World Humanitarian Day marked with focus on the role of women aid workers

UNAMI) Erbil Regional Office staff held a moment of silence in memory of the victims of 2003 Canal Hotel attack (Photo Credit: Twitter/@UNIraq)

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SULAIMANI — Humanitarian organizations and UN agencies on Monday (August 19) marked World Humanitarian Day across Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

This year, there is particular focus on the crucial role played by women aid workers.

“As a member of the UN’s senior female leadership who has worked in a number of emergency contexts, today’s commemoration is personally important to me,” said UN Deputy Special Representative (DSRSG) for Iraq Marta Ruedas, who also acts as the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in the country.

“I have seen first-hand the sacrifices humanitarians and communities have to make in order to help people affected by crises in some of the world’s most hazardous places,” she added in a press release circulated by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Iraq office.

August 19 was chosen as the annual day to honor humanitarian workers because it is the anniversary of the 2003 attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, which killed 22 people, including then-UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq’s (UNAMI) Erbil Regional Office staff held a moment of silence in memory of the victims of that attack on Monday morning, while fellow DSRSG Alice Walpole laid a wreath at the UNAMI headquarters in Baghdad.

According to the OCHA-Iraq press release, since the Canal Hotel attack, more than 4,500 humanitarians have been “killed, injured, detained, kidnapped or otherwise prevented from carrying out their work.” More than 90 percent of all incidents targeted local staff.

“Aid workers around the world put themselves at risk to help save and improve the lives of others,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a tweet.

“On [World Humanitarian Day] and every day, we must ensure that they are protected from harm, as required by international law,” he added.

Diplomats also noted the day, including the Canadian Ambassador in Baghdad and the Italian Consul General in Erbil who both tweeted out messages of support for aid workers.

The Iraq office of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), tweeted its support for female aid workers, calling “attention to the courage and commitment of [Women Humanitarians] who assist people amidst conflict, disasters, and displacement.”

The OCHA release noted that more than 40 percent of all aid workers worldwide are women, who fill roles ranging from those on the frontlines to senior leadership posts in order to provide emergency care, food distribution, shelter, education, and other critical services to people affected by war, violence, natural disasters, poverty, and displacement.

To mark the day, the International Committee of the Red Cross shared the story of Hozan Badie Sindi, a doctor who works at Rozhawa Hospital near Erbil, treating victims of the war against Islamic State.

“To be a woman in this conflict means to be resilient. To work hard every day, to try to neutralize the situation I want the next generation to understand so that this conflict never happens again,” Badie Sindi said in an interview.

“This World Humanitarian Day, we take the opportunity to feature the tireless work of some exemplary women in Iraq’s humanitarian community. The dedication of these women—whether UN employees, NGO workers, national staff or ordinary Iraqi women trying to help their country rebuild—is commendable,” Ruedas added.

(NRT Digital Media)