International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on 8 March, is observed by spotlighting women’s and girls’ work, empowerment and achievements across social, cultural, economic and political fields – while also highlighting the urgent need to tackle remaining gender inequities.

Today’s urgent needs – tomorrow’s sustainability

Several months ahead of 2022 International Women’s Day (IWD)  commemorations, the United Nations announced the theme: “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. UN Women highlighted that:

“Advancing gender equality in the context of the climate crisis and disaster risk reduction is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century” – and, of course, applauded women and girls’ roles as powerful change-makers and leaders.

Crucially, this discussion also reiterates a vital message that crises have the heaviest impacts on the most vulnerable and at-risk people and social groups, including across gender lines:

“Those who are amongst the most vulnerable and marginalized experience the deepest impacts. Women are increasingly being recognized as more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men, as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources which climate change threatens the most.”

This is crucial to keep in mind when zeroing in on the needs of women and girls today.

In cases where urgent humanitarian responses are needed, vital support is provided for refugees and internally displaced people – as well as, more broadly, in addressing poverty, safety, food insecurity, access to key services and enjoyment of fundamental human rights, it is essential for responses to meet the specific and evolving needs of women, girls, and other most vulnerable groups.

Library support for the most vulnerable and in times of crisis: takeaway lessons and ways forward

Libraries continue to look for practical solutions on how to offer assistance and support – to those who need it most, and in most critical situations. How can the impacts of such library efforts be strengthened and maximised? Today, it can be helpful to look back at some of the lessons learned and good practices developed over the past years.

Ahead of the 2022 IWD, the IFLA Women in Libraries Special Interest Group has revisited findings from a 2017 WILSIG conference in Bratislava, Slovakia. Its lessons about the information needs of, and library support for, a highly vulnerable group – refugee and internally displaced women – can help inform library actions today.

  • Read about how Greek libraries provide several programs to support refugees: the ECHO Refugee mobile library, REACT, Future Library and the Library on Gender and Equality – which also all provide games, books, and free internet access for refugees.
  • Read about how Nigerian libraries have helped with reintegrating young people impacted by Boko Haram back into society post-conflict and the valuable roles librarians and social workers together play in processing trauma.
  • Read about the memory archive of women who survived the Partition in 1947 India and the importance and value in documenting the lived experiences of women and girls in geopolitical conflict.
  • Mapping of the experiences of women and girls during the Rwandan Genocide.

Our sessions in 2018 and 2019 also touched on these topics. We encourage you to read about  how the Japanese Libraries supported women specifically following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 and collected stories of their earthquake disaster experiences.

Drawing on more examples and good practices

Other examples of library initiatives implemented across the globe offer more ideas on how this can be realised. For example, the Library Map of the World includes SDG Stories of libraries working to address many different axes of vulnerability:

Food security and boosting employment opportunities for women

– Addressing gender-based violence

Welcome and support for refugees

People experiencing homelessness, and many more.

A call to action

We hope that these and other lessons and examples can be of use for libraries looking for more ways to offer support to those who need it today. Alongside continued and crucial work in support of accurate information, libraries have long worked to explore ways to support vulnerable and at-risk people – whether it is women, children, newcomers, people with disabilities, and many others.

On this International Women’s Day, we look forward to seeing the new and continued ways libraries offer support for a sustainable future – and we encourage libraries to share best practices and how you’ve implemented services.