Human Security of Palestine Refugee Women are Priceless and Deserve Global Solidarity

08 March 2018

Statement by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA  Pierre Krähenbühl on International Women’s Day


Today UNRWA joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day and reaffirming our commitment to gender equality. At the core of UNRWA’s mission is the recognition that while all Palestine refugees have equal rights, their experiences and realities vary greatly. In particular, the risks and threats that impede the realization of their rights are different between women, men, girls and boys.

Our gender equality work embraces the complexity of Palestine refugees’ lives. Whether it is a girl in the West Bank trying to reach her school safely, a pregnant woman in Gaza seeking to access quality health care for herself and her child, or a Palestine refugee mother from Syria striving to feed her family, we aim to ensure that our programmes reach them all.

UNRWA today faces exceptional challenges. In addition to the difficult contexts in which the Agency operates – the on-going conflict in Syria, occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and protracted displacement in Jordan and Lebanon – UNRWA services are also being threatened by an unprecedented funding crisis.

In marking this important day, we emphasize that we remain robustly committed to the delivery of services for the dignity and rights of female beneficiaries. The fulfillment of the rights of women and girls is indivisible from our mandate to serve Palestine refugees and lies at the heart of our Dignity is Priceless international campaign (www.unrwa.org).

UNRWA will work tirelessly to maintain the services we provide to women and girls and we will continue to support the achievements they have made towards gender equality in recent years. Examples of this include addressing issues around gender-based violence against thousands of women, increasing employment and income-generation opportunities for women, reducing school dropout rates for girls and raising awareness about women’s rights in communities.

Marking this day, it is also important to take stock of the work that still needs to be done.  Allow me to say to the entire Palestine refugee community and in particular the women and girls that we serve: preserving your safety when accessing UNRWA services is a central commitment of ours. All forms of sexual exploitation and abuse are prohibited. Abuse of power by UNRWA staff will not be tolerated.  To our female colleagues I say: We are taking new steps to ensuring that we have more female colleagues in senior positions,  as UNRWA strives to realize its commitment to gender equality and enrich its leadership practices.

I would like to pay special tribute to all UNRWA staff that are making the aspirations of our gender work a reality in the lives of the refugees we serve, pushing us to become better at adapting to the varied needs of Palestine refugees. I also take this opportunity to recognize all UNRWA women colleagues, our teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and others who make the voices of Palestine refugee women and girls heard, and who show in our daily work that we are listening.

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Background Information

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance. 

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UNRWA launched the #DignityIsPriceless campaign in Gaza on 22 January 2018. © 2018 UNRWA Photo Rushdi Al Saraj
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