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Stories of courage and strength: Celebrating women and girls on International Women's Day

Tuesday, 8 March 2016 12:13 GMT

© Sylvain Cherkaoui/DFID/ECHO/ACF

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Disasters and conflicts exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities as women can become victims of violence or suffer the ill effects of gender inequality. Three fifths of all maternal deaths take place in humanitarian crisis situations according to the United Nations, because of lack of access to reproductive health services during emergencies. Women make up half of the world's population of refugees and internally displaced people.

The European Commission supports targeted actions for women in emergency situations around the world. As a leading international donor, it ensures that the specific needs of women and girls, but also men and boys, are taken into account in the humanitarian interventions it funds. The Commission has developed tools to assess, promote and track gender-sensitive issues in humanitarian operations.

Crucial European Union's humanitarian assistance goes to women displaced by the decades-long conflict in Colombia. The continued violence has forced many to leave their homes and also their crops, thus depriving them of their only livelihood. With funding support from the European Commission, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization helps these women re-gain access to the fields enabling them to produce food for themselves and their families.    

Arifa’s world changed forever when she was badly injured during bombings that destroyed her family’s home in Aleppo, Syria, three years ago. She spent three months in hospital and underwent four operations, including the amputation of her right leg. Now living in Turkey, Arifa is regularly visited by a health team, including a physiotherapist and rehabilitation worker. This help gave her hope that soon she can play again with her friends.

Girls and women in humanitarian crises are not only victims; they can also serve as powerful agents of change, and their skills can foster disaster risk reduction and speed up recovery efforts. One woman, Minoti Rani, living in a coastal village in Bangladesh which is regularly flooded by a canal nearby, decided enough was enough and mobilised the other women in the village to raise the banks of the canal. She has become an inspiring example for the whole community.

After losing her mother at the tender age of three months, 13-year-old Amal now lives with her father and siblings in a camp for displaced people in Somalia. She dreams to attend university. However, access to educational opportunities for her has been limited so far. The EU Children of Peace initiative and other donors have supported four 'accelerated basic education centres' in camps in Somalia, which afford children like Amal an opportunity to catch up in terms of core literacy and numeracy skills and to re-join primary school at a later date.

Read more about the EU's gender- and age-sensitive aid.

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