August 19th is an important day in the world of human rights and humanitarian work. This year the day marks 20 years since 22 humanitarian aid workers were killed, and dozens more were injured, at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq from a militant bomb attack. In response to the attack, the UN General Assembly created World Humanitarian Day in 2008.
The Importance of World Humanitarian Day
World Humanitarian Day exists both to memorialize the lives lost, but also to celebrate their work for the advancement of human welfare and the work that many other humanitarians around the world continue to carry out today. Humanitarians focus on aleivitaing human suffering and supporting human dignity, whereas people who work on human rights do so through a more political and legal lens.
Some of the most well-known humanitarians across time include Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. Equally notable are people like Oumma Bermo, who works towards women and girls’ rights in Niger, and AKM Anisuzzaman, who for over 25 years has helped manage sexual and reproductive health programs in Bangladesh. The struggle to uphold human life and dignitiy is never-ending and needs people on all fronts to help it progress.
World Humanitarian Day is also a campaign to bring more awareness to the tireless work of volunteers, professionals, and crisis-affected people around the world. Each year, a different theme around humanitarianism is selected by the United Nations Office to focus on. Last year the theme “It Takes a Village” highlighted the community aspect of global humanitarian efforts, noting the role that various other agents like data analysts and health workers play for aid to happen.
Canada and GSRD Humanitariansim
There is a great deal of humanitarian work concerning gender, sexuality, and relationship diverse (GSRD) people as globally they are at significant risk of persecution, discrimination, and violence, regardless of their country’s laws. An additional problem, however, is created in countries that criminalize GSRD identities, resulting in those individuals seeking refuge in other countries, such as Canada.
Canada has long provided support for GSRD people in need of humanitarian aid. Canada follows the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but in 1991 began granting refugee status based on sexual orientation. In 1993, Canada then added an extra ruling stating that sexual orientation counts as a “social group” that can seek refugee status, increasing the amount of asylum Canada has given for GSRD folks.
Even so, Canada’s support for GSRD refugees hasn’t always been up to par. It was only in 1977 that the Canadian Immigration Act was changed to allow gay men and women to seek refuge in Canada. And only in 2017 did the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada start to acknowledge the nuances of GSRD identities and evaluate refugee claims case-by-case. There is still a lot of ground for Canada to cover, but it continues to provide Resettlement and Government-Assisted Refugees Programs and works with a significant force in accommodating GSRD refugees.
How to Help
If you want to help with the global humanitarian effort, making donations to nonprofits like Rainbow Railroad or Rainbow Refugee is an effective and time-saving method. There is also a full list of the 100 best charities in Canada on Charity Intelligence Canada, an organization that focuses on subjective transparency for charities, so you can direct your wallet to the most effective places and to the issues that you care about the most. Volunteering your time at a non-profit in your area is also a great way to help people out.
Another good way to help is to spread word of the importance of humanitarian issues to friends, family, and online. Greater awareness doesn’t always seem like the most impactful method for helping these issues, but it has the potential to make a world of difference.
By: Madeleine Chan