International Women's Day: UNHCR reaffirms commitment to gender equality

News Stories, 6 March 2009

© UNHCR/J.Rae
Women and Men Unite: Female and male refugees working together in a camp in Nepal.

GENEVA, March 6 (UNHCR) International Women's Day falls on Sunday this year, but many UNHCR offices were celebrating early on Friday as the head of the organization reaffirmed the refugee agency's continuing commitment to gender equality as a human right.

This year's UN theme for the day, "Women and men united to end violence against women," has been adapted by UNHCR to highlight the right of gender equality with the slogan: "It begins with me, it begins with you, it begins with us."

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, in a special message to staff, noted that the global theme was at the heart of the agency's mandate for protection and the centre of its work.

"In situations of forced displacement, no one is spared from deprivation and the threat of violence but women and girls suffer disproportionately. Violence, and particularly sexual and gender-based violence [SGBV], is one of the defining characteristics of contemporary conflict," he noted.

"A fuller response to SGBV, therefore, remains one of our top protection priorities, addressed within the context of our age, gender and diversity mainstreaming strategy. The pursuit of gender equality through targeted actions empowering women and girls remains a fundamental aspect of UNHCR's work," Guterres added.

"Achieving gender equality in our daily life and work is no longer an aspiration, but an obligation," said Naoko Obi, head of the Community Development Gender Equity and Children department at UNHCR, adding that men and women needed to work together to achieve equality.

The theme of women and men uniting for gender equality was highlighted at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva on Friday, where a short video showed male and female staff members talking about women's rights and gender equality.

Other activities included the display of a People Chain artwork dedicated to the diversity of individuals' backgrounds, ages and sex, and the building of a Witness Wall for the collection of messages on gender equality.

Other UNHCR offices around the world had a wide range of activities and celebrations planned for Friday and the weekend to mark International Women's Day.

"International Women's Day is an opportunity for us to reflect on how far we have come and how far we still have to go. I urge all of us to remember that it begins with me, it begins with you, it begins with us," High Commissioner Guterres concluded.