UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund

State of World Population 2005



© James Nachtwey/VII
An internally displaced woman cares for her ailing son at the city hospital in Mornei, West Darfur.

Women and Young People in
Humanitarian Crises

-After a Crisis: Opportunities for Equity and Peace

-An Evolving Human Rights Framework

-Participation of Women and Gender Equality:
The Path to Recovery

-Empowering Young People in the Aftermath of Crises

-Safeguarding Reproductive Health and Rights
in Humanitarian Emergencies

Participation of Women and Gender Equality: The Path to Recovery

In the aftermath of conflict, the full political participation of women can improve security and governance and foster reconciliation and socio-economic development. As the Cambodia model demonstrates (see Box 33), women politicians, working together with government ministries and women's groups, can effectively call attention to gender equality and development issues and advance poverty reduction strategies. In South Africa, for example, women parliamentarians and civil society leaders contributed to the reform of the post-apartheid military.(24) The Government appointed women to senior positions within the Ministry of Defence, provided gender training for all of ministry personnel and instituted equitable personnel policies, including maternity leave. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has worked in post-conflict countries to build the skills of women leaders and encourage women voters to involve themselves in the political process. In Afghanistan, in the run-up to the 2004 elections, UNIFEM facilitated the first public forum of its kind on women's rights, bringing together women's rights activists, journalists and presidential candidates.(25) UNFPA supported the effort through training of women leaders on gender issues.(26)


The aftermath of conflict can provide an opportunity to promote the participation of women as an integral part of national reconstruction and development. In Cambodia, a country that has emerged from 30 years of conflict, women and war widows head more than one in four households, which are also among the poorest. Today, 80 per cent of the country's female population are of working age and economically active-the highest female labour force participation of any country in the region. Ignoring their contributions would result in missed opportunities for poverty reduction.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs and a number of international and nongovernmental organizations have been staunch advocates of gender equality. The 1993 Constitution enshrines equality between men and women. The Royal Government of Cambodia has supported an evolving legal framework that safeguards gender equality in marriage, family, employment and land ownership. The Government has also mainstreamed gender across all major policy initiatives, including the 2002 National Poverty Reduction Strategy, the 2003 Cambodian Millennium Development Goals, the 2003 National Population Policy, and the 2004 Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Efficiency and Equity. The latter recognizes that "women are the backbone of our economy and society", and calls for "ensuring the rights of women to actively and equally participate in nation building". The 2005 National Strategic Development Plan clearly defines gender mainstreaming and a human rights approach as strategic to all sectors. Plans are underway to prioritize married women in policy development in recognition of their high vulnerability to HIV infection. The development of draft laws on domestic violence and trafficking were included as 2005 targets in the national MDG plan-making Cambodia the first country in the world to do so.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs mobilized alliances with other ministries, civil society and international donors to develop a comprehensive gender mainstreaming strategy. Five-year plans are now in place, with staff at central, provincial and communal levels and gender focal points and technical working groups stationed in all government ministries. The ministry has initiated gender training for its officers and promoted gender-sensitive policies for civil servants. Gender-sensitive budgeting has resulted in increased funding to provide scholarships for girls, eliminate costs to families and make schools more girl-friendly. Efforts to strengthen gendersensitive data analysis for the national MDG plan resulted in the addition of new indicators to track progress on women's political participation, education, health and employment, and on violence against women.

Such measures have enabled Cambodia to advance gender equality and progress toward realization of other MDGs as well. Maternal mortality, fertility and HIV prevalence have dropped among certain groups. In rural and remote areas, primary and secondary school enrolment has risen, and the number of women studying in colleges and universities has increased. Women leaders are contributing to good governance and poverty reduction through the establishment of government-civil society partnerships, the promotion of peaceful resolution of local disputes and cross-party cooperation. Though many challenges remain, Cambodia offers a prime example of how comprehensive and sustained gender mainstreaming can improve the lives of citizens. See Sources

Women also have a strong role to play in promoting justice and reconciliation. At the international level, the appointment of women judges has led to significant advances. For example, in every case tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that resulted in significant retribution for sex crimes (against men as well as women), a woman judge was on the bench.(27) In Sierra Leone, a women's task force participated in the design of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a special unit to investigate war crimes.(28) In Rwanda, at the local level, UNIFEM supports the post-genocide gacaca system of community justice and has trained 100 judges in the concepts of gender, justice, reconciliation and peacebuilding.(29)

Many international organizations recognize that supporting women is an effective way to help their communities recover from crises. In war- and disasteraffected areas of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Government established, with UNFPA technical support, a broad programme to help women who head households. It includes support to begin incomegenerating projects and training in literacy, life skills and reproductive health.(30) In Sierra Leone, the Women in Crisis Movement assists young women who are sexually exploited or at risk of engaging in "survival sex" in exchange for basic necessities. It provides occupational training, psychosocial counselling, health care and services to prevent sexually transmitted infections.(31)


In the 2003 parliamentary elections, women won 49 per cent of seats in the lower house and 34 per cent in the upper house. Rwanda now has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians in the world. A "triple-balloting" technique was instituted by the Government in the 2001 district-level elections: Every voter chose a general candidate, a female candidate and a youth candidate. "Not only did this system set aside seats for women and youth," one expert noted, "it also required that the entire electorate vote for women." The Forum of Women Parliamentarians, composed of ethnic Hutu and Tutsi women, was the first cross-party caucus in the Rwandan Parliament. Women leaders have implemented national and local reconciliation programmes, drafted a new Constitution and actively promoted transparency and accountability at all levels of government. See Sources

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