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EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls

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What is the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls?

In September 2017, the EU and the UN launched an ambitious joint partnership to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls worldwide. It aims at mobilising commitment of political leaders and contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and more specifically Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Goal 16 on inclusive and peaceful societies. It does so by building new multi-stakeholder partnerships and providing large-scale, targeted support, backed by an initial dedicated financial envelope from the EU of €500 million.

The Initiative aims at ending on all forms of violence against women and girls, targeting those that are most prevalent and contribute to gender inequality across the world.

The Spotlight Initiative will deploy targeted, large-scale investments in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific and the Caribbean, aimed at achieving significant improvements in the lives of women and girls.

Which countries are covered by the Spotlight Initiative around the world and which forms of violence?

A “Safe and Fair” programme for €25 million was launched in 2017 in South-East Asia, where Spotlight is focusing primarily on ending female trafficking and labour exploitation.

The Spotlight Initiative will be carried out in the ASEAN region, in countries of origin (Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam) and countries of destination (Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand). The action will also target women migrant workers migrating to East Asia (China (Hong Kong, Taiwan), Republic of Korea), and the Gulf Cooperation Council States, although no programming will take place in these countries.

In Latin America, the programme focuses on ending femicide in Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and on empowering regional networks.

The regional African component of the Spotlight aims to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence, including harmful practices. The programme worth €250 million will be implemented across Liberia, Malawi, Mali Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. It will also include a regional approach to scale up existing initiatives on fighting female genital mutilation and child marriage and joint activities with the Africa Union.

The Pacific regional Spotlight programme focuses on ending domestic violence in the region.

This will be followed by actions to tackle family violence in the Caribbean region; countries are still being identified.

Why is the Spotlight Initiative focusing today on the Pacific region and on domestic violence?

The Family Health and Safety Studies (FHSS) conducted by UNFPA across 11 Pacific countries show the high rates of violence against women and girls in the region: e.g. 68% of women in Kiribati, and 64% of women in Fiji and Solomon Islands experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner over their lifetime. In Timor-Leste, a 2016 Asia Foundation prevalence study found that 59% of women experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner over their lifetime.  In Solomon Islands, 37% of women report that they have been sexually abused before age 15. The most common perpetrators were: boyfriend (36%), stranger (24%), family member (20%) and male friend of family (16%). Many incidents of sexual violence involve young girls and children living with extended family, who are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse e.g. children from outer islands sent to live in urban centres to complete secondary education.

The objective therefore is to intervene to prevent violence against women and girls addressing the root causes of gender inequality and of violence. With activities like advocacy for policy and legislative reform where needed, and law enforcement. Prevention through formal and informal education, community based dialogue and initiatives; involving men, especially traditional leaders and faith-based organisations; access to quality services (health, social services, police and justice) for the victims; training and capacity building targeting teachers, lawyers, social workers, police forces, civil servants; media campaign to change perception.

The programme can count on an envelope of €50 million.

The consultation process, leading to the definition of the geographical scope and specific structure of the programme, will start on February 26th, where all major stakeholders, regional and national authorities, experts, civil society organisations and donors will gather to discuss which are the best tools and methodologies available to be applied in the region.

Why is the Spotlight Initiative focusing on Africa and why FGM and child marriage?

FGM and child marriage have reached epidemic levels in Africa. Female genital mutilation has been documented in 30 countries, mainly in Africa. Based   on   rigorous   evaluation   of   criteria   the   following countries were selected under the Spotlight Initiative: Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Why is the Spotlight Initiative focusing on femicide in Latin America?

Femicide has reached epidemic levels in Latin America. The region is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, where 12 women assassinated every day.

The Spotlight Initiative in Latin America will focus on eliminating femicide in five countries: Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. These countries were selected on the basis of agreed criteria including the level of femicide prevalence in the country and secondary criteria, which assessed the government’s commitment to the issue, in addition to an enabling environment including for civil society, national and partner capacities.

In 2016, there were 254 femicides in Argentina, 349 in El Salvador, 211 in Guatemala, 466 in Honduras and 2,813 in Mexico.

Femicide is the most prevalent form of violence against women in the region. Ninety-eight per cent of femicides in the region go unprosecuted.

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation consists of the (partial or complete) removal of the external female genitalia, and the infliction of other injuries to the female genitalia for no medical reasons. The EU contributes to eliminating FGM/C globally.

