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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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World Population Day: ‘No time to waste’ in empowering women

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“It is deepening existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, particularly for women and girls”, said Secretary-General António Guterres

“With many countries on lockdown and health systems struggling to cope, sexual and reproductive health services are being sidelined and gender-based violence is on the rise”.  

Devastating consequences 

Meanwhile, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projects that if lockdown measures continue for six months with major disruptions to health services, 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives. This would result in seven million unintended pregnancies.  

Moreover, some 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can also be expected. 

“Every year, millions of girls are subjected to practices that harm them physically and emotionally, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential”, said the Secretary-General. 

  According to UNFPA’s State of World Population 2020, more than four million girls will be subjected to female genital mutilation and 12 million forced to marry this year.  

“Lockdowns stemming from the pandemic are expected to make matters even worse”, acknowledged Mr. Guterres.

Safeguard hard-won gains

Decades of experience and research show that bottom-up, grassroots approaches can change gender-biased norms and attitudes, the top UN official said.  

Through international declarations and agreements, the word has committed to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health care; eliminating the unmet need for contraception; and ending all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030. 

The UN chief stressed that “we cannot allow the pandemic to reverse progress we have made towards these goals”.

“On this World Population Day, let us act to safeguard sexual and reproductive health care, protect the health and rights of women and girls, and end gender-based violence”, concluded the Secretary-General.  “The pandemic has made our jobs much harder, but we must prevail”.

Long road ahead

UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem underscored that women have a right to make their own decisions about “whether, when and how often to become pregnant”. 

That right was reaffirmed in 1994 in Cairo at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where 179 governments agreed that sexual and reproductive health is the foundation for sustainable development.

Yet, despite considerable gains over the past 25 years, there is a long road ahead to live up to the promise of Cairo, with too many women still unable to enjoy their rights.

“More than 200 million women and girls want to delay or prevent pregnancy but don’t have the means”, explained Dr. Kanem, noting that the most vulnerable and marginalized women and girls “who face the greatest gaps in services”.

Against the backdrop of more unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, pregnant girls shamed out of school and that more women and girls are dying, she spell out: “The cost of inaction is simply too high”. 

“There is no time to waste”, underscored the UNFPA chief, “our future depends on it”.

Tear down inequality

As evidenced by the alarming number of gender-biased sex selections, “women face discrimination even before they are born”, observed UNFPA India Representative and Bhutan Country Director Argentina Matavel.

And systemic violations of women’s rights continue throughout their life cycles.

She painted a picture of a women being denied their “God-given full potential” while robbing society of contributions from half the population.

“If one could stop for just a minute to compute the aggregate loss in productivity alone, we would have economists and politicians at the forefront of the struggle to tear down the roots of inequality from society”, Ms. Matavel stated.

Reset priorities 

To empower women, “each one of us has the responsibility to challenge our own stereotypes, the UN envoy argued.

She also urged Governments to recalibrate policy and programmatic changes to benefit women, along with putting in place mechanisms to address development gaps, especially for women and girls “who are invariably at the bottom of the ‘pyramid of the vulnerable.’”

“Humanity will be as strong as the weakest of our members – same for nations, and families”,  upheld the UNFPA representative.

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UNESCO expresses deep regret over Turkey decision to change status of historic Hagia Sophia

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As the Turkish President signed a decree on Friday converting the ancient Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, the UN cultural agency (UNESCO) said that it “deeply regrets the decision” made “without prior discussion”, having earlier in the day called on the State to abide by its “legal commitments and obligations” in accordance with it’s status as a museum, on the World Heritage List.

The majestic building was founded around 1,500 years ago as a cathedral and is widely regarded as the foremost example of Byzantine Christian architecture in the world. Following the rise of the Ottoman Empire, it became a mosque, but in 1934, was designated a secular museum, shared by Christians, Muslims and those of all faiths or none, alike.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the decree following years of campaigning by a cultural association, and the decision earlier in the day by a Turkish court, handing control of the building over to the nation’s religious directorate, according to news reports, allowing it to reopen for worship as a mosque.

Reacting to the decision, Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, described the building as “an architectural masterpiece, and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue.”

Call for dialogue

UNESCO said in a statement issued before the decree, that it had written to the Government and called for “dialogue” with the authorities, “before taking any decision that might impact the universal value of the site.”

Hagia Sophia, is part of the “Historic Areas of Istanbul”, and officially inscribed on the World Heritage List as a museum.

“This inscription entails a number of legal commitments and obligations. Thus, a State must ensure that no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property inscribed on its territory”, said the UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

No modification ‘without prior notification’

“Any modification requires prior notification by the State concerned to UNESCO and then, if necessary, examination by the World Heritage Committee.”

“Outstanding universal value” is the basis for the decision to inscribe any property on the World Heritage List, the statement continued.

“The texts adopted by the Committee specify that the ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul’ is inscribed notably for ‘its unique integration of architectural masterpieces reflecting the meeting of Europe and Asia over several centuries’ and because ‘Hagia Sophia became a model for an entire family of churches and later mosques, and the mosaics of the palaces and churches of Constantinople, influenced both Eastern and Western art’”.

‘Universal value’

The agency noted that in line with its designation, the Hagia Sophia “has a strong symbolic, historical and universal value.”

UNESCO called upon the Turkish authorities “to initiate dialogue without delay, in order to prevent any detrimental effect on the universal value of this exceptional heritage, the state of conservation of which will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its next session.”

“It is important to avoid any implementing measure, without prior discussion with UNESCO, that would affect physical access to the site, the structure of the buildings, the site’s moveable property, or the site’s management,” stressed Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. Such measures could constitute breaches of the rules derived from the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the agency warned. 

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Fresh evidence of war crimes committed by all sides in Syrian conflict, probe finds

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In its latest report, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria highlighted the military campaign launched late last year in Idlib Governorate by pro-Government forces, to retake the last remaining areas under armed groups’ control.

‘Spreading terror’

The Commissioners also maintained that UN-designated terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) indiscriminately shelled densely populated civilian areas, “spreading terror” in Government-held areas.

“It is completely abhorrent that, after more than nine years, civilians continue to be indiscriminately attacked, or even targeted, while going about their daily lives”, said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro.

Bombarded while fleeing

“Children were shelled at school, parents were shelled at the market, patients were shelled at the hospital…entire families were bombarded even while fleeing”, he continued. “What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians.”

Alongside the Russian air force, Syrian Government troops “carried out air and ground attacks which decimated civilian infrastructure, depopulated towns and villages”, killing hundreds of women, men and children, said the commissioners, who report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

International law flouted

Numerous locations protected by international law in the country’s northwest were destroyed in aerial and ground attacks, some involving cluster munitions, according to their report.

It details how from November 2019 to June this year, 52 attacks by all parties included 17 on hospitals and medical facilities; 14 on schools, 12 on homes and nine on markets.

If proven in court, such acts would amount to the war crimes of launching indiscriminate attacks, and deliberate attacks on protected objects, the investigators maintained.

Mass displacement

Beginning in the second half of December and mid-February, “widespread and indiscriminate” bombardment carried out by pro-government forces on Ma’arrat al-Nu’man and Ariha in Idlib governorate, as well as Atarib and Darat Azza in western Aleppo, led to mass displacement, according to the report.

Civilians had no choice but to flee, the Commissioners said, adding that this may amount to the crimes against humanity of forcible transfer, murder and other inhumane acts. 

Detained, tortured, executed

When people fled, HTS terrorists pillaged their homes, the investigators continued, and “as battles waged, they detained, tortured, and executed civilians expressing dissenting opinions, including journalists”.

Female media workers were doubly victimized, as the terrorist group continued to discriminate against women and girls, including by denying their freedom of movement.

“Women, men and children that we interviewed faced the ghastly choice of being bombarded or fleeing deeper into HTS-controlled areas where there are rampant abuses of human rights and extremely limited humanitarian assistance”, said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “The acts by HTS members amount to war crimes.”   

In an appeal for the nearly one million highly vulnerable civilians displaced by the conflict in Idlib governorate who now face added threat of COVID-19, Commissioner Hanny Megally urged all parties to the conflict to cease attacks on civilians and civilian objects.

“Now more than ever, civilians need sustained and unfettered access to humanitarian assistance which must neither be politicised by Member States nor instrumentalised by parties to the conflict. Pandemics know no borders, neither should life-saving aid,” Mr. Megally said, while also urging Member States to pursue accountability for crimes outlined in the report.

The Commission’s report is scheduled to be presented on 14 July to the Human Rights Council during its current 44th session.

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