolved by good reporting from the field. It was noted that much depends on the capacity and ability to report, as well as Headquarters' capacity to analyse the reports and provide adequate follow-up.

33. The Working Group was informed that the deployment of a specialized officer for women and children in South-East Asia had been successful. This officer was recently reassigned to Mozambique to provide a regional focus on issues concerning women and children in the current repatriation exercise. However, there were very few similar postings due to limited resources. Such posts were typically Junior Professional Officers with limited experience who required placement with experienced supervisors.

Recommendations:

34. Staff members or consultants with specific expertise should be systematically engaged to ensure that the particular problems affecting refugee women and refugee children are addressed within overall programme planning.

35. Operational and sectoral reviews undertaken by sections such as the Programme and Technical Support Section, the Programme Policy Unit and the Food and Statistical Unit should include specific references to the implementation and institutionalization of the Guidelines on Refugee Women and the Guidelines on Refugee Children.

36. The Division of Programmes and Operational Support should ensure that all UNHCR programming and budgeting tools, reporting procedures, guidelines and manuals are consistent with, and contribute to, the implementation of the Policy on Refugee Women and the Policy on Refugee Children.

37. The Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women and the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children and other personnel with expertise in gender and/or children's issues should continue to undertake systematic monitoring missions to ensure that the reports submitted by branch offices provide an accurate account of UNHCR's operational realities and activities, and provide advice and assistance on practical aspects of implementation.

38. The monthly UNHCR situation reports should systematically include a focus on the protection situation facing refugee women and refugee children.

(e) Attention to physical protection

39. The Deputy Director of International Protection noted that, in the interests of "mainstreaming", specific questions relating to refugee women and refugee children had been omitted from UNHCR's annual protection reporting exercise. However, it had been decided that such questions needed to be included in the future to ensure adequate reporting of these concerns. The Deputy Director also informed the Working Group that UNHCR intended to undertake a review of the pilot project for female victims of violence in Kenya at a later stage since an evaluation at this time would be premature.

40. One delegation stressed the importance of the very prompt finalization of the guidelines on sexual violence. UNHCR informed the Working Group that it was awaiting feedback on the guidelines from the field.

Recommendations:

41. The Executive Committee Conclusion number 73 (XLIV) of 1993 on Refugee Protection and Sexual Violence and the Note on Certain Aspects of Sexual Violence Against Refugee Women (A/AC.96/822), having been brought to the attention of all UNHCR offices, should also be shared with host Governments, implementing partners, other United Nations agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Conclusion and Note should be incorporated into materials prepared for People-Oriented Planning training and other training activities.

42. UNHCR should ensure that guidelines on preventing and responding to sexual violence, which are currently in preparation, are promptly finalized and effectively disseminated throughout UNHCR, host Governments, implementing partners, other United Nations agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

43. The Annual Protection reporting exercise should be modified to ensure that protection issues relating to refugee women and to refugee children are specifically addressed by field offices.

44. UNHCR should ensure close collaboration with countries of asylum in situations where serious security problems exist: such collaboration could benefit from the active bilateral support of other Governments.

45. At an appropriate time, a thorough review should be conducted of UNHCR's efforts to establish and implement a comprehensive programme for female victims of violence in Kenya as a pilot project. The lessons learnt from that study should be incorporated into UNHCR's training, programming and operational activities in other countries where women are at high risk of sexual assault.

(f) Accountability of staff

46. It was recalled that members of the evaluation team on the implementation of the policy on refugee women felt that field-based programme staff were required to spend a significant proportion of their time on reporting and therefore did not have sufficient exposure to field conditions affecting programme planning.

47. Many delegations endorsed the principle of accountability as the key factor in enhancing implementation of the policy and guidelines on refugee women and refugee children, and highlighted that support by senior managers was crucial. One delegation asked whether UNHCR had made progress in including this aspect within Performance Evaluation Reports.

Recommendations:

48. UNHCR should ensure that the implementation of the policy on refugee women and the policy on refugee children is treated as an essential responsibility of every staff member, irrespective of their function or geographical location, and that this responsibility is adequately reflected in the performance evaluation systems and job descriptions used by the organization.

49. UNHCR's recent efforts to streamline reporting systems should result in greater opportunities for Programme Officers to spend time in the field. UNHCR should ensure that the requirement to actively monitor refugee conditions in the field is incorporated into job descriptions for Programme Officers.

50. Senior managers in the field and at Headquarters must be prepared to make both discreet representations and more forceful intercessions to the Governments of countries where the rights of refugee women or refugee children are flouted.

(g) Compliance on the part of implementing partners

51. In introducing this sub-item, the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women stressed the necessity of training implementing partners and providing them with the capacity to train themselves. She highlighted the importance of their field level implementation of the UNHCR policies and guidelines and the need to append these to project agreements to reinforce their observance.

52. Delegations expressed their strong support for the incorporation of the guidelines and policies on refugee women and refugee children into the agreements with implementing partners and one delegation noted that this was also expressed in the Bangkok UNHCR/NGO Partnership in Action (PARINAC) meeting. Another delegation stressed the need to build the capacity of NGOs and to ensure their early awareness of policies and guidelines in order to incorporate these principles into their programming. Delegations also recognized the important role played by PARINAC and noted their high expectations of the PARINAC process and the necessity for effective follow-up. One delegation stressed the need for a stronger focus on cooperation aspects between UNHCR and NGOs. Another delegation noted the importance of UNHCR's establishing links with indigenous NGOs with good knowledge of local practices and customs.