Female genital mutilation consists of the (partial or complete) removal of the external female genitalia, and the infliction of other injuries to the female genitalia for no medical reasons. The EU contributes to eliminating FGM/C globally. The EU has actively participated in international cooperation to promote the elimination of FGM/C. FGM/C is included in human rights and political dialogues with partner countries and in annual dialogues with civil society organisations.

About child marriage.

Some 700 million girls and women alive today were married as children, and a further 280 million girls alive today will be married by age 18 if this issues is not tackled with urgency. This is one of the reasons forced child marriage was included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under goal number 5 on gender equality, on which the EU is a fierce defender and supporter together with many international partners.

What is femicide?

Femicide is when a woman or girl falls victim to an attack and is killed merely because of her gender. It is rooted in gender inequality social, cultural or religious norms and attitudes within traditional societies.

What is the European Union doing concretely against gender-based violence in developing countries?

The EU is strongly committed to gender equality, the empowerment of women of all ages and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls around the world. The European Consensus on Development identifies gender equality and women’s empowerment as a critical cross-cutting issue in EU development cooperation. The Agenda 2030 has put gender equality and women’s empowerment firmly at the centre of the SDGs, not only through the stand-alone SDG 5 on gender equality and SDG 16 on peaceful societies, but also as a cross-cutting element central to the achievement of all 17 SDGs. The EU’s work is guided by the key objectives stipulated in the EU’s Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy, the new European Consensus on Development and the EU Gender Action Plan II.

The EU’s Gender Action Plan 2016-2020 has set an ambitious target to mainstream gender actions across 85% of all new EU initiatives by 2020. Significant progress has been made:

92% of all new initiatives adopted in area of the EU’s foreign policy and around 60% of all new initiatives adopted in the EU’s International cooperation and development work have been marked as mainly or significantly aiming at promoting gender equality and/or women empowerment.

The actions supported by the EU around the world, include indicatively:

  • Support to the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme on ending female genital mutilation in 16 Sub-Saharan countries, aimed at engaging with civil society organizations, men and boys, traditional leaders etc., as to change the social norms, which make the mutilation so largely practiced. (€12 million)
  • In Zambia, a programme aiming at strengthening the institutional capacity of the national authorities to fight against sexual and gender based violence, to prevent it, to change the social norms and mind set which lead to discrimination and violence, and to improve access to comprehensive services for victims. (€25 million)
  • The EU has recently announced a €5 million financial support to the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege for concrete projects in favour of women who are victims of sexual violence. 5 projects aiming at fighting against sexual and gender-based violence in the most remote areas and in forgotten crisis were contracted in December 2018 in the frame of the GPGC global call for proposals (€32 million in total). The projects’ activities will take place in Bangladesh; Iraq, Palestine and Yemen; Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Liberia, Mali and Sudan.
  • In the Pacific, a regional programme to combat domestic violence (€13 million).
  • In Latin America, two regional flagship programmes on women’s empowerment and ending violence against women and girls is underway, and considered key for the inclusive and sustainable development of the region. (Under the Eurosocial+ and Al Invest 5.0 programmes (2016-2021, €32 million)
  • In Uruguay, a programme establishing early warning systems for risk of gender violence and strengthening the role of female police officers.
  • In Argentina, programmes have focused on establishing tools to prevent gender-based offenses.
  • In Chile, programmes to reinforce and monitor the training plan for public agents to change the perceptions of violence against women and girls as intra-family violence, which is widespread and tolerated.
  • In Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, a programme to support the elaboration of a permanent regional plan to combat gender violence by the Council of Ministers and the Democratic Security Commission of the Central American Integration System to combat gender violence.
  • In Peru, a programme to create and implement the National Observatory and Regional Observatories of Violence against Women.

What is the UN doing to end and prevent violence against women and girls?

  • UN entities continue to support the Member States of the UN to further advance the global legal and policy framework in addressing violence against women and girls.
  • The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which is managed by UN Women on behalf of the UN System, provides support to innovative approaches to stem and prevent the pandemic of violence. Since its inception, the fund has provided grants to 426 initiatives in 136 countries, amounting to a total of USD 116 million.
  • The UN Secretary General’s UNiTE campaign to End Violence Against Women, which amongst its many activities initiated Orange Day, proclaims every 25th of the month as a day to raise awareness. It has garnered support for other high-profile initiatives from celebrities, including sports stars in Europe, to raise the profile of the issue.

Is €500 million enough to end violence against the world’s women and girls?

