This year marks the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers. Over the course of the last decade we have observed the growth and extraordinary value of volunteers in the humanitarian field. Greater awareness on the part of governments of the significant contributions made by volunteers has led to the establishment of new laws and new policies that effectively support volunteers in the many different contexts in which they operate.
Despite meaningful progress over the last decade, there remains much work to be done to ensure that volunteers are recognised, and more importantly receive better protection, in the course of their activities throughout the world. The Legislative Guidance Note of 2004, a joint initiative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Inter-Parliamentary Union and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) was an important first step. I am delighted that our foundation document of 2004 has recently been developed into a more comprehensive Guidance Note for 2010.
The IFRC welcomes the work done by UNV to further the understanding of governments around the world of the vulnerabilities of volunteers, and of the enabling conditions they require. Acknowledgment of this critical role of volunteers and the creation of an enabling environment for volunteers to serve is vital. The legal framework is one of the factors that has an impact on volunteering – either positively or negatively. The Guidance Note for 2010 provides examples of new legislation or amendments to legislation, to better the environment for volunteering. Some of these examples include legislation clarifying the continuance of social welfare benefits for unemployed persons who volunteer, tax exemption in regard to expenses for volunteers, extension of health and safety laws to volunteers and other such positive initiatives. A practical approach is also adopted, with guidance on drafting laws and policies, as well as advocating for an appropriate framework for volunteers.
As part of the initiatives linked to this important ten year anniversary, the IFRC will increase awareness among national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world regarding the legal issues related to volunteerism. This Guidance Note will form an integral part of the IFRC dissemination materials for 2011, providing our 186 National Societies with an invaluable tool in their continued advocacy for more enabling volunteering environments.
The various initiatives the IFRC plans to undertake in regard to volunteerism and legal issues will complement the work done in this excellent report, and will empower the Red Cross and Red Crescent to engage more effectively with their respective governments. We are proud to be associated with the UN in this important initiative and I believe that our collaboration with governments will grow even stronger as a result.
Bekele Geleta Secretary General International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies