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.
No safe harbour: lifting the lid on a misunderstood trafficking crime
The crime of harbouring, in which victims of human trafficking are accommodated or forced to stay in a specific location, is not universally understood by courts around the world. A new UN study aims to address that issue, and improve protection for victims.
A journey of exploitation
Harbouring is one of five actions that constitute an ‘act’ in the internationally recognised definition of human trafficking, and is often used by prosecutors and judges for convictions of this crime.
The act can take place before and during exploitation, or between periods of abuse, encompassing a wide variety of settings, including brothels, private homes, factories, farms, or fishing vessels.
These locations can be dangerous, inhumane and unsanitary, and cn be controlled by criminals involved in the trafficking network.
In another case, victims who had been brought from Thailand to Australia were harboured during transit and at the place of exploitation: while being transported the victims were accommodated in hotels and accompanied by minders.
Once they were received by the offenders, the victims were either accommodated in the brothel where they were forced to work, or alternatively stayed at the offenders’ house, and were transported to and from the brothel each day.
Trafficking victims can also be subjected to harbouring once they arrive at the place of exploitation. In a case from the Dominican Republic, the offenders, a married couple, recruited a Chinese national to work in their business.
They promised to pay her and provide her with food. Instead, she was not paid, forced into domestic servitude and subjected to abuse.
A misunderstood concept
However, a new publication from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has found that there is neither a uniform understanding of the act of harbouring, nor a consistent approach to this concept during court proceedings.
“Harbouring is one of the most frequent acts when committing human trafficking, but the concept is not interpreted in the same way throughout the world,” says Martin Hemmi, the UNODC expert who led the study.
“Some countries require the victims to be concealed or moved between locations for harbouring to be considered as an act of human trafficking. Others stipulate a minimum amount of time for the harbouring process,” adds Mr. Hemmi. “It is important to fully understand the concept to get justice for victims of this crime.”
The language barrier
Further findings show there are different meanings of the word ‘harbouring’ in the various language versions of the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, which is the world’s primary legal instrument to combat this crime.
In French and Arabic, the word used for harbouring has a positive connotation in the sense of hosting, while in English, Chinese and Russian, it can be perceived as having a negative meaning in the sense of hiding or concealing.
“Due to these discrepancies, the same conduct is considered human trafficking in one country but not necessarily in another,” says Mr. Hemmi.
“This has wide consequences. For the perpetrator, it can have an effect on the sentence. For the victim, it has an impact on rights and protection measures. For the courts, it can hamper requests for legal assistance and international cooperation.”
Wherever and however it occurs, harbouring with the intent of exploitation is an act of human trafficking and a violation of the victim’s rights and dignity, says Martin Hemmi.
“We hope that our new study will be used by investigators, prosecutors and judges to lead to a better understanding of this terrible crime and support measures to effectively protect victims and punish traffickers,” he concludes.
Only ‘real equality’ can end vicious cycle of poverty
Although poverty and privilege “continue to reproduce themselves in vicious cycles”, it is possible to break the chain and shift the paradigm, an independent UN human rights expert told the General Assembly on Wednesday.
Presenting his report, The persistence of poverty: how real equality can break the vicious cycle, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Shutter, said that “with political will”, it is possible to end centuries of entrenched inequality and “move from fate to opportunity”.
“Investing in early childhood, promoting inclusive education, given young adults a basic income financed through inheritance taxes, and combating anti-poor discrimination are the key ingredients needed to break the cycles of advantage and disadvantage”, Mr. De Shutter said in his statement.
Acknowledging that many countries pride themselves on ensuring high levels of social mobility, the human rights expert stated that “the truth is that the persistence of privilege at the top, and deprivation at the bottom, are all too commonplace.”
“The top 10 percent of people living in OECD countries control 52 percent of total net wealth, while the bottom 60 percent own just over 12 percent, condemning the poor to a lifetime of poverty”, he said. According to the report, based on data from countries which are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it takes four to five generations for children in low-income households to reach the mean income in their country. In emerging countries such as Brazil, Colombia or South Africa, it can take up to nine or even more generations.
Tougher with time
Observing that children born in disadvantaged families were denied equal opportunity, the Special Rapporteur examined the channels through which poverty is perpetuated, in the areas of health, housing, education and employment.
“Children born in poor families have less access to healthcare, decent housing, quality education and employment than those in better-off households”, De Shutter said. “This dramatically reduces their chances of breaking free from the poverty trap”.
Describing the outcomes as “appalling”, the Rapporteur added that children born in a family experiencing poverty are more than three times as likely to be poor, aged 30, than those who were never poor.
The UN rights expert reminded that child poverty is not only “morally unconscionable and a human rights violation”, but also expensive. “In the United States, child poverty costs over one trillion dollars annually, or 5.4% of its GDP, but for each dollar invested on reducing it, seven dollars would be saved,” said the expert.
Calling for and end to the myth that inequality is an incentive that encourages people to work harder, Mr. De Shutter said that the facts point to the exact opposite: “Inequality lowers social mobility and entrenches advantage and disadvantage over decades. When we fetishize merit, we stigmatize those in poverty or with low incomes, and blame them for their own condition”.
Call for action
Stressing that “no child should be penalized for being born in poverty” in mind, and stating that, in fact, “poverty is a failure not of the individual, but of society”, Mr. De Shutter called on governments to act now, “before another generation is condemned to the same fate as their parents”.
Restore sexual, reproductive health rights lost during COVID, rights expert urges
Sexual and reproductive health rights, are human rights, the independent UN expert on the right to health reminded Member States in the General Assembly on Wednesday, saying that it was essential to restore services in the field, that have been eroded during the COVID-19 pandemic
“Millions of women globally had limited or no access to maternal and new-born healthcare, some 14 million women lost access to contraception, and specialized services for victims of gender-based violence became inaccessible, when they were needed most”, said Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng.
The Special Rapporteur pointed out that lockdowns, movement restrictions and diversion of funds due to COVID-19 have “jeopardized access to essential sexual and reproductive health services”.
In presenting her report on the effect of the pandemic on physical and mental health services, she also spoke of “new measures and laws in place across regions, further restricting access to safe abortion, a component of sexual and reproductive services encompassed in the right to health”.
Reversing a legacy
As part of the right to health, the UN expert called on States to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to rebuild and strengthen health systems for advancing sexual and reproductive health rights for all.
“Governments must remove obstacles and ensure full access to quality services, including maternal health care, contraception and abortion services, screening for reproductive cancers and comprehensive sexual education”, she said.
However, Dr. Mofokeng noted that many obstacles continue to stand between individuals and their exercise of their rights to health, rooted in patriarchy and colonialism, and others in structural and systemic inequalities.
“Patriarchal oppression is universal, permeates all societies and is at the very origin of the erosion of autonomy and the control of girls and women’s bodies and sexuality to the detriment of their enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights”, she spelled out.
“Colonialism has permeated patriarchy across regions and its legacy continues today through laws, policies and practices that deny or restrict sexual and reproductive rights and criminalize gender diverse identities and consensual adult same-sex acts”, added the Special Rapporteur.
Rooted in law
She reminded governments that sexual and reproductive health rights are rooted in binding human rights treaties, jurisprudence, and consensus outcome documents of international conferences.
“I call on States to respect and protect key principles of autonomy, bodily integrity, dignity and well-being of individuals, especially in relation to sexual and reproductive health rights”, she said.
“I pledge to engage with States and all relevant actors to uphold the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.
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