18 March 2017

Panel focuses on barriers of delivery, gender dimensions, and innovative approaches in crisis

16 March 2017 | New York, NY

At the fourth panel in their series on the humanitarian dimensions of women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health, Norway and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) turned the spotlight on the importance of delivering integrated education and health services in humanitarian settings. Failure to simultaneously meet basic needs in health, education, and other essential services undermines the ability of communities to prevent, manage and recover from disaster. Yet, while it is widely understood that people do not experience humanitarian crises in silos, holistically addressing needs remains a challenge.

The panel focused on three main points: (1) the barriers to integrate health and education services; (2) gender dimensions that become amplified in crises; and (3) innovative approaches to secure access to service delivery. The panelists shared their experiences in providing tailored and integrated health services and education for children and adolescents in emergencies, and discussed how to bridge the gap between the humanitarian-development divide.

The panel was moderated by H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid, Co-Chair of Every Woman Every Child Everywhere, the initiative that highlights the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health focus on humanitarian and fragile settings.

Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, United Nations Senior Advisor on Policy, opened the event emphasizing that people do not experience crises in silos. As their needs span several sectors, it is crucial to deliver integrated approaches to health and education. Furthermore, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang reiterated that there can be no peace without development, and no development without peace, and that leaving no one behind is more important than ever. There is a need to examine the different issues together, and to integrate the pillars of prevention. Moreover, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang stressed that the needs of women and children are often overlooked in humanitarian crises. In order to ensure peace and development, we need healthy women and girls, and we need to pay close attention to this group. Education opportunities in these settings are essential, as they may prevent certain health hazards and teach them about their reproductive health. In turn, this knowledge can lead to better and safer choices for women, children and adolescents. In addition to integrated approaches, we also need to have a life-course focus. Lastly, she highlighted the importance of the international community investing in the health of women, children and adolescents in humanitarian settings, and asserted her pride in championing this agenda.

H.E. Ms. Laila Bokhari, State Secretary, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, cited evidence that shows that education and learning are critical for supporting social change and advancing the 2030 Agenda. Good health and nutrition from early childhood are a prerequisite for growth and development, as keeping children, and particularly youth, in school can prevent recruitment of child soldiers, increase awareness and knowledge of safe behavior, and provide much-needed psychosocial support. Furthermore, Bokhari highlighted that in conflict-affected countries, almost 37 million children and adolescents do not attend school. She stressed that education can make a critical difference to a range of health issues, including reproductive health, disease prevention and wellbeing. Sexual and reproductive health and protection against violence are critical for girls and women, especially in crises. It is important to plan and implement multi-sectoral programs. Bokhari stated that the Norwegian Government will continue to prioritize health and education, as they have doubled financial aid for education, as well as allocated more than 8% of the humanitarian funding for this purpose globally. Together with several partners, Norway initiated the Education Cannot Wait fund, launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 in order to ensure education for children and youth affected by emergencies. The Fund also aims to bridge the gap and coordinate between humanitarian aid and long-term development. She remarked that there is a need to do our utmost to prevent humanitarian crisis and conflicts, and ensure that every woman, every child, every adolescent, everywhere survive, thrive, and become capable of transforming the world into a better place for all.

H.E. Dr. Mouza Hassan Al Shehhi, Representative for the Women’s Empowerment File, General Women’s Union, United Arab Emirates, began her statement by touching on the UAE’s own development experience, and what it has meant for their approach in delivering assistance in humanitarian settings. When people think of the UAE today, they often think of the skyscrapers or the new Louvre.  However, six decades back, she said, much of the country would have been classified as a fragile setting, with minimal social infrastructure, and high exposure to environmental risk.  She continued by saying that what changed the course of their development was not just oil, but a vision and commitment from the leadership to invest in the people, particularly women and youth. This led to massive public investments in education and healthcare, as well as policies to ensure that these investments benefitted both genders. Dr. Al Shehhi stated that the UAE’s rise in the Human Development Index is a testament to the impact of this approach—and the reason why they made women’s empowerment a cornerstone of their new foreign aid policy, launched in December. Based on the numbers of mothers’ and children’s deaths that occur in humanitarian settings, and the gender gap in the education statistics, it is evident that we need better planning and response. There is also a clear rationale for integration. If you are the person experiencing a humanitarian crisis, sectors and agency mandates are not real to you, as you experience them holistically. Humanitarian planning and response must therefore take a “whole-of-person” approach, simultaneously thinking about all the needs and the integrated delivery of the related services. She highlighted that mandatory coordination between and within agencies could be a starting point. She concluded by expressing a hope that the panel would discuss the “hows” of integration, and that the ideas discussed can lead to concrete solutions on how to address the challenges.

