Reflections from three WABA members – Beatriz (Bibi) Borges (Executive Director of the Center for Justice and Peace), Razia Sultana (Director of Rohingya Women Welfare) and Zarqa Yaftali (Director of Women and Children Legal Research Foundation) – from their experiences at the Annual Meeting of the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies

Bibi – Why is the participation of women-led organizations in global spaces so important?

The work of women in general and particularly the work of women who lead organizations in complex crises is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, their efforts often remain unrecognized and undersupported. Discrimination and inequality worsen this situation, resulting in the invisibility of their crucial contributions. Although studies demonstrate this important impact, this discussion continues to be highly disregarded.  It is crucial to bear in mind the significance of women´s contributions when addressing local challenges. This becomes even more vital in global contexts. The involvement of women-led organizations in global situations contributes to the construction of strong partnerships and fostering support networks among diverse actors and sectors. Recognizing shared interests, exchanging good practices, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of recurring patterns during times of crisis are essential for effectively addressing challenges through global efforts and coordination. Such collaboration strengthens the global women’s movement, enabling strategic alliances to tackle common issues and drive meaningful changes at the international level. The participation of women-led organizations in global spaces is essential to ensure not only representation and gender equality, but also for substantial advancements in women’s rights worldwide. Our voices and leadership are critical in building a more just and inclusive world for all.

Razia – How has your organization engaged in international events?

I am the founder of a women-led organization in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh supporting women and girls from Rohingya and host communities to develop their leadership skills, working on cross-sectoral concerns for a sustainable development in their lives. To do this, I rely on the 19 years of experience I gained being a teacher, prior to diving into human rights activism. My devotion in humanitarian sectors is to bring women’s voices to the appropriate platforms. For this passion I founded RW Welfare Society (RWWS), which is moving forward with facing challenges and trying to overcome with its own efforts.

As a women’s organisation, the biggest challenge is deeply rooted in gender discrimination.

There is a continued lack of engagement, investment, and support to local women’s rights organizations by the vast majority of humanitarian sectors.

Every lead agency gives priorities to women’s programs, but as a women-led organisation or female-led group we don’t get as much support as we deserve; we are like a last bencher student waiting for our chance.

Women’s leadership and women-led organisations can develop their skills if they get chances to work at field level.

Our big challenges are motivating the community and society around women’s identity in Bangladesh, specifically in Cox’s Bazar, because the NGO sector never accepts a women’s organisation in frontline but we are slogans and topics for fundraising.

Grassroots and local women-led organisations always face financial crises and can’t implement proper ideas in women’s communities. My approach as RWWS representative is to try to continue collaboration with INGOs when I get any chance and raise the voice of women’s and feminist organisations for assistance from international platforms so that they either directly or with resources support the grassroots, field level, and community-based organisations who are the pathways of change. Grassroots and field level organisations are directly connected with people on the ground who actually need to change and support.

Donors or donors agencies should think and keep in mind that only proper funding in proper sectors can achieve the goal that they want.

In my experience and acknowledgement from the Bangladesh context, leading national and even dominating local NGOs never fund small organisations but they use international funds as corporate businesses, even sometime with Commissions or as bribes (specifically government funds). They bring the funds which they provide to local organizations with some conditions that are totally unacceptable and too much for a small organisation, but for survival, field-level or small organisations take this funding and implement the project but they are never seen anywhere after the goal is achieved because the fund came through the national organisations and all credit goes to them. Other issues are that INGOs use small WLOs and CBOs in pilot project implementation or for collecting data, but after piloting the program when there is sustainability in place or long-run programs, support goes to lead national NGOs with the pilot project’s achievements. My organisation faced this kind of discrimination from the beginning but we never give up; we raise our voice, our problems, and our issues in international platforms and local sectors.

International NGOs and donors should think about this kind of action and, more importantly, consult, coordinate, partner with, and fund local women’s rights organisations as a key way to support and be accountable to crisis-affected women and girls in the communities these actors serve.

Attending an international conference like Call to Action, developing connections with organisations, building relationships with people, and sharing each other’s concerns is a huge thing. Building trust with our own confidence and own experiences and ideas is the only path forward.

Any international event or conference should promote diversity in the workplace , encourage transparency, and connect people around the world.

Who we are and what is our background is not the issue; the important thing is that we express our opinions and feelings.
This is a period of constant flux, and organizations that prioritize a diverse and inclusive culture will be better placed to solve the problems of the future.

Thanks CARE for supporting us.

Zarqa – How did your experience at this year’s Annual Partners’ Meeting of the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violences in Emergencies?

The Annual Partners’ Meeting is an opportunity for the partners of the Call to Action – governments and donors, international organizations (IOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – to address GBV from the earliest phases of a crisis, to review progress, share experiences and lessons learned, and plan for the future, it was well organized and coordinated.  All parties fed into the development of future planning, which was excellent.  The plan is good, but I hope that all the donors and UN agencies will follow their commitments to support local women-led organizations.

Bibi – Germany has cited gender-based violence and displacement as a priority for their leadership of the Call to Action.  How does your organization work on this issue in the Venezuelan context?

The exodus of over 7 million Venezuelan citizens, constituting the second-largest mobility crisis worldwide, remains unrecognized by the state. It is important to highlight that 53.65% of Venezuelan migrants and refugees are women and girls. Women and girls face exacerbated violations of their rights in the mobility process. Venezuelan women in situations of mobility are victims of gender-based violence, which increases with the intensification of restrictive migration policies and the failure of states to uphold international human rights standards. A study conducted by Cepaz reveals that the most frequent types of violence endured by Venezuelan immigrant women are: physical violence (35%), verbal violence (25%), psychological violence (11%) and sexual violence (10%).

In a study we conducted in Ecuador in 2020, we found that the majority of women entering the country through irregular routes experienced sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence.  Similarly, in Colombia, cases of gender-based violence against Venezuelan migrant women increased by 71% between 2018 and 2021.  In Peru, there was a 31% rise in gender-based violence against Venezuelan migrant women from 2019 to 2021. The increase in cases of human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery has been occurring with the knowledge of the state authorities. For instance, members of the armed forces are aware of illegal vessels departing to Trinidad and Tobago, and in mining areas National Guard agents coerce women to provide them with sexual services. Consequently, it is crucial to address the Venezuelan crisis from a humanitarian perspective that encompasses the human mobility crisis and acknowledges its most painful consequences, such as gender-based violence and displacement. Prioritizing efforts to combat gender-based violence and displacement in this crisis is of paramount importance.

Zarqa – What kinds of commitments will your organization make to the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violences in Emergencies?

At this time, the situation in Afghanistan is critical.  My organization will integrate and implement actions to prevent and mitigate risk of GBV across sectors in humanitarian response, from the earliest stages of an emergency and throughout the program cycle.  We will also work at the community level to decrease community-level tensions and GBV.

About WABA

Women’s Action for Better Advocacy is a forum to bring together feminist leaders and activists from around the world, including leaders on advocacy, policy-making and programme delivery in crises and complex emergencies, as well as leading women and youth activists in the field of women’s rights. Its current members come from Yemen, Burundi, Argentina, Syria/Canada, Egypt, Palestine, South Sudan, Haiti, Cameroon, Myanmar, Iraq, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Philippines, Uganda, Venezuela, Afghanistan, and Niger.

Peace for Venezuela

Peace for Venezuela is a campaign that aims to break down the information bias surrounding the Venezuelan crisis within the international community and promote a stronger and more constructive role for the United Nations.