Building Back Better and Safer for Gender Equality


Closing address by Ziad Sheikh, UN Women Representativefor International Women’s Day, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honorable member of National Human Rights Commission, Ms. Mohna Ansari,
Honourable CEO of National Reconstruction Authority, Mr. Sushil Gyawali,
Honorable Joint-Secretary and Chief of the IECCD, Mr. Baikuntha Aryal,
Honorable member of National Planning Commission, Dr. Bimala Rai Poudyal,
His Excellency, Australian Ambassador to Nepal, Mr. Glenn White,
distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and Namaste,

Ziad Sheikh, Representative for UN Women Nepal. Photo: UN Women

It gives me great pleasure to be here today to mark the International Women’s Day. This event has provided an important opportunity to discuss key issues regarding gender equality and women’s empowerment, as the Government of Nepal and its partners shift to reconstruction following last year’s devastating earthquakes. I would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate the Australian Embassy on the Australian Government’s new Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy that highlights women’s participation in leadership and peacebuilding. Thank you to the Australian Embassy and Sancharika Samuha for the opportunity to cooperate in arranging this fruitful debate.

Disasters have been found to reinforce, perpetuate and increase pre-existing gender inequality. Women’s potential contributions to disaster risk reduction are often overlooked and their leadership in building community resilience frequently disregarded. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015–2030) Guiding Principles state that “A gender, age, disability and cultural perspective should be integrated in all policies and practices, and women and youth leadership should be promoted.” Strengthening the role of women and girls in disaster risk reduction is critical for achieving gender equality and empowerment and building disaster resilience of communities. Further to these, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) upholds women’s right to participate in public life, while the Beijing Platform for Action calls for removing barriers to equal participation.

Harnessing the potential of women – half of the world’s population – is vital. Emergencies should not be the exception. Women are critical partners for success, and they have the right to participate in the decision-making on how and where resources should be allocated. Women do not only have useful skills and knowledge to contribute, but also relevant social information about their communities especially in regards to the needs, issues, risks, and vulnerabilities for women and girls. Their contributions can strengthen the collective resilience to future shocks and disasters. Women deserve equal opportunities to play an active role in designing the future of their communities. Their contributions are instrumental in building back better and safer for all.

Following the devastating earthquakes, in its first time playing a humanitarian role, UN Women Nepal made significant contributions to humanitarian results by ensuring the Government and UN’s response integrated women’s empowerment and gender equality. With the National Planning Commission and Ministry of Women Children Social Welfare, UN Women’s technical assistance led to an engendered Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), with a dedicated Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Chapter, ensuring both gender-responsive sectoral and overarching recovery strategies including the commitment to apply the Government’s Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) principles to all recovery and reconstruction programmes. We supported women’s organisations to develop a Common Charter of Demands for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the humanitarian response. Our partnership with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in co-chairing a Gender Working Group (GWG), led to pioneering achievements identified as good practices of integrating gender equality in the humanitarian response, and have resulted in the development of a gender equality package to be included in the Nepal Contingency Plan. UN Women, through its established partnership with women’s groups, distributed non-food items, provided psychosocial counselling and established five multi-purpose women centres and three information centres reaching approx. 42,703 affected women. We have also provided technical inputs to engender the Government’s draft bill on Disaster Management and prepared recommendations for gender mainstreaming in the National Reconstruction Authority. Lessons from Nepal provide essential guidance for ongoing efforts nationally, in the region, and globally to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment is central in humanitarian action.

The post-disaster recovery and reconstruction efforts present an opportunity to redress inequalities including through the allocation of financial and human resources. The Government’s long-established and institutionalized principles and practices in gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) needs to be applied to all the recovery strategies. The Government of Nepal and humanitarian partners must ensure that the different situations, needs, priorities and capacities of women and men, girls and boys, and of those exposed to multiple vulnerabilities are addressed when designing, planning, costing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating reconstruction efforts, as well as Disaster Risk Reduction programming across the humanitarian-development continuum. This is crucial to helping Nepal “Build Back Better and Safer” for a gender equal society free of gender-based violence and discrimination. We need ensure the meaningful participation and leadership of women in various commissions and government bodies, including the National Reconstruction Authority. The constitution already ensures the fundamental right of women to participate in all state organs on the basis of the proportional inclusion principle – this principle should be extended in the reconstruction efforts as well. Women’s representation and leadership are critical to effectively manage disaster risks and to design and implement gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction policies, plans and programmes. Establishment of Gender Unit with the mandate to integrate gender equality in all of NRA’s work will be contribute to the way forward. There should also be clear linkages and regular cooperation with the national women’s machinery.

Experiences from Nepal will inform the UN Women Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on gender and risk reduction to be held in April 2016 in Viet Nam on the use of sex and age disaggregated data (SADD) in DRR programming in South Asian context, the capacity of national women’s machineries to participate effectively in DRR dialogue and practice, and mainstreaming gender equality into policy development. In May, women’s groups from Nepal will be attending the World Humanitarian Summit held in Turkey to share key lessons learnt from humanitarian response on Nepal. Furthermore, Nepal’s experiences will aim at contributing to the Asia Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) to be held in New Delhi on 14 – 17 November, 2016 where the best practices and recommendations to strengthen the capacity of South Asian governments and national women’s machineries to ensure the integration of gender equality issues into disaster preparedness and risk reduction initiatives will be discussed.

Finally, I would like to quote the Secretary-General’s message on International Women’s Day: “I remain outraged by the denial of rights to women and girls – but I take heart from the people everywhere who act on the secure knowledge that women’s empowerment leads to society’s advancement. Let us devote solid funding, courageous advocacy and unbending political will to achieving gender equality around the world. There is no greater investment in our common future.”