19 August is World Humanitarian Day, an opportunity to honour the humanitarian community and the life-saving work they perform every day. This year’s theme, “it takes a village”, recognizes the importance of collective action in delivering humanitarian assistance—by professionals and volunteers, but also by crisis-affected people themselves.
When crises occur, women and girls disproportionately bear the impact. Their low participation in humanitarian response planning and decision making, however, limits their voices from being heard and their needs from being fully met. Empowering women to lead in crisis settings can help catalyse more robust humanitarian action that better addresses the needs of everyone.
Over the past several years, refugee settlements in two districts of Uganda have provided a real-world demonstration of this trend.
Though women and children make up to 81 per cent of the nearly 1.53 million refugees in Uganda, refugee settlement leadership has historically lacked women’s representation. Cultural barriers, coupled with limited knowledge on rights and access to education, kept women from participating in decision-making processes.
In 2018, UN Women began providing trainings for the women and youth of Adjumani and Yumbe districts, which host 30.1 per cent of Uganda’s total refugee population. The trainings included instruction in literacy, numeracy, women’s rights, leadership and life skills development, public speaking, debating and radio presentation. The results were striking.
“Before I participated in the leadership training, I was a shy person. I could not speak up because of fear”, says Joy Aiba, a South Sudanese refugee living in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in Yumbe District. Now, she feels empowered to make her voice heard within settlement leadership.
Ugandan refugee settlements are governed by Refugee Welfare Committees (RWCs), with committee members directly elected by the refugee community under the supervision of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). Elections of RWCs take place every two years. While the guidelines for RWCs provide for 30 per cent refugee representation, women had not been coming forth to run in the elections and take up leadership positions.