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World Humanitarian Day – Focus on female aid workers

19.08.2019 - Article

Today, on World Humanitarian Day, the Federal Foreign Office is joining with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) to focus on women humanitarians working to help people in need, often risking their own health or life.

This year’s World Humanitarian Day is focusing on women who have been injured or killed doing this important work. Although humanitarian aid workers are supposed to enjoy special protection under international humanitarian law, sadly the reality is often quite different. Further, women often encounter very different challenges from men and are exposed to substantial additional dangers in their work.

The erosion of international humanitarian law must not result in humanitarian assistance ultimately not arriving where it’s needed. Because we no longer have people on the ground who can ensure that help is provided.

This was Foreign Minister Maas’s justification for Germany putting the issue on the UN Security Council’s agenda.

The help provided specifically by women has great added value in humanitarian assistance. For example, in many places women are more accepted, and have better access to sections of the affected population. In particular, male humanitarian workers can find it difficult to reach girls and women on gender-sensitive issues (HIV/Aids awareness-raising and counselling, midwifery, sexual violence, etc.). But women play an irreplaceable part in many other areas of international humanitarian assistance, too. So women must have equal opportunities when it comes to working in humanitarian assistance.

Much remains to be done

A woman humanitarian aid worker explaining the dangers of mines to girls in Iraq
A woman humanitarian aid worker explaining the dangers of mines to girls in Iraq© Norwegian People’s Aid

The courage and commitment of women aid workers enables humanitarian assistance to reach many of those most in need – including the target groups to whom there would otherwise be only limited access. That’s why Germany wants to intensify its cooperation with its humanitarian assistance partners, in order to improve the possibilities for employing women as humanitarian workers. We want to make it even clearer just how much more effective humanitarian assistance is when men and women work together.

Safeguarding humanitarian space

Political actors must continue, and indeed step up, their commitment to ensuring that humanitarian aid workers are given the protection due to them under international humanitarian law. In the UN Security Council, Germany is therefore seeking to strengthen humanitarian space and the protection afforded to humanitarian aid workers. Humanitarian space provides the legal framework which guarantees aid workers’ access to those in need, as well as their protection. At the beginning of April 2019, Germany and France pointed out that humanitarian space is today under considerable pressure and at risk of shrinking. Again and again, humanitarian principles are disregarded, fundamental international humanitarian law standards violated and humanitarian aid workers subjected to deliberate attack. France and Germany, along with other states and humanitarian organisations, are currently working on a Humanitarian Call for Action containing concrete measures and recommendations. The aim, in strengthening international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles, is to expand the scope of action for humanitarian workers.

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