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International Women’s Day: Order of Malta’s Albrecht Boeselager on the crucial role of women in humanitarian development

Interviewed recently, Albrecht Boeselager, Grand Chancellor of the Order, spoke of the plight of women in areas of conflict and the Order’s aid actions

Rome, 8 March 2015

“There is a real concern for women caught up in areas of conflict and the related poverty which affects the local population. Eighty per cent of people living in poverty are women and children. In crisis areas one can say that a man with a gun is never starving. But for the women and children, the possibilities are very different.

For this reason, the Order of Malta’s humanitarian agencies on the ground focus their assistance very much on the women and children. For example, many of the hospitals we run in Palestine and Africa concentrate on maternity and infant care.

One of the key projects the Order runs for women is in DR Congo – it is specialist care for the women.

We have treated tens of thousands in recent years, in a region where rape has become a weapon of war. In the tradition of these cultures raped women are excluded from their society and their villages by their own people. Thus, the raping of the women means the destruction of their society and their social structures. Our assistance starts with medical care, and then we follow up with psychological care, as many of the patients are seriously traumatised. As their societies have cast them out, these women need support to help them earn a living, and so we set up microcredit projects, skills-based teaching projects and most importantly, social projects in the villages. This is to convince the village chiefs that it is better for the community not to exclude these women from their villages. The aim is to allow them to have a hut at the edge of the village – not in the centre, but at the edge – so that the children can still live with their mothers and be educated by their mothers. I have visited this project several times and I find it one of the most moving and challenging we organise.

Women and children at the core of our mission

Women and children are at the core of our mission in many countries. This is evident when one assesses our disaster preparedness projects. An example is the mangroves planting project we have created in Burma/Myanmar. Although the project aims to improve fishing for the local population, the original purpose was actually disaster preparedness, because if mangroves grow along the coastline, ocean waves from hurricanes or typhoons will not hit the country so forcefully. The mangroves provide protection. You cannot do this without the support and action of the women, because it is the women who are the real actors. If they do not
accept the project you can forget it!”

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The mission of the Order of Malta is inspired by its tradition of ‘Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum', to assist the poor and the sick, and bear witness to the Christian faith.


The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law. The Order - which is based in Rome, in via Condotti - has its own Government, an independent magistracy, and bilateral diplomatic relations with 110 countries.


The Order of St John of Jerusalem is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilisation. Present in Palestine in around 1048, it is a lay religious Order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature.