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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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Rohingya conference pledges to ‘remain steadfast’ in finding solutions to crisis

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A young Rohingya girl holds her brother outside a youth club in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

A joint UN-hosted donor conference to rally international support behind Myanmar’s displaced Rohingya minority, ended on Thursday with a promise to continue engaging with concerned countries towards finding a long-term solution to their plight.

“We will continue to work together to maintain international attention on the Rohingya crisis and to shift from short-term critical interventions, to a more sustained and stable support”, said the closing statement from co-hosts the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the European Union (EU), United Kingdom and United States.

“We are grateful to all who have participated…including those who have announced or pledged funding for the international humanitarian response, those who are supporting members of the Rohingya communities in other ways – not least by hosting them – and most importantly, representatives of Rohingya communities themselves”, the statement continued.

The appeal comes more than three years after the orchestrated violence that erupted in Myanmar, across Rakhine state, which saw hundreds of thousands of mainly-Muslim Rohingya flee their homes, in search of safety across the border in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

There are currently 860,000 Rohingya refugees in and around Cox’s Bazar, and an estimated 600,000 still in Rakhine state, who face ongoing violence and discrimination; and Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and other countries in the region, are together hosting nearly 150,000 Rohingya refugees.

Voluntary, safe, dignified return

“The voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and others internally displaced to their places of origin or of their own choosing in Myanmar, is the comprehensive solution that we seek along with Rohingya people themselves”, the joint communique stated.

“To that end, we underscore the Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire and the cessation of fighting to enable safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all communities in need of assistance.”

The co-chairs urged Myanmar’s Government to resolve the crisis, and “take steps to address the root causes of the violence and displacement”, creating the conditions that would allow for sustainable returns.

“This includes providing a pathway to citizenship and freedom of movement for Rohingya, guided by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State’s recommendations and encouraged and supported by countries in the region. Myanmar must provide justice for the victims of human rights abuses and ensure that those responsible are held accountable”, the statement continued.

Expressing thanks and support to the Government and people of Bangladesh, the co-chairs stressed that increased support for Rohingya, must go hand-in-hand with increased support for host communities.

“While we continue efforts to secure long-term solutions, a focus on more sustainable response planning and financing in Bangladesh, could more effectively support the government’s management of the response and maximize limited resources to benefit both Bangladeshi and refugee communities.”

$600 million pledged

The co-chairs announced new pledges of around $600 million in humanitarian funding, which significantly expands the nearly $636 million in assistance already committed so far in 2020 under the Bangladesh Joint Response Plan and the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan.

The crisis is having a “devastating effect on vulnerable members of Rohingya communities, particularly women and children who require gender and age-sensitive interventions” said the co-chairs, leading to vulnerable refugees “desperately attempting to reach other countries in the region.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive-Director, Henrietta Fore, said that thanks to Bangladesh and generous donors worldwide, UNICEF and other UN agencies such as UNHCR, migration agency IOM, World Food Programme WFP, and many NGOs, continue to serve and support vulnerable Rohingya children.

In addition to providing vital services such as health, nutrition, and sanitation, education is “critical for young Rohingyas to build better futures. And to one day voluntarily return and reintegrate into Myanmar with the safety and dignity they deserve.”

Support for 170,000 Rohingya children

“We’re giving parents and caregivers the training and tools they need to support their children’s education. More than 170,000 Rohingya children are being supported this way”, she said.

“Join our call to ensure a place for Rohingya children in both countries’ education systems and programmes. They need education where they live”, she told the conference.

Ms. Fore called on donors not to forget the daily struggles of Rohingya children who remain inside Myanmar. “They’re still facing discrimination, horrifying violence and intensifying conflict every day. The fighting needs to stop so children can return to school and play, and so refugees can return home safely if they choose.”

Rohingyas themselves ‘backbone of the response’

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said it was vital to recognize that the Rohingya refugees themselves have been “the backbone of the response.”

“They volunteer as health workers, they distribute masks and they help protect their communities from the pandemic. And I think we are all need to be very grateful to them and encourage them to take up this kind of responsibility.”

Highlighting again the Rohingya communities that remain in Myanmar, he said 130,000 of them remain displaced in central Rakhine State where they have been since 2012, and another 10,000 have been displaced since 2017 in northern Rakhine.

“Those people continue to have their basic rights denied, they suffer extreme hardships in Rakhine State and elsewhere”, added relief chief Lowcock.

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World Bank-UNICEF: 1 in 6 children lives in extreme poverty

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Children play outside a metal polishing workshop in a slum in Uttar Pradesh, India. © UNICEF/Niklas Halle'n

An estimated 1 in 6 children – or 356 million globally – lived in extreme poverty before the pandemic, and this is set to worsen significantly, according to a new World Bank Group-UNICEF analysis released today.

Global Estimate of Children in Monetary Poverty: An Update notes that Sub-Saharan Africa – with limited social safety nets – accounts for two-thirds of children living in households that struggle to survive on an average of $1.90 a day or less per person – the international measure for extreme poverty. South Asia accounts for nearly a fifth of these children.

The analysis shows that the number of children living in extreme poverty decreased moderately by 29 million between 2013 and 2017. However, UNICEF and the World Bank Group warn that any progress made in recent years is concerningly slow-paced, unequally distributed, and at risk due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“1 in 6 children living in extreme poverty is 1 in 6 children struggling to survive,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Director of Programmes. “These numbers alone should shock anyone. And the scale and depth of what we know about the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic are only set to make matters far worse. Governments urgently need a children’s recovery plan to prevent countless more children and their families from reaching levels of poverty unseen for many, many years.”

Although children make up around a third of the global population, around half of the extreme poor are children. Children are more than twice as likely to be extremely poor as adults (17.5 percent of children vs. 7.9 percent of adults). The youngest children are the worst off – nearly 20 percent of all children below the age of 5 in the developing world live in extremely poor households.

“The fact that one in six children were living in extreme poverty and that 50% of the global extreme poor were children even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic is of grave concern to us all,” said Carolina Sánchez-Páramo, Global Director of Poverty and Equity for the World Bank. “Extreme poverty deprives hundreds of millions of children of the opportunity to reach their potential, in terms of physical and cognitive development, and threatens their ability to get good jobs in adulthood. In the wake of the massive economic disruption caused by the pandemic, it is more crucial than ever that governments support poor households with children now and rebuild their human capital during the recovery.” 

Extreme poverty among children has not fallen as much as it has for adults; a larger share of the global poor were children in 2017, compared with that in 2013. All regions of the world experienced varying levels of decline in extreme poverty among children, apart from Sub-Saharan Africa, which saw a 64 million increase in the absolute number of children struggling to survive on $1.90 a day, from 170 million in 2013 to 234 million in 2017.

Child poverty is more prevalent in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where more than 40 percent of children live in extremely poor households, compared to nearly 15 percent of children in other countries, the analysis says. The analysis also notes that more than 70 percent of children in extreme poverty live in a household where the head of the house works in agriculture.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis will continue to disproportionately impact children, women and girls, threatening to reverse hard-won gains towards gender equality. Social protection measures have a crucial role to play to mitigate coping mechanisms by the poor and vulnerable in both the immediate COVID-19 response as well as the longer-term recovery.

World Bank and UNICEF data suggest that most countries have responded to the crisis by expanding social protection programs, particularly cash transfers. Cash transfers provide a platform for longer-term investments in human capital. Particularly when combined with other child development measures and coupled with high-quality social service provision, cash transfers have been shown to address both monetary and multidimensional poverty and improve children’s health, nutrition, cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes.

However, many of the responses are short-term and not adequate to respond to the size and expected long-term nature of the recovery. It is more important than ever for governments to scale up and adjust their social protection systems and programs to prepare for future shocks. This includes innovations for financial sustainability, strengthening legal and institutional frameworks, protecting human capital, expanding child and family benefits for the long term as well as investing in family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave and quality child care for all.

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Cindy Sirinya Bishop new UN Women Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Asia Pacific

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Cindy Sirinya Bishop, UN Women Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific. Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng

Thai celebrity and rights activist Cindy Sirinya Bishop is working to stop violence and other abuses against women as the newly appointed UN Women Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific. 

Bishop, 41, is a model and actress who is best known as the host of Asia’s Next Top Model, a television show broadcast in most countries in the region. 

During her 2-year appointment, which began in September, Bishop is representing UN Women to promote gender equality and other UN Women priority goals, raise funds and build partnerships. She is promoting public awareness through education, dialogue and cooperation with schools, communities and governments. 

“It is truly an honour to become the first UN Women Goodwill Ambassador to Asia and the Pacific,” Bishop said. “My mother instilled in me very early on a strong sense of justice and fierce belief in the resilience and strength of women, and these values continue to guide me today. I am so deeply grateful for the opportunity to work towards achieving greater gender equality in the region, especially in the areas of eliminating gender-based violence and in providing equal opportunity for girls and women to realize their full potential.” 

Bishop is one of Thailand’s leading campaigners on ending violence against women. 

In early 2018, she came across a newspaper headline about Thai authorities telling women to not look “sexy” if they want to avoid sexual assault during the Thai new year festival. Having experienced violence herself at the festival, Bishop spoke out in a social media video hashtagged #DontTellMeHowtoDress. #DontTellMeHowtoDress quickly evolved into a movement championing gender equality and has been extensively covered by local and international media. 

In July 2018, Bishop collaborated with UN Women to organize the Social Power Exhibition Against Sexual Assault. The exhibition was supported by United Nations agencies; the governments of Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; embassies; the media; and civil society and youth groups. Bishop worked with civil society organizations in the Philippines and Singapore on #DontTellMeHowToDress. 

In November 2018, Bishop received the “Activist of the Year Award” from the office of the Prime Minister of Thailand. 

Bishop also is the Knowledge Director of Dragonfly360, a regional platform that advocates for gender equality in Asia. She is writing a series of children’s books on safety, rights and respectful relationships.

“Your strong commitment to ending violence against women, demonstrated through your creation of the #DontTellMeHowtoDress movement and your work with UN Women so far, has shown you to be a compelling and eloquent advocate,” UN Women Regional Director Mohammad Naciri said in inviting Bishop to be UN Women regional goodwill ambassador.

UN Women is the United Nations organization dedicated speeding up progress on gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide.  

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