14 March 2006

Launch of the report, "Beyond Firewood: Fuel Alternatives and Protection Strategies for Displaced Women and Girls"

Statement of Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA

I would like to thank Carolyn for inviting me this morning and I would like to commend the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children for issuing this very important report.

As Carolyn said, the risks associated with firewood collection have been well known for years. This report is welcome in that it brings forth concrete recommendations to combat the widespread violence against displaced women and girls as they collect firewood.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is the coordinating agency in the United Nations humanitarian response system for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence. UNFPA fully recognizes that fuel alternatives and firewood collection are important aspects of prevention that must be urgently addressed.

In fact, during the initial high-level mission to Darfur, in April 2004, UNFPA advocated very strongly that fuel and fodder be taken up as priority concerns for the United Nations humanitarian response in order to prevent gender-based violence. This was at a time when fighting was displacing hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women and children. As the situation has again gotten worse in recent weeks, and is even spilling over into Chad, the issue of protecting women refugees and internally displaced persons on both sides of the border remains as urgent as ever.

We know very well that it is these daily nitty-gritty issues such as firewood collection that often matter the most for women’s security and yet for some reason it is still difficult to get these issues on the agenda because they are still viewed as women’s concerns only.

So, I would like to congratulate the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children for focusing on this very practical and life-saving issue.

There is no doubt that firewood and fuel must be considered and coordinated in humanitarian response and protection.

Right now in Darfur, for example, UNFPA and gender-based violence committees are working with the African Union Civil Police to set up escorts to ensure security for women and girls during firewood collection, to establish monitoring in internally displaced persons’ camps and to increase deployment of female civilian police staff. At the same time, the Food and Agriculture Organization and Oxfam have established distribution and training programmes on the use of fuel-efficient stoves and are providing security at many water points. Women’s centres have also been established in internally displaced persons’ camps to provide secure areas for discussion and for provision of psychological support for survivors of sexual violence.

Today, at the launch of this report, I would like to stress that UNFPA will continue to advocate the coordination of fuel related initiatives in refugee and internally displaced persons’ settings. The United Nations system must work together with the non-governmental—NGO—community on this issue.

We will continue to advocate and work with partners for the provision of transportation for women and girls to fuel and firewood collection points and the provision of security forces along collection routes.

Promoting fuel-efficient stoves, non-wood based fuel sources and income-earning opportunities for women refugees and displaced families are key issues.

And we will continue to advocate and work with partners for better data collection because today there is a huge data gap when it comes to the incidence of gender-based violence that needs urgently to be addressed.

And I promise that in our own coordination capacity at the field level, UNFPA will do all we can to make sure these issues are addressed. These are critical issues.

Also critical are ending impunity against perpetrators, and reducing the trade in small arms.

Finally, I would like to stress that fuel alternative and protection strategies for displaced women and girls are not solely women’s issues.

They are vital issues of humanitarian protection, human security and human rights. I encourage the donor community to provide funding for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in their humanitarian response and this should include fuel-related initiatives.

Promoting and protecting the human rights of women and girls is an area where we all need to do more. We need to do more because when the rights of women are violated, it affects them as individuals, their children, their families, husbands and communities. That is why we need the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. It is only by addressing these issues, increasing women’s participation in conflict prevention and peacebuilding, and preventing these violations that we can increase the prospects for real recovery and peace in the long run.

I thank you.