International Women's Day: UNHCR pledges to advance gender equality programme

News Stories, 7 March 2014

© UNHCR/S.Rich
A young Pakistani orphan girl at a camp for the internally displaced. UNHCR chief Guterres says the education of girls like this one is vital to social progress.

GENEVA, March 7 (UNHCR) UNHCR chief António Guterres on Friday reaffirmed the refugee agency's determination to fulfil its global strategic priority of advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women. The pledge came in a message to staff on the eve of International Women's Day, which this year has the theme of "Equality for Women is Progress for All."

Guterres said this year's theme "recognizes that we do not live in a world in which all women and girls are treated equally and without discrimination. As we all too often see in our daily work, forced displacement exacerbates the risks that women and girls face."

The High Commissioner also highlighted some important UNHCR programmes that will impact positively on the situation for displaced women and girls.

"Recognising the critical importance of the role that youth and adolescents play in advancing positive change in communities, UNHCR is this year initiating several projects with youth groups to address protection issues in their communities and to develop their leadership and life skills. The Division of International Protection is working with several operations to support these groups through a Youth Empowerment Fund, and we will prioritize initiatives that particularly target adolescent girls," he said.

"We know that girls' education is vital to social progress. But it is still a struggle to keep girls in school, especially during the crucial transition from primary to secondary. UNHCR is using targeted strategies to increase the enrolment of girls in school, and we are beginning to see the results of our renewed efforts in this area," Guterres said, adding: "Without the education of girls, equality for women will remain an empty promise."

The High Commissioner also noted that UNHCR had taken significant steps to achieve institutional improvements in SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) prevention and response from the onset of emergencies with the support of the US government's "Safe from the Start" initiative.

"Over the next three years, UNHCR hopes to address gaps in technical expertise in current emergencies, augment internal capacity in SGBV prevention and response, develop evidence-based impact assessment methodologies and implement livelihood programmes targeting women and girls at risk of SGBV and SGBV survivors," he said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR staff and offices around the world will be marking and celebrating International Women's Day, one of the most important dates in the year for the organization.