24 September 2016

New panel series addresses challenges and opportunities for women, children and adolescents in fragile settings

The event aimed at fostering a broader focus on health services for women and children in fragile settings.

The UAE and Norway announced a panel series that will explore programming, financing and policy approaches, to help mainstream women’s and children’s health services in both humanitarian response, disaster risk reduction, and  across related sectors—e.g. climate, education, and water and sanitation, among others.  The UAE also announced a new aid package to Yemen focused on mainstreaming maternal and children’s health in emergency responses.

The high-level meeting was framed by the five-year plan on conflict and fragile settings issued in Abu Dhabi in April 2015, in support of the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health. The plan was adopted at the World Health Assembly in May 2016 and backed by the Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman Every Child

The Global Strategy is vital for the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as it aims to uphold the dignity of all vulnerable populations; including refugees, migrants and internally displaced people. Under the Global Strategy and the Every Woman Every Child movement, improved maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health, must take hold everywhere. The EWEC Everywhere implementation strategy elaborates on targets and modalities for a minimum package of health services regardless of context, a cross-sectoral approach, and the importance of women as first-responders and equal decision-makers in health programming. 

In her opening remarks, Every Woman Every Child Everywhere co-chair, Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, spoke to the snowballing awareness of women and children in fragile settings as a core constituency for global health and basic services goals; and the positive impact that political championship of countries like Canada, Norway, and the UAE, is having on the architecture of humanitarian and development action.  She noted that conflict, infectious diseases and climate change, are emerging challenges with a considerable impact on the health and wellbeing of all population, particularly women and children.

Tone Skogen, Deputy Foreign Minister of Norway, emphasized that women’s voices and participation are crucial at the local level if programs are to be effective and sustained. She also stated that Norway is committed to implementing an integrated program of action in vulnerable settings—this includes: ensuring children have quality schooling in a safe environment; access to contraception for those who want it; and protecting vulnerable populations from sexual violence and other forms of abuse that often occur in fragile settings.

Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation, detailed the UAE’s belief that gender equality—especially in humanitarian settings—is essential for recovery and development. She noted, “healthy, educated and empowered women equal healthy, educated and empowered societies;” describing the joint aspiration with Norway to make women’s and children’s health a standard part of the “checklist” for humanitarian and development actors. The goal of this aspiration is to link it with other services for crisis-affected communities for a “whole person” approach.  She also flagged the data gap regarding humanitarian situations, stating that data generation must become a priority for programming.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, reflecting on his experience in government and the humanitarian field, highlighted the importance of prioritizing humanitarian issues as part of management.  He also stressed the urgency of a “collective outcome” approach, through which partners define the outcomes that must be achieved for crisis-affected persons and communities and then jointly assume delivery responsibilities.

Sarah Fountain Smith, Assistant Deputy Minister, Global Issues and Development, Global Affairs Canada, explained the rationale for Canada’s significant new aid programming on maternal and child health, citing the compelling evidence of development value, as well as the disproportionate impact of humanitarian situations on women and children.  She also highlighted this month’s nearly $13 billion replenishment of the Global Fund, which Canada has advocated to have a stronger focus on women and children.

Elhadj As Sy, Secretary-General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, emphasized that the “everywhere” should really mean everywhere, noting that in some parts of Harlem in New York City, the maternal mortality rates rival those of parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. He further stressed that IFRC has been successful only because and when it has the trust, support, and engagement of the local community. Finally, he said that coordination is important, but in many places, such as Sierra Leone in the height of the Ebola epidemic, no other organizations were present. He reminded the group  that an organizations’ dedication to working (and staying) in dysfunctional settings determines health outcomes, and not least the community trust that underpins them.

Kevin Jenkins, President and CEO, World Vision, discussed his organization’s commitment to implementing the Everywhere principles in all settings. He noted the importance of helping women to be leading actors in all settings—including in humanitarian and fragile settings— further articulating that this understanding is behind World Vision’s $500 million contribution towards implementing the Everywhere principles.

Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Founder of the Grameen Bank, discussed new work on maternal medical consultations tapping into Bangladesh’s widespread mobile phone usage.

Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, cited gender mainstreaming as one of the most critical factors in UNWRA’s education work with Palestinian refugees; also noting the impact of basic service provision on keeping the morale and hope high among refugee children.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health, WHO, discussed health’s role as a foundation for all other aspects of life.

Questions from the audience focused on accountability for humanitarian organizations and donors; as well as the importance of mainstreaming the needs of children with disabilities.

In her closing remarks, Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, OCHA, said she felt encouraged by the fast uptake of Everywhere’s core messages, but is alarmed by the spiraling humanitarian needs that continue to disproportionately affect women and children. She noted that instances in which UN agencies have moved beyond mandates to collective outcomes have yielded the best results.

The panel series will next focus on the rapid movement of displaced persons to cities, linked to Habitat III, and the growing impacts of climate change—from harsh weather to Zika—on health, linked to the COP22 climate negotiations.