the editors set out to solicit ideas and commission articles
for this issue, they were often confronted by the question:
When are you going to do a special issue on men? Why are women
singled out for special treatment?
One of the reasons this issue is devoted to women is to underscore
the notion of “Dignity for All: Respect for Women”
which is the theme of this year’s World Red Cross and
Red Crescent Day on 8 May. The subject is also highly topical
in light of the current trend in many humanitarian organisations
to rework basic strategies in order to enhance the role of
women who serve in their ranks, as well as those who benefit
from their services.
There are more tangible reasons as well. Despite decades
of talk, a marked disparity still exists between the opportunities
and choices available to men and those available to women
– opportunities and choices not just in the realm of
economic and political structures but in terms of basic means
Women make up 37 per cent of the labour force, but only 12
per cent of administrators and managers in the world are female.
Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population are
female. Women comprise up to 80 per cent of refugee and displaced
populations worldwide. In many cases they are also single
heads of household. More than half a million women die each
year from preventable childbirth-related causes.
Women have always been closely linked to the work of the
Movement. Henry Dunant, the Movement’s founder, whose
birthday we celebrate on 8 May, was inspired by female contemporaries
such as Florence Nightingale. The Geneva Conventions contain
special provisions for women in times of war. Resolutions
focusing on women have been adopted by the Federation’s
General Assembly and by the Council of Delegates.
Many countries now have legislation promoting equal rights
and oppor-tunities and have introduced measures to integrate
women into the decision-making and development processes.
But general policies and rhetoric alone are not sufficient
to assist women caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, discrimination,
poor health, lack of family planning services, illiteracy
While it is generally accepted that women have a central
role in relief and development, their capacities are not fully
taken into account. Women have demonstrated great survival
skills and stamina in rising above adversity, and should be
seen as a major resource in the search for solutions to crisis.
Closing the gap between de jure equality and de facto reality
for millions of women can only be achieved through effective
partnership in action between concerned men and women. The
articles in this issue seek to highlight the situation of
women today, their contribution to humanitarian work and their
individual strength and courage. We hope their stories will
help provide an impetus for a greater collective effort and
commitment by all within the Movement to a better, fairer
world for us all.