No. The EU’s initial investment of €500 million – the largest single commitment to eliminate violence against women ever – will serve as seed money to fund innovative and transformative programmes. Other donors and actors will need to join and support the Spotlight cause to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5. The EU, together with UN, is doing an extensive outreach for other potential donors to join and contribute additional funds, to allow widening the number of countries and regions to be included in the initiative.

How many women and girls are victims of violence?

Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic and widespread human rights violations around the world. Thirty-five percent of women worldwide are estimated to have experienced, at some point in their lives, either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner. In some countries, this figure goes up to 70%.

More than 700 million women alive today were married as children, in various parts of the world. Of those women, more than 1 in 3—or some 250 million—were married before the age of 15.

About 70% of all human trafficking victims detected globally are women and girls.

At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in 30 countries.

Around 120 million girls worldwide (over 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts. By far the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends.

What are the consequences of violence against women and girls?

The impact of violence ranges from immediate to long term physical, sexual and mental health consequences for women and girls, including death.

It also has tremendous personal, societal and economic costs all around the globe: from greater health care and legal expenses to productivity losses.

What are the root causes of violence against women and girls?

Violence against women and girls is a complex issue that is rooted in gender inequality and discrimination, as well as unequal power relations between men and women, which exist in varying degrees across all communities in the world.

Low economic and social status of women increases the risk of violence that women face. Increasing economic independence is important to help survivors leave abusive relationships.

Prevention work must lie at the core of addressing this challenge. But despite some promising practices, prevention interventions remain small-scale, fragmented and stand-alone activities, under-resourced and lacking impact evaluation.

Are there reliable data to show the prevalence of violence against women and girls?

Understanding the extent, the nature, and the consequences of violence against women and girls is important to inform legislation, policies and programmes. To that end, the EU and UN Member States have made efforts to collect data and compile statistics related to the prevalence of different forms of violence against women and girls, especially domestic and intimate partner violence.

The availability of prevalence data on violence against women and girls, however, remains uneven across and within countries. Quality, reliability and comparability of the data across and within countries remain a challenge.

Are there legal and policy frameworks to end violence against women and girls?

There has been a growing momentum to eliminate and prevent all forms of violence against women and girls. Governments have adopted international and regional policy and legal agreements, such as the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

At least 119 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, 125 have laws on sexual harassment and 52 have laws on marital rape.

The Spotlight Initiative will build on this progress to help eliminate violence against women and girls.

What is different about the programmes under Spotlight?

Studies have shown that well-designed and comprehensive programmes that reach the most marginalised women and girls can be effective in eliminating violence. Each Spotlight Initiative country programme is purposefully designed to address legislative and policy gaps, strengthen institutions, promote gender-equitable attitudes, provide quality services for survivors and reparations for victims of violence and their families, produce disaggregated data and empower women’s movements, while leaving no one behind.

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Human Rights

Human rights experts demand UAE provide ‘meaningful information’ on Sheikha Latifa

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United Nations independent human rights experts on Tuesday demanded that the United Arab Emirates provide “meaningful information” on the fate of Sheikha Latifa Mohammed Al Maktoum as well as assurances regarding her safety and well-being, “without delay”.

Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of the Emir of Dubai, and Prime Minister of the UAE, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was reportedly abducted while attempting to flee the country in 2018. In February, footage was released that reportedly showed her being deprived of her liberty against her will.

Independent rights experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women voiced concern that since the February video, and subsequent official request for further information on her situation, “no concrete information has been provided by the authorities”.

“The statement issued by the Emirates authorities’ merely indicating that she was being ‘cared for at home’ is not sufficient at this stage”, they added.

The rights experts also said they were troubled by the allegations of human rights violations against Sheikha Latifa, and of the possible threat to her life.

Evidence of well-being ‘urgently required’

According to the information received, she continues to be deprived of liberty, with no access to the outside world, they added, noting that “her continued incommunicado detention can have harmful physical and psychological consequences and may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

“Evidence of life and assurances regarding her well-being are urgently required”, the human rights experts urged, calling for independent verification of the conditions under which Sheikha Latifa is being held, and for her immediate release.

In addition to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the call was made by the members of the working groups on enforced or involuntary disappearances; and on discrimination against women and girls; as well as the Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

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Human Rights

Six reasons why a healthy environment should be a human right

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At least 155 states recognize their citizens have the right to live in a healthy environment, either through national legislation or international accords, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Despite those protections, the World Health Organization estimates that 23 per cent of all deaths are linked to “environmental risks” like air pollution, water contamination and chemical exposure.

