14/11/2013 09:32 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Protecting Women & Girls in Crisis

Worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Women and girls are even more at risk in crisis situations, particularly flood, famine, and conflict.

In recent years, the UK has used its convening power to bring the international community together on issues like cyber-security and the conflict in Somalia. We are now seeking to do the same to prevent violence against women and girls, a global humanitarian problem that has persisted for too long.

Rallying the international community around issues of gender has never been easy, but fortunately there is momentum. At the UN General Assembly in September, British Foreign Secretary William Hague introduced a Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict which over 130 countries have now signed, demonstrating their commitment to taking action, including support for a new international protocol to help ensure the effective collection of evidence of sexual violence that will stand up in court and allow more survivors to see justice. Yesterday in London, Justine Greening, the UK's Secretary of State for International Development, co-chaired a High-Level Event on Violence against Women and Girls in Emergencies.

Girls and women in crisis situations, particularly flood, famine, and conflict, are particularly vulnerable to abuse, sexual exploitation, illness and death because of the lack of protection and provision for their needs. Those systems and structures that protect women often disappear after a natural disaster.

Yesterday's event, titled Keep Her Safe, brought together international NGOs, UN agencies, recipient countries, and donor countries committed to increase investment, build capacity, and strengthen the role of governments and international organizations to protect women and girls during emergencies. Natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan and humanitarian catastrophes like the one in and around Syria remind us of how urgently action is needed to protect women and girls in crisis.

As Secretary Greening said yesterday, "For too long we haven't prioritized, we haven't adequately funded, we haven't found the right ways of keeping girls and women safe in emergencies. It's been seen as almost an optional extra, not the life-saving intervention that it really is."

At the High-Level Event, the UK's Department for International Development announced $34.6 million in new funding, including $4.8 million to protect girls and women in Syria by establishing safe spaces and strengthening the capacity of health service providers, plus $6.4 million for the International Red Cross programme to ensure that survivors of sexual violence in situations of violence receive comprehensive support services. We are delighted that the United States also announced additional funding and that Secretary John Kerry agreed that the US will host a follow up event next year.

The international community learns more with every response to crisis. While there is no single solution to protecting girls and women in emergencies, we must always ensure the right measures are in place as the crisis hits and that they stay in place throughout the recovery.