Istanbul Summit Gathers Women to Discuss Humanitarian Action

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Istanbul Summit Gathers Women to Discuss Humanitarian Action

Women from all over the world gathered in Istanbul on May 9-10, 2015, to discuss humanitarian action from a gender-sensitive perspective.

[The Istanbul Summit] emphasizes the need for women, both as actors and beneficiaries, to be part of all levels of decision-making, including the design, planning, execution, and monitoring of humanitarian action so as to ensure cost-effectiveness.

Excerpt from the summit’s Final Declaration

More than 300 hundred participants, primarily women, from 50 different countries partook in the 2015 Istanbul Summit to discuss humanitarian-related issues affecting women around the world and to work towards sustainable and innovative solutions. The event was organized by the JWF Women’s Platform in collaboration with the humanitarian aid organization Kimse Yok Mu (KYM) and the African Union.

The Istanbul Summit, organized for the first time in 2014, was this year held at the Gorrion Hotel under the title “Women as the Beneficiaries and Actors of Humanitarian Action,” supporting the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign. Participants included members of civil society organizations, female parliamentarians, community leaders, academics, activists, and journalists.

The Summit opened with speeches by the Vice President of JWF, Huseyin Hurmali; the Vice President of KYM, Ayse Ozkalay; and the former ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Meryl Frank. The speeches were followed by panels and oral statements.

The first panel, titled “The Efficiency of Humanitarian Aid,” was moderated by journalist and anchorwoman Suna Vidinli. Millicent Otieno, founder and CEO of Local Capacities for Peace International, Nairobi, talked about the idea of “Do no harm,” stressing that humanitarian aid is about human lives, not about ticking boxes on a checklist. The second speaker, E. Oya Ozarslan, chair of Transparency International, Turkey, spoke about cost-effectiveness and anti-corruption strategies in fundraising. The panel ended with a video message from Atefeh Riazi, CITO/ASG, Office of Information and Communication Technology, emphasizing the importance of technology in humanitarian aid and in the empowerment of women.

The second panel on “Women and Humanitarian Aid” was opened by moderator Maria Eugenia Crespo, director of Global Cooperation Circle Support, United Religions Initiative, Argentina. The first speaker, Siobhán Foran from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Switzerland, spoke about gender-based violence. Next, Brenda Halloran, the CEO of the Waterloo Innovation Network and the former mayor of Waterloo, Canada, stressed the challenges in relation to women’s health, which is still marked by gender-based disparities in many countries. From there, Tomoko Ohji, editor of the Mainichi Newspapers in Japan, took the audience to the war zone of Gaza and emphasized that in-depth reporting from war-ridden contexts requires journalists to also consider the perspectives of women suffering from the conflict.

The third panel was on “Women Refugees and Internally Displaced Women,” moderated by Semiha Topal, an assistant professor in sociology at Fatih University in Turkey. The first speaker was Judge Natalia Marcela Molina, a criminal judge of misdemeanor and a member of the Directive Commission of Women Judges of Argentina, who discussed law as an instrument for reducing the vulnerability of female refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Dr. Zakia Belhachmi, an international education and gender specialist from Canada, then talked about the empowerment of female refugees and building long-term resilience. She emphasized that resilience policies ought to focus on people’s everyday realities, rather than just hard science and statistics. In a similar vein, Dr. Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi, India, concentrated on the prevention of the abuse of female refugees and IDPs. The last speaker, Bukky Shonibare, founder of Adopt-A-Camp, Nigeria, delivered a powerful speech on female refugees as leaders of humanitarian action, in which she encouraged the audience to ponder their individual role in alleviating the suffering of refugee women in their communities.

The fourth and final panel of the day centered on the “The Plight of Women in Humanitarian Action,” moderated by JWF Vice President Cemal Usak. He introduced the first speaker, Reem Doukmak, a Syrian Ph.D. student at the University of Warwick, who spoke about the difficulties of her fellow countrymen living as refugees in Turkey. The next speaker, Hadia Hussien Hamad, a Yazidi journalist from the Kurdistan Regional Government, informed the audience about the atrocities conducted by ISIS against the Yazidi population on the Iraqi-Turkish border. The session, and with it the program of the first day of the summit, ended with Yusra Moez, an Austrian-Afghan activist, who spoke about her success story as a humanitarian actor despite being a refugee woman herself. Moez said, “Refugees are people with dignity. We still have courage and we will continue our struggle to make a change in the world.”

The second day of the summit took a more interactive approach. In the morning, participants were offered a line-up of workshops on five topics, including gender sensitive emergency response, the empowerment of women refugees and long-term resilience, preventing the abuse of women refugees and IDPs, the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) and the responsibilities of state authorities, and the concept of “Do no harm.” Here participants were invited to share their own concerns and commitments in a dynamic and engaging environment, and they were encouraged to produce a final list of observations or recommendations. Meanwhile, a parliamentarian roundtable discussion was conducted on “Gender-sensitive humanitarian action,” moderated by Istar Gozaydin, a law and politics professor in Turkey.

The afternoon sessions opened with a special panel by different female parliamentarians, discussing the same topic as the earlier roundtable session. Moderated by former UNHCR Director Dr. Cengiz Aktar from Suleyman Sah University in Turkey, the session included speeches from Victoria Morales Gorleri, Deputy of the Legislature of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires and President of the Committee on Education, Science and Technology; Della Sowah, Deputy Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection in Ghana; Cristina Reyes Hidalgo, Member of Parliament, Ecuador; and Evar Ibrahim, President of the Women Commission, Parliament of Kurdistan Regional Government.

The summit concluded with the presentation of the event’s final declaration, the parliamentarians’ call for action, and the outcome of the working groups. Afterwards the participants were treated to dinner and a cruise on the Bosphorus.

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