Statistics like that are why the United Nations Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution reaffirming states’ obligations to protect human rights, including by taking stronger actions on environmental challenges.

Here are some of the ways that a compromised planet is now compromising the human right to health.

 1. The destruction of wild spaces facilitates the emergence of zoonotic diseases.

The alteration of land to create space for homes, farms and industries has put humans in increasing contact with wildlife and has created opportunities for pathogens to spill over from wild animals to people.

An estimated 60 per cent of human infections are of animal origin. And there are plenty of other viruses poised to jump from animals to humans. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, “as many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses of the type known to infect people are believed to still exist in mammals and waterfowl. Any one of these could be the next ‘Disease X’ – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19.”

2. Air pollution reduces quality of health and lowers life expectancy.

Across the globe, nine in 10 people are breathing unclean air, harming their health and shortening their life span. Every year, about 7 million people die from diseases and infections related to air pollution, more than five times the number of people who perish in road traffic collisions.

Exposure to pollutants can also affect the brain, causing developmental delays, behavioural problems and even lower IQs in children. In older people, pollutants are associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

3. Biodiversity loss compromises the nutritional value of food.

In the last 50 years alone, human diets have become 37 per cent more similar, with just 12 crops and five animal species providing 75 per cent of the world’s energy intake. Today, nearly one in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition and much of the world’s population is affected by diet-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

 4. Biodiversity loss also reduces the scope and efficacy of medicines.

Natural products comprise a large portion of existing pharmaceuticals and have been particularly important in the area of cancer therapy. But estimates suggest that 15,000 medicinal plant species are at risk of extinction and that the Earth loses at least one potential major drug every two years.

 5. Pollution is threatening billions worldwide.

Many health issues spring from pollution and the idea that waste can be thrown “away” when, in fact, much of it remains in ecosystems, affecting both environmental and human health.

Water contaminated by waste, untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial discharge puts 1.8 billion people at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Methylmercury – a substance found in everyday products that contaminate fish – can have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems when consumed by humans. And a growing body of evidence suggests that there is a cause for concern about the impact of microplastics on marine life and the food web.

As well, every year, 25 million people suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. And glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used herbicide– is associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers.

Even medicines can have a negative impact as they infiltrate ecosystems. A 2017 UNEP report found that antibiotics have become less effective as medicine because of their widespread use in promoting livestock growth. About 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year.

 6. Climate change introduces additional risks to health and safety.

The last decade was the hottest in human history and we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, with wildfires, floods and hurricanes becoming regular events that threaten lives, livelihoods and food security. Climate change also affects the survival of microbes, facilitating the spread of viruses. According to an article published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, “pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people.”

UNEP

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Human Rights

Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns

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At least 30,000 migrants are stranded at borders in West Africa according to the UN. IOM/Monica Chiriac

Travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic have been particularly hard on refugees and migrants who move out of necessity, stranding millions from home, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first year of the pandemic saw more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures around the world at their peak in December.  

These measures “have thwarted many people’s ability to pursue migration as a tool to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disaster and other crises”, IOM maintained. 

In mid-July, nearly three million people were stranded, sometimes without access to consular assistance, nor the means to meet their basic needs.  

In Panama, the UN agency said that thousands were cut off in the jungle while attempting to travel north to the United States; in Lebanon, migrant workers were affected significantly by the August 2020 explosion in Beirut and the subsequent surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Business as usual 

Border closures also prevented displaced people from seeking refuge, IOM maintained, but not business travellers, who “have continued to move fairly freely”, including through agreed ‘green lanes’, such as the one between Singapore and Malaysia.  

By contrast, those who moved out of necessity – such as migrant workers and refugees – have had to absorb expensive quarantine and self-isolation costs, IOM said, noting that in the first half of 2020, asylum applications fell by one-third, compared to the same period a year earlier.  

Unequal restrictions 

As the COVID crisis continues, this distinction between those who can move and those who cannot, will likely become even more pronounced, IOM said, “between those with the resources and opportunities to move freely, and those whose movement is severely restricted by COVID-19-related or pre-existing travel and visa restrictions and limited resources”. 

This inequality is even more likely if travel is allowed for anyone who has been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19, or for those with access to digital health records – an impossibility for many migrants. 

Health risks 

Frontier lockdowns also reduced options for those living in overcrowded camps with high coronavirus infection rates in Bangladesh and Greece, IOM’s report indicated.  

In South America, meanwhile, many displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil, lost their livelihoods and some have sought to return home – including by enlisting the services of smugglers. 

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