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Vienna Discussion Forum 2019 on ending violence against women

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The first Vienna Discussion Forum, a platform to discuss and call for action on gender equality within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressed gender-based violence from the perspective of the respective mandates of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), namely women’s economic empowerment (SDGs 8 and 9), and crime prevention, criminal justice responses (SDG 16). The Forum, which marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), was organized by UNIDO and the UNODC, together with the representatives of Finland, Norway and Sweden.

It is clear that we need to develop comprehensive approaches to address violence against women. Crime prevention and criminal justice responses and women’s economic empowerment can complement each other in this endeavour,” said UNIDO Director General LI Yong. “We work together with governments, the private sector and civil society to develop gender-responsive and inclusive industrial policies. We aim to promote enabling working environments that allow for women to thrive both professionally and personally.”

The Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov and H.E. Thomas Blomqvist, Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Equality of Finland, joined the Director General in opening the event. Fedotov underscored that “gender-based violence stops women and girls from exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms. It hinders achievement of all of the Sustainable Development Goals – not only Goal Five on gender equality – and holds back humanity from fulfilling our potential”.

Minister Blomqvist reminded the audience that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were adopted almost 25 years ago”, but while “considerable progress has been made, we still have a long way to go”.

The opening remarks were rounded off by H.E. Lourdes Victoria Kruse, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations in Vienna, who recounted the story of the Mirabal sisters, three Dominican political activists whose assassination on 25 November 1960 is remembered as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Vienna Discussion Forum revolved around a morning panel discussion related to UNODC’s mandate, discussing crime prevention and criminal justice responses to violence against women, and a UNIDO-led afternoon panel discussion on women’s economic empowerment and the resilience that increased economic opportunity can foster against violence and abuse.

Moderated by Monica Carco, the Chief of UNIDO’s Rural Entrepreneurship, Job Creation and Human Security Division, the afternoon panel united Laura Capobianco, Global Advisor on Safe Public Spaces at UN Women, Beatrice Gakuba, Executive Director of AWAN-Africa, Sami Nevala, Policy Coordinator for Statistics at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and Haya Sheikh Yasin, CEO of Quick Packaging Company, a member of the Palestine Businesswomen Association.

The discussion concluded that women’s economic and social empowerment is among the strategies that are effective in preventing violence against women. However, to ensure empowerment is not met with backlash, the creation of economic opportunities for women should be accompanied by i.e. community-based interventions and the development of policies and institutions that address the multiple forms of structural discrimination that still exist; while the occurrence of violence against women is independent of development status, this is especially important in specific regional contexts, such as those of extreme poverty, conflict or displacement. Panellists called on the international community to take action by urging for more solidarity and concerted and intersectional responses by governments, civil society and international organizations to violence against women. Panellists also highlighted education as a transformative measure to allow women to economically emancipate themselves and counter detrimental social norms, such as child marriage. Finally, the importance of engaging men in the discussion around gender-based violence, was raised.

As organizers, the Director General of UNIDO, the Executive Director of UNODC and the Permanent Representatives of Finland, Norway and Sweden came together as five International Gender Champions in organizing the Vienna Discussion Forum. The outcome will feed into the review process of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is envisioned that the Vienna Discussion Forum will be turned into an annual platform to address gender equality in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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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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Human Rights

Clashes in Myanmar displace thousands

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As of the start of 2021, about one million people are in need of humanitarian aid and protection in Myanmar. Pictured here, an IDP camp in Myanmar’s Kachin province. (file photo) UNICEF/Minzayar Oo

Clashes between the Myanmar security forces and regional armed groups, which have involved military airstrikes, have reportedly claimed the lives of at least 17 civilians in several parts of the country, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday. 

In a humanitarian update, issued on Tuesday, the Office also noted unconfirmed reports of several thousand people fleeing the hostilities in recent days in the Kayin and Bago regions, in central Myanmar, near Yangon. A medical clinic is also reported to have been damaged in gunfire in a township in Mon state, also in the central part of the country. 

An estimated 7,100 civilians are now internally displaced in the two regions due to indiscriminative attacks by the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF), and the Karen National Union (KNU), as well as growing insecurity since December 2020, according to the update. 

UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] is engaging with partners on the ground to explore possibilities to deliver critical humanitarian assistance and support to the displaced. A further 3,848 people in Kayin State have crossed the border to Thailand since 27 March, due to fears of further hostilities in the area”, OCHA said. 

The majority are believed to have returned to Myanmar with Thai authorities saying that 1,167  remain in Thailand as of 1 April, the Office added. 

‘Deep concern’ over continued impact of the crisis 

Meanwhile, the wider political crisis across Myanmar continues to hit life hard across the southeast Asian nation. 

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has received credible reports of at least 568 women, children and men, have been killed since the military coup on 1 February, though there are fears that total is likely much higher. 

Concerns have also been raised over the impact on Myanmar’s health and education systems, as well as the long-term effects of the violence on children

The longer the current situation of widespread violence continuous, the more it will contribute to a continuous state of distress and toxic stress for children, which can have a lifelong impact on their mental and physical health, senior UN officials warned last week. 

Since 1 February, there have been at least 28 attacks against hospitals and health personnel and seven attacks against schools and school personnel, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters at a press briefing at the UN Headquarters, in New York, on Tuesday. 

“Attacks against health volunteers and against ambulances are preventing life-saving help from reaching civilians wounded by security forces,” he added. 

UN agencies have also reported reported sharp increases in food and fuel prices in many parts of Myanmar, on the back of supply chain and market disruptions. Humanitarians worry that if the price trends continue, they will “severely undermine” the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.

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Guterres: Use COVID-19 recovery to make inclusion ‘a reality’

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Building a more inclusive and accessible world that recognizes the contributions of all people, including persons with disabilities must be a “key goal” as countries work to recover from COVID-19 pandemic, United Nations Secretary-General said on Friday, commemorating World Autism Awareness Day. 

“The crisis has created new obstacles and challenges. But efforts to reignite the global economy offer an opportunity to reimagine the workplace to make diversity, inclusion and equity a reality”, Secretary-General António Guterres said

“Recovery is also a chance to rethink our systems of education and training to ensure that persons with autism are afforded opportunities for realizing their potential”, he added. 

Breaking ‘old habits’ crucial 

Mr. Guterres also emphasized that breaking old habits will be crucial. For persons with autism, he added, access to decent work on an equal basis requires creating an enabling environment, along with reasonable accommodations. 

“To truly leave no one behind in pursuit of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, we must realize the rights of all persons with disabilities, including persons with autism, ensuring their full participation in social, cultural and economic life”, he said. 

“Let us work together with all persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to find innovative solutions to recover better and build a better world for all.” 

Inequalities worsened by COVID-19

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), one in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD begins in childhood and tends to persist into adolescence and adulthood. 

Intervention during early childhood is important to promote the optimal development and well-being of persons with an ASD, WHO added, emphasizing the importance of monitoring of child development as part of routine maternal and child health care. 

While some individuals with ASD are able to live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. Persons with an ASD are also often subject to stigma and discrimination, including unjust deprivation of health care, education, protection under law, and opportunities to engage and participate in their communities.

The World Day

The World Autism Awareness Day, to be commemorated annually on 2 April, was established in December 2007 by the UN General Assembly, which affirmed that “ensuring and promoting the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities is critical to achieving internationally agreed development goals”. 

The General Assembly also highlighted the importance of early diagnosis and appropriate research and interventions for the growth and development of the individual, and called for efforts to raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding children with autism. 

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