International Women's Day: UNHCR launches handbook for protection of women
GENEVA, March 6 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Thursday launched an important guide for the protection of females as the organization's leader, António Guterres, reaffirmed UNHCR's commitment to the rights of women.
Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller and Netherlands Ambassador Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam, Chairman of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee, presided over the launch of the "Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls" in Geneva's Palais des Nations.
The launch of this important protection tool - which replaces UNHCR's 1991 "Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women" - is directly linked to International Women's Day on Saturday.
The handbook denounces "a massive culture of neglect and denial about violence against women and girls" and outlines strategies to answer the protection challenges faced by women and girls of concern. It also sets out international legal standards and responsibilities in this area.
Feller said the document was designed to promote gender equality by using a rights- and community-based approach, by mainstreaming age, gender and diversity, and through targeted actions to empower women and girls in the civil, political and economic sectors.
The Assistant High Commissioner also highlighted the practical suggestions for concrete actions contained in the handbook, mentioning "a total of over 60 field practice examples which show how offices [around the world] have approached these challenges."
High Commissioner Guterres, in a special International Women's Day message to staff released on Thursday, highlighted the importance of raising awareness on gender-based issues and described the handbook as "an important new tool" that "describes the protection challenges faced by refugee women and ways of resolving them."
Noting this year's theme of "Investing in Women and Girls," Guterres said the refugee agency would be directing US$1.5 million in 2008 to special projects aimed at countering and raising awareness about sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in 14 countries.
One of those countries is Uganda, where the High Commissioner has been reviewing UNHCR operations, meeting officials and talking to refugees and internally displaced people since Monday. He leaves later Thursday for a four day-visit to Tanzania.
Guterres, in his staff message, noted that UNHCR had last year "channelled special funds to projects in a first group of 14 countries - Tanzania, Syria and Jordan among them - as part of our contribution to the global fight against SGBV and to help find solutions for the tens of thousands of displaced women and children affected by abuse."
The High Commissioner also urged all UNHCR staff to take part in the various activities being organized worldwide in the coming days to celebrate International Women's Day. He stressed that "more than ever, UNHCR should be doing everything possible to support women and girls of concern and to invest in their protection and welfare."
By Cécile Pouilly in Geneva