Time to Put Women and Young People at Centre of Humanitarian Action

Victoria fled Syria, got married when she was 16, and now -- at the age of 17 -- cares for her new baby in a refugee camp in Jordan.

She remembers being 13-years-old and doing really well in school when the war started. "We had no worries," she said. "Our only thought was to continue education until we achieved our goals of becoming whatever we wanted to be...doctors, teachers. Life was normal."

For Victoria and millions of other women and young people caught in crises, the new normal they face is frightening, even deadly. The message that I am taking to the World Humanitarian Summit is that we must put women and young people at the centre of humanitarian action.

Today, more than 75 per cent of people affected by crises are women and children. And adolescents aged 10-19 years constitute a significant proportion of the population in many conflict and post-conflict settings. They have hopes and dreams like all of us and want the best for the future.

Women will get pregnant and have babies during conflict, when fleeing as refugees, or when disaster strikes. Yet, emergencies put women and their babies at risk due to the loss of medical services, which is compounded in many cases by trauma, malnutrition or disease, and exposure to violence, including sexual violence, human trafficking and child marriage.

Victoria survived childbirth and delivered a healthy baby boy. She got quality health services available when she needed them. Other women are not so lucky. Sixty per cent of maternal deaths and 45 per cent of newborn deaths take place in countries affected by, or prone to, conflict, displacement and natural disasters. An estimated 500 women die every day in pregnancy or childbirth in humanitarian and fragile settings.

At the Summit, UNFPA will launch the Safe Birth Even Here campaign to raise awareness of the need to protect the health of women, adolescent girls and newborns in war zones, refugee camps and in the aftermath of natural disasters.

The campaign reinforces our efforts to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights as world leaders agreed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development underpinned by its Goals.

Today, women and young people are often on the frontlines as leaders and agents of change in their communities and families, yet their contributions go largely unrecognized and their voices rarely heard in decision-making.

We must support the leadership of women and young people to build a more peaceful and secure world.

We must put the rights, dignity and safety of women and young people at the centre of our deliberations. Two priorities that are critical are protecting the right to sexual and reproductive health and the right to live free from gender-based violence.

At the Summit, we will call for collective efforts to prevent and tackle gender-based violence, which often increases in conflicts and disasters as rule of law falters and vulnerabilities multiply. We must ensure that sufficient and sustainable resources are dedicated in emergencies to this long-neglected and underfunded humanitarian imperative and matter of human rights.

By protecting the right to sexual and reproductive health, we will better ensure accountability to affected populations, address the special needs of women and adolescent girls, and contribute to their empowerment and participation in decision-making.

The full engagement of young people is needed to create the future we want. I call on partners worldwide to join a compact for young people in humanitarian action that we will launch at the Summit--a compact formed with young people to ensure that their priorities and needs are genuinely addressed. They should be consulted, informed and engaged in truly a meaningful way in all phases of humanitarian action and peacebuilding.

Our joint efforts for and with women and young people will contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, realizing peace and security, strengthening risk reduction and resilience, and transforming humanitarian action.

We will also advance the principles articulated by the United Nations Secretary-General in his Agenda for Humanity that guides commitments at the World Humanitarian Summit. Preventing and ending conflict. Upholding human rights and humanitarian laws. Changing people's lives.

By investing in Victoria and the millions of other women and young people in emergencies, we carry on our shared responsibility to reduce human loss and suffering, create a safer world now and for future generations, and leave no one behind.