Recommendations:

53. UNHCR should reinforce its capacity to monitor the welfare of refugee women and refugee children by developing closer linkages with other organizations and individuals, such as local and international NGOs, developmental agencies, United Nations peace-keeping forces and human rights observers.

54. People-Oriented Planning training activities should be extended to implementing agency staff on a more regular and systematic basis.

55. UNHCR should ensure that implementing partners are provided with copies of appropriate policy documents, guidelines, training and public information materials. The policies and guidelines on refugee women and refugee children should be appended to project agreements with implementing partners and their activities should be rigorously monitored to ensure that they are consistent with these instruments.

56. Gender clauses should be incorporated into the agreements signed with implementing partners, requiring them to provide equal and appropriate benefits to refugee women and to employ female staff members in relevant functions.

57. Stronger links should be established with women's, children's and human rights NGOs through the PARINAC process, which, amongst other issues, should continue to focus special attention on UNHCR's policy on refugee women and policy on refugee children.

58. UNHCR should ensure that its promotional, training and public information activities incorporate a specific focus on the situation of refugee women and refugee children.

(h) Human rights training

59. In introducing the sub-item of human rights training, the Deputy Director of International Protection noted that the 1989 Convention on the Rights on the Child is extremely valuable for enhancing protection of refugee children, particularly given its almost universal ratification and international acceptance. Furthermore, the Committee on the Rights of the Child collects information from United Nations organizations and NGOs which is then used in questioning States in relation to their implementation of the Convention. He further explained that the Division of International Protection is preparing a training module on human rights law, one of the focuses being on the rights of refugee women. The Division is also planning to produce a training module to accompany the revised guidelines on refugee children.

60. Some delegations noted the importance of international humanitarian law and other human rights instruments and asked about the link between UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF in this area. UNHCR responded that while there is a dialogue already established, the existing relations could be strengthened.

61. Two delegations stressed the importance of staff being aware of human rights instruments, the treaty bodies formed under them, and how they can be used in practice.

Recommendations:

62. The Training Section and the Division of International Protection should ensure that UNHCR staff are fully conversant with human rights instruments, including those relating to international humanitarian law, and understand how they can be used to strengthen protection to refugee women and refugee children.

63. UNHCR should strengthen its relationship with ICRC and UNICEF with the purpose, inter alia, of promoting and disseminating humanitarian and human rights law.

(i) Resources for implementation

64. In introducing this sub-item, the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women informed the Working Group that in the lead-up to the 1995 World Conference on Women, UNHCR has identified staff to serve as focal points for refugee women in each office with the expectation that they will continue this function thereafter. Nevertheless, these staff members have assumed this task in addition to their regular responsibilities and do not always have sufficient time or support to carry out the function, which is not part of their job description or performance assessment, with maximum effectiveness.

65. The valuable contributions of the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women and the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children were widely recognized and appreciated and all delegations expressed strong support that these positions should continue and be strengthened. Delegations also expressed the hope that the position of Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children would become part of the General Programme as has been the case for the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women.

66. The Director of Programmes and Operational Support informed the Working Group that UNHCR was committed to ensuring that the functions of the two Senior Coordinators would be maintained to facilitate the integration of special concerns with respect to refugee women and refugee children into UNHCR's structure and programme management systems. He also highlighted the vulnerability of programmes for women and children to funding shortfalls.

67. Noting the constraints associated with limited resources, one delegation endorsed the approach of establishing pilot projects in certain regions which, if successful, could provide leverage for additional resources.

68. Delegations also expressed their support for the establishment of additional specialized posts to be deployed as needed to countries with major refugee populations and to those where refugee women or children are confronted with particularly serious problems. They highlighted that incumbents should have the relevant expertise and be dedicated to refugee women and refugee children issues on a full-time basis.

69. There was lengthy discussion on the crucial importance of achieving mainstreaming through funding to UNHCR's General Programmes with strong views expressed by members of the Working Group that financing of any specialized staff or projects should become an integral part of General Programmes instead of originating from special trust funds. This would give UNHCR more flexibility and assist in integrating the specific concerns relating to refugee women and refugee children in all aspects of its programming.

70. In concluding discussion on this topic, the Chairman noted that support for the General Programme is one of the most concrete ways donors can help refugee women and refugee children.

Recommendations:

71. UNHCR officers with specific programme responsibility for women and for children should be systematically assigned on an "as needed" basis to countries with major refugee populations and to countries where refugee women or refugee children are confronted with particularly serious problems.

72. Staff to serve as focal points for women and for children should be identified in all field offices and appropriate Headquarters sections. Representatives and other supervisors should be instructed to provide these focal points with the time and support required to discharge these responsibilities as an integral part of their job descriptions.

73. UNHCR should clarify the role and responsibilities of the special officers and the staff who serve as focal points for women and for children, and identify the training needs of specialist staff.

74. UNHCR should, if provided with resources, establish mechanisms which would enable officers with specific programme responsibilities and staff who serve as focal points for women and for children to exchange ideas and information on a systematic and regular basis.

75. The positions of Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women and Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children should be maintained to facilitate the integration of special concerns with respect to refugee women and refugee children into UNHCR's structure and programme management systems, and the Senior Coordinators should be provided with the human and material resources as well as the authority required to function effectively.

V. FOLLOW-UP

76. The above recommendations are being referred to the Sub-Committee of the Whole on International Protection and, as appropriate, the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters for adoption and follow-up.