Massive human displacements are taking place in the developing and less developed countries and their pace seem to grow with no stabilization at sight. Unfortunately, similar to other mass human displacements in history, today’s displacements, be it within or beyond the borders of the states, continue to cause large-scale human tragedies. These mass displacements and human tragedies they entail are more alarming than ever, as they are intertwined with the ongoing violent conflicts, environmental degradation and natural disasters. The size of the problem today is beyond the capacity of the international community to respond adequately, which creates the need for a careful reassessment of the humanitarian action framework. The World Humanitarian Summit that is to be held in Istanbul in 2016 is an important step in the rethinking of this humanitarian action framework, which will focus on the themes of
Being in the midst of a grave human tragedy in the Middle East for the last decade, Turkey has been and should continue to be a significant actor in the international action to address humanitarian crisis. This entails a strong and thorough collaboration between the state and non-state actors, the public and private sectors, and local as well as global agents. Only in this way, can a comprehensive action plan be administered in the face of the growing crisis that affects the lives of everyone as a result of being inhabitants of a globalized world. Women are at the forefront as victims and actors. They are disproportionately affected by the conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters as they are much more vulnerable, often submissive and under heavy responsibilities for caring for the rest of the family. They are facing long journeys as refugees into exile or living in insecure environments. Women and girls are subject to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, forced impregnation, forced abortion, trafficking, and sexual slavery. Therefore, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) puts a specific emphasis on the situation of women in its guidelines for working with refugees: In many societies, women and girls face specific risks and are less likely than men and boys to have access to their rights, due to their gender roles and position in society. In situations of displacement, these risks – particularly discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence – can be exacerbated. Community support structures break down and traditional or formal justice systems may not uphold women’s rights. Unaccompanied women and girls, women heads of households and pregnant, disabled or older women may face particular challenges.1 The UN refugee agency builds upon women’s resilience and strength to support their empowerment and strengthen their protection, and promotes their full participation in all decisions affecting their lives. Despite the many challenges, displacement can enable women to take on new roles and instigate positive change. With the appropriate support, refugee women can improve their lives and the lives of their children, families and communities.
Within this general conceptual framework, the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) which holds a General Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council, with its Women’s Platform, plans to organize the second edition of the Istanbul Summit on the effects of mass displacements with a special focus on women. Believing that ‘with the appropriate support, refugee women can improve their lives and the lives of their children, families and communities’2, Istanbul Summit 2015 aims to convey a strong message for the full participation of women in all decisions affecting their lives. As a transnational NGO, JWF, adopts this women focus in examining today’s mass displacements firstly because it feels the need to bring displaced women’s daily disasters to international agenda and to seek adequate humanitarian response to them. Secondly, the JWF aims to contribute to the promotion of United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), among which ‘Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women’ exists. As the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs approaches, relevant UN agencies, member states, civil society organizations and other stakeholders have been busy working on the post-2015 development agenda. Among these endeavors the works of the Executive Board of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) are noteworthy. In its Draft Strategic Plan for 2014-2017 UN-Women underlines the following, in line with the objectives of JWF’s Summit: Following successive Security Council resolutions on the global and UN system-wide response to supporting women’s role in conflict resolution and prevention, UN-Women has been tasked with a number of key coordination priorities. (…) UN-Women will develop the capacity of concerned actors to assess gender-specific needs and coordinate humanitarian action, including in formulating Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies which ensure women’s empowerment in the development of the longer term resilience of their communities and in the implementation of sustainable humanitarian action and, in the case of disaster response, meeting immediate gender responsive survival needs.3
Similarly, the UN Action, which is an internal body within the UN system that unites the work of 13 UN entities with the goal of ending sexual violence in conflict, has set main goals as: to amplify and better coordinate the work of the UN system in addressing sexual violence in conflict; to deepen partnerships with NGOs and civil society organizations; to strengthen both the UN’s response to survivors and efforts to prevent sexual violence during and after conflict; and to support women’s engagement in conflict prevention and enhances their influence over peace negotiations and post-conflict recovery processes. Figures of mass displacements and their consequences on the ground are appalling. According to the statistics of the UN bodies (UNHCR and OCHA) by mid-2014, 10.8 million of Syria’s 22 million population was affected by the conflict and in need of humanitarian assistance, including 6.5 million internally displaced, often multiple times - 50 per cent more than in 2013. UN bodies estimate that a total of 4 million Syrians will have left their homes for Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Over half of these displaced Syrians are women and girls.4 Besides, according to another report prepared by Amnesty International, with 1.6 million Syrians, Turkey is the country that hosts the highest number of Syrians among the neighboring countries.5 If a comprehensive political solution is not reached, the number affected is expected to grow in 2015. As for Iraq, although the outflow stabilized around 0.5 million people, the country has nevertheless one of the largest populations of IDPs (internally displaced person) in the world today. Over 1.5 million people are estimated to have been displaced so far in 2014, adding to the over 1.13 million people already displaced in previous years due to sectarian violence and terrorist attacks. Let’s recall that in the course of summer 2014 the United Nations has accused ISIL of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq, detailing a campaign of mass detentions and executions in Christian, Turkmen and Ezidi areas. Semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan - with a population of just over five million and already a caseload of 220,000 Syrian refugees – is the most affected area following the push of ISIL. The region needs support as it is now hosting what is believed to be more than 700,000 IDPs, many of whom endured exhausting journeys to reach safety. The recent mass displacement in the north of Iraq has also affected the Kurdish region of Syria. Meanwhile, less than 100,000 Syrians have declared asylum in Europe with a small number offered resettlement by countries such as Germany and Sweden. While EU is certainly a leading contributor of humanitarian aid to the Middle East region, the amount donated by each of its 28 Member States has varied greatly. More importantly, the EU has not only received relatively fewer asylum requests as a result of the Iraq and Syria crisis, in comparison to Iraq’s and Syria’s neighboring countries, but it has accepted even less for resettlement. As for the UN humanitarian agencies, volatile security situation on the ground has been a major obstacle for the deployment of emergency operations for assistance and care for refugees and IDPs. Heavy burden has been put on the receiving countries such as Iraq and Syria which are often themselves producing displacements. While receiving countries, which are not directly affected by armed conflict, are hardly managing the emergency situations those in turmoil have extreme difficulties to cope with refugee situations. The chaos resulting from it often serves extremist armed groups like ISIL who are recruiting among refugees. Within this mayhem one can easily imagine the plight of women especially in the Middle East.