Statement by UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini on Occasion of the International Women Day: Female Staff’s Voices Have the Right to be Heard

22 March 2022
The Commissioner-General of UNRWA during his visit to one of the UNRWA clinics that provide services to Palestinian refugees © 2022 UNRWA Photo

To celebrate International Women’s Day and ensure the full and effective participation and leadership of women, UNRWA officially launches the Women Advisory Forum (Forum) as a safe space for female staff to engage amongst themselves and with the Agency’s senior management. 

To consolidate a safe, respectful, empowering, and inclusive workplace at UNRWA on this important day, I am pleased to announce the establishment of the Women Advisory Forum. Thanks to its Gender Parity Action Plan, UNRWA has made significant progress in achieving overall staff gender parity. But we still need to make sure that the Agency has more women in leadership positions, that the UNRWA workplace is truly gender equitable and also free from harassment and abuse that disproportionately affects our female colleagues.

It is my hope that the Forum will help us build a more inclusive UNRWA, promoting tangible outcomes on gender parity and gender-sensitive organizational culture, in line with United Nations standards, Sustainable Development Goal 5 and the UN System-Wide Action Plan on gender equality.

Since I became Commissioner-General in April 2020, and in my role as International Gender Champion, I have made it a priority to meet with female staff across all five fields of operation. I have learnt a lot from listening to female colleagues working across all programmes and departments and at all levels. They shared the challenges, discrimination, and barriers that they encounter at work and in their communities. These challenges became more acute under the tense political situation and the socio-economic conditions that the pandemic imposed over the last two years.

Today is an opportunity for me to reiterate the central role that thousands of women, primarily Palestine refugees, play in UNRWA operations as educators, nurses, engineers and much more. They ensure quality and timely services are delivered to the refugee community.

From my discussions with female colleagues in Gaza, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, it was clear that UNRWA needed a more structured platform to ensure we hear female staff voices, aspirations and hopes.

The members of the Women Advisory Forum, representing all five fields and headquarters, will have a safe space to engage amongst themselves and advise the UNRWA senior management on effective approaches to promote a safe, empowering, and inclusive workplace and on ways to ensure women’s full and effective participation and leadership in the Agency. 

While I am truly enthusiastic about working with the members of the Women Advisory Forum, I want to highlight that achieving gender equality requires joint ownership by women and men. I, therefore, count on all the commitment of all staff members to uphold the values of the Agency and of the United Nations on gender equality.

For more information, please contact: