The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) takes the floor in this debate with the feeling that there is an urgent need to find new ways to address issues relating to the advancement of women. It is our view that despite the many statements made over the last 30 years, including at the Fourth World Conference on Women, and at the follow-up Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 2000, little progress has been recorded.
We welcomed the emphasis placed on the elimination of gender disparity in the Millennium Development Goals, which to a substantial extent, reflects the position that IFRC held for many years. It is part of our humanitarian mandate.
The IFRC does not approach this debate simply to make a statement of achievements. We speak today to seek firm and unambiguous commitment from governments and other stakeholders to ensure gender equity in service design and delivery, and equal opportunities for the persons involved. This is imperative for driving programs or indeed national development, which adequately addresses the needs of the most vulnerable. In our case, we also emphasise the vital need for equal opportunities for our own staff and volunteers: this, we believe, is a prerequisite for the delivery of quality in our Red Cross and Red Crescent work.
We in the IFRC, encourage our staff and volunteers not to base the work on the assumption that women are the most vulnerable, but rather to assess the needs and capacities from both, women's and men's perspective. This is a challenging task which requires consistent efforts to raise awareness, change attitude, and to develop tools, skills and competencies.
Our strength is our local presence – our network of 178 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Our volunteers are local people, from within their own communities. Being a locally based but nationally organised humanitarian organisation, we have a unique opportunity to provide a bridge between women suffering or working in silence and those willing to help them and work with them to improve their conditions and the conditions of the whole community around them. We are fully committed to utilising this potential to its full extent.
In addition to the integration of a gender perspective in existing activities, many National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies run special projects for women, because a vulnerability assessment has established a special need. A recent example is the project - “Organisation of social rehabilitation centres for vulnerable women" developed by Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent Society in cooperation with the Netherlands Red Cross. The main purpose of the project is to assist vulnerable women in three cities of Kyrgyzstan through providing professional job qualifications. Currently Red Crescent centres run sewing and computer classes for unemployed and migrant women free of charge. Similarly, the Red Crescent Society in Kyrgyzstan has successfully implemented some small projects with the support of the Netherlands Government for the benefit of communities in remote mountain areas. The most significant by-product of those projects – which piped fresh water to villages - was the ability of women for the first time to stop being water-carriers and enter the economic and social life of the wider community.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies organise themselves to network and to learn from each other. This year, in the Middle East and North Africa region, the Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran launched a website on gender issues to gather and share knowledge among the Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies in the region. This initiative is a direct follow-up to the Tehran Declaration, adopted by the IFRC Member Societies in the region in 2001. There is now, I am happy to report, a functioning network of gender focal points among the National Societies of the region, working to promote gender perspectives in all core activities and programs, including emergency preparedness and other IFRC priorities.
This is one example of mainstreaming. The IFRC is, however, well aware of the need to work proactively to build capacity for gender mainstreaming. To this end, the IFRC runs annual scholarships for gender training. This enables the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to send their staff members to various gender training courses organised in their own countries and regions offered by Governments, NGOs, and local research and training institutes. This approach provides a culturally sensitive learning opportunity and feedback indicates that it maximises the impact of the training. Currently we are planning to set up tailor-made courses in Africa, Asia and Americas regions and are welcoming partnerships with other organisations to collaborate on the project.
To complement the work of our Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies and our own programme officers in the field delegations, as well as to help in adapting general policies to specific circumstances, this year we published a gender training manual for Red Cross and Red Crescent staff members. The training material contains 20 case studies that are based on real situations and cover the main areas of our activities such as disaster relief, disaster preparedness, health and care in the community. We hope that this tool will help us to develop the capacity to plan, implement and evaluate projects with gender concerns in mind. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland for supporting the initiative, which already appears to fill a much-needed gap.
We have still to reach our targets for diversity and gender balance within our Geneva Secretariat and field delegations. We believe that hiring women is not just an equality issue, it is a need. We need more women managers, staff and volunteers to help us get through the barriers that make it so hard to reach and communicate with vulnerable women. In some countries, male staff cannot talk to women beneficiaries…How can we develop programs to benefit both women and men if we cannot communicate with half of them…?
We made a pledge to this effect at the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999, and are preparing to refresh and update that pledge at the 28th Conference, to be held in December this year in Geneva. We will be taking account of debates at this session of the UN General Assembly, and of discussions with other stakeholders in judging how best to take the action forward.
It is our clear belief, in this context, that there is a need for a new form of commitment, a new system of measurement of actions and of their impact. This means that there needs to be a fresh approach to Accountability – accountability to beneficiaries in respect of all programs, including their monitoring and their evaluation. Without new approaches, the objective of a true integration of gender perspectives in policies and programs will remain a dream.
We say this constructively, not just because there is a need for programmes which advance the situation of women but because development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals depends on the full recognition of the contribution that gender equality brings to society.