Statement on Access to Justice for Displaced Women

Statement held by Ambassador Kongstad.

Good morning,

I would like to first of all congratulate the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) on yet another highly informative and topical report. It follows a series of reports by NRC that has proven very valuable for critical reflection on how the humanitarian system works and where it fails. These reports also have clear recommendations and provide opportunities for all actors to review and improve their policies based on commitment to the humanitarian principles and the realities on the ground.

 Norway’s humanitarian policy emphasises efforts to save lives, alleviate suffering and ensure human dignity, regardless of ethnic background, gender, age, religion or political affiliation. Pursuing these goals is key to Norway’s role as a principled donor in support of humanitarian action. The gender dimension in humanitarian response is a main priority for us, and we are concerned that there are indications that this may be slipping with the reforms and changes we have been part of initiating.  This is something we will have to address to avoid backtracking.

The starting point for any humanitarian policy must be to consistently side with the people affected and be guided by their protection and assistance needs. It also means protecting humanitarian action and actors from politicisation. We need to widen the space for protection measures in humanitarian response in conflict and emergencies, it is clearly challenged. 

With our partners, we want to improve the humanitarian system and its ability to respond. The gender dimension is a key element of this. This demands a proper gender analysis and approach from the outset, always ensuring that the principle of ‘do no harm’ applies.  This report highlights how, when gender is ignored, the humanitarian intervention can have long lasting negative consequences for women.

The principles of impartiality and neutrality that underlies humanitarian aid does not mean that we will remain silent about maltreatment or abuses of power. Defending and promoting human rights is paramount in humanitarian crises. Housing, land and property rights are critical tools to realising women’s rights, and to serve their protection and assistance needs. This report also shows how promoting these rights during and after conflict gives an opportunity to promote gender equality more generally and challenge discriminatory norms and structures.

It is the nature of humanitarian action that it is intended to be short-term. When drawn out, it tends to have some negative effects. At the same time we see more crises becoming protracted, even the most acute ones in terms of needs, like Syria and South Sudan, and possibly CAR. This demands some new thinking and recalibration of how we support developmentefforts in parallel with humanitarian action. The drafting of the post-2015 development goals represents an opportunity to conduct such thinking.  Our priorities in this process are underpinned by the promotion of gender quality, poverty reduction and human rights. For us is it important that the post-2015 goals contribute to ensuring women’s rights, their self-sufficiency and rightful place in society in terms of access to justice, political participation, access to livelihoods, and rights to housing, land and property.

The gender dimension is a key aspect in ensuring a focus on those who are affected by humanitarian disasters – on their rights, their emergency preparedness and their response capacity. Norway intends to contribute to greater investments being made in prevention, climate change adaptation and humanitarian emergency preparedness, also as part of the post-2015 discussions and policies.  This reflects recognition that a long-term perspective and broader cooperation is needed to prevent displacement and to bring solutions to displaced populations.

Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security has helped recognise the impact of conflict on women and emphasised the special needs of women and girls, -in addition to the necessity of having women included and secure their participation. Violations of women’s Housing, Land and Property rights have so far largely been a neglected part of women’s experience of conflict, and how such violations significantly increase their vulnerability. To me it is obvious that states, donors and humanitarian actors need to think differently about this.

The broader impact of ensuring women’s Housing, Land and Property rights on the post-conflict phase, in terms of reintegration, reconciliation and economic recovery needs more attention from our side. 

The report clearly shows the complexity of the issues at hand. Access to justice and rule of law requires not only short term humanitarian action, but often long term investment in poorly governed states and often peace and reconciliation initiatives as well. Again the policies stemming from the post-2015 development goals will be important.

One of the most interesting parts of this report, and something that needs more exploration beyond the issue of Housing, Land and Property Rights is the importance of informal structures and processes. We sometimes limit our focus on these to being means for humanitarians to negotiate access and acceptance for humanitarian action. But building on social relations, on customary law and on faith based structures may sometimes provide the key to solving a wide range of issues on both on individual and community level. Respecting the local informal structures, and using them to the advantage of the beneficiary, will - as reflected in the report - sometimes provide a more durable solution. This, however, requires solid contextual knowledge and understanding of the social dynamic and habits of the affected people and communities.

The focus on gender and a differentiated response is essential part of a principled action, based on the humanitarian imperative. NRC draws on practical and valuable experiences in the field, in the most difficult and challenging contexts. There is also a wide range of actors in this room, with strong views and first-hand knowledge of humanitarian situations and response. 

I look forward to this discussion helping us do better.