Ms. Sana Mustafa, former Syrian refugee and advocate for the delivery of education services in refugee situations, told the audience her personal story of becoming a refugee in July 2013. She was in the United States at that time, attending a summer school program, while the rest of the family was at home in Syria. Her father was detained, and her mother and two sisters had to flee to Turkey. She stated how everything changed that day, and the process she had to go through as a refugee. She underlined the importance of education for young refugees, and how important it has been for her to be able to gain an undergraduate degree in Political Science as a full scholarship recipient from Bard College in NY. For her sisters, however, the circumstances have been very different. Her youngest sister, now 16 years old, has not received an education in over three years. Mustafa continued by encouraging the international community to include refugees in the discussions about their situation, as it is important to ask rather than just assume. She also highlighted the need to consider mental health at the heart of this agenda, as this is as important as a refugees’ physical health. Lastly, she stated that although the obstacles are many and difficult, she is convinced they can be overcome.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health, World Health Organization (WHO) opened with a “word of impatience”, and elaborated on some of her own experiences working with refugees in former Yugoslavia. In this setting, she noted how important it is to focus on the needs of women and girls in displaced situations, and particularly important to address the mental burden they carry. She reiterated a need for better planning measures to address needs in a holistic way, with a long-term view. Dr. Bustreo further underlined the importance of delivering integrated health and education services as a right of refugees. She spoke to the importance of accountability, and not just advocacy.

Ms. Jo Bourne, Associate Director and Global Chief of Education, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), noted that the divide between humanitarian and development services is a large problem, as the two sectors often intersect. Bourne shared a memory of refugees who had been given alternative opportunities in a camp in Turkey. These activities and games for the children had been crucial in creating a sense of normalcy for the children, as they could forget about their fears and struggles for a short while. However, without an opportunity to receive education, it became difficult to imagine a pathway forward. Thus, in these settings, psychosocial support is essential. Another important point that Bourne raised was the lack of investment and financing. The demand for education and health services in humanitarian settings has increased significantly more than financing, and it is important that the international community addresses this. Moreover, in crisis settings, Bourne highlighted that education is the first service to be suspended, but is also the first service demanded by parents, and is the last to be restored. This suspension of education services interferes with children’s learning development. Bourne also noted that there is an inadequate capacity to plan and deliver education services, as well as inadequate data to support measures. Overall, Bourne stressed that innovation exists, but needs to be scaled up, and equity needs to be central in the planning process.

Ms. Debra Jones, Director and UN Representative, Save the Children International, highlighted the importance of keeping children at the center of the discussion. Save the Children recently published a unique report on toxic stress suffered by Syrian children, where they gathered data from over 450 participants. Most of the children surveyed mentioned their struggle to sleep at night due to the unimaginable scenes they have witnessed. Jones alluded to a powerful example from the report, where children used weapons as a way of learning mathematics—“one rifle, plus one gun, equals two arms.” Yet, there is a glimmer of hope in this setting, as incredible individuals have stepped up and provided services locally, teaching children relaxation techniques to overcome toxic stress. Lastly, she encouraged Member States to commit to supporting mental health, which must include children and youth in the dialogue.

Ms. Nora Fyles, Head of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), underlined that crisis amplifies gender inequality. In humanitarian settings, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be being taken out of schools. Fyles gave an example of UNGEI’s work, where they invited a community in Afghanistan to develop initiatives to ensure that girls remain in schools. The solutions were varied, but they realized that the most important factor was the process—the fact that the local community had been involved in the planning measures form the very beginning. She highlighted the importance of inclusive methods in the field. Another important aspect of this program was ensuring that boys were involved in the process, emphasizing the importance of community engagement. She concluded by stating that adolescent girls are often invisible, and there is very little written about what measures work.

The results of the panel series will feed into the annual meeting in Abu Dhabi of Every Woman Every Child Everywhere toward the end of 2017. At the annual meeting, some 40 of the world’s largest and most innovative development and humanitarian actors review their programming and internal practices and agree on necessary outcomes and the reforms needed to achieve them.