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  • Local Civil Society Consulted at HQ, Less So in the Field

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    Local organizations are perfectly placed to help crisis-affected communities. Their work merits attention--as well as funding and leadership roles--at the field level. 

    The UN Security Council met for its annual Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict this week. It is now standard practice at UN Open Debates to give a prominent voice to women like Ms. Hamsatu Allamin, a Nigerian civil society leader of a local organization, called the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program. But the daily reality in the field is far less generous to civil society organizations (CSOs).

    International humanitarians must stop overlooking our first responders if we are to adequately address sexual violence at the outset of emergencies.

    Physically present when a crisis begins, CSOs speak the local language and are perfectly positioned to identify the needs of the affected community. Perhaps most importantly, when a conflict intensifies and international humanitarians must evacuate for their own safety, CSOs stay behind and continue working. They will become an increasingly important lifeline of aid as terrorist organizations take over territory that includes refugee camps such as Syria’s Yarmouk, called “the deepest circle of hell” by the Secretary General last week.

    Last year, in eastern DRC, I met with a group of local women’s CSOs. They passed around a photo from a recent flood that had cut off a village from its closest health clinic. In the photo, one woman carried a rape survivor on her back, across the floodwaters, to the health clinic.

    Despite these heroic efforts, the women told me how they are systematically overlooked for funding by international donors and feel denied a seat at the coordination table where international actors make decisions about how best to support their communities.

    Following this week's Open Debate, SRSG Bangura will travel to Syria and the neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees to conduct a fact-finding mission on sexual violence. We hope SRSG Bangura will include Ms. Allamin and local partners and their counsel.

    As Ms. Allamin declared to the Security Council, “Out of the horrific ordeals we have suffered and witnessed, has come the transformation of Nigerian women as peace builders…They are active citizens who…train other women and survivors, equipping them with life skills and linking them to microfinance bodies.” The international community must not look away.