Women continue to be under-represented in key decision-making over the battle against COVID-19, the chief of the UN gender empowerment agency said on Thursday, addressing the Security Council, adding that the situation is even “worse for women in conflict areas”.
“In war zones and everywhere in the world”, individuals are “calling for inclusion and representation, which is one of the main reasons why so many ordinary people are taking to the streets, organizing protest and raising their voices”, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasized to the 15-member body.
Meanwhile, Secretary General António Guterres reiterated his call for a global ceasefire, underscoring that the COVID-19 pandemic is “the greatest test” the international community has faced since the Second World War.
“I appealed for an immediate global ceasefire so that we could focus on our common enemy: the COVID-19 virus”, he said.
Pointing to the 20-year-old landmark resolution 1325, he noted that in supporting the global ceasefire, the Council made a “strong and valuable link” to the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
COVID-19 and resolution 1325
Citing the resolution, Mr. Guterres observed that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate negative impact on women and girls, leaving them victims of rising gender-based violence while simultaneously diverting resources from their health care, including sexual and reproductive services, as well as threatening long-term impacts on women’s employment and girls’ educations.
“This will contribute to the continued marginalization of women from political decision-making and peace processes, which damages everyone”, he upheld.
Leading the charge
Moreover, women are on the front-line responses of the pandemic, keeping communities, economies and societies running through their crucial work as care givers, nurses, teachers and farmers, among other vital services. And they are peacebuilders at the local level and in communities around the world.
“We must also recognize women who step up every day in conflict zones to help those at risk, mediating between groups to enable access by civilians and humanitarian aid, building trust and strengthening social bonds”, Mr. Guterres continued.
Noting that the resolution calls for women to be in positions of leadership and decision-making, the top UN official remarked their “remarkable” successes in containing the pandemic while also supporting livelihoods.
“This confirms an obvious truth: Institutions, organizations, companies, and yes, Governments work better when they include half of society, rather than ignoring it”, he stressed, saying that women are “essential to peace and progress for all”.
In addition to turning the climate crisis around, reducing social divisions and making sustained peace, “women’s leadership in all spheres will be critical to finding the fastest, safest route through this pandemic, and to building a more peaceful and stable future”, added the Secretary-General.
Continuing the uphill battle
Over the past two decades that the resolution was adopted, women have made important strides towards inclusion, but gender equality remains aloof.
The UN chief painted a picture of power structures dominated by men, including that women lead only seven per cent of the world’s countries; mostly men make decisions about international peace and security; and while women are represented in UN mediation teams, “they remain largely excluded from delegations to peace talks and negotiations”.
Women’s meaningful participation in mediation “broadens the prospects for peace, stability, social cohesion and economic advancement”, stated the Secretary-General, advocating for innovative, “rapid and decisive’ solutions to include them in peace processes.
“Women must be included as a priority from the outset”, he said urging all States to use their “political influence, funding and support to incentivize and create conditions for women’s equal representation and participation in peace talks”.
UN on record
The UN chief outlined his work in ending discrimination against women within the Organization and affirmed the importance of women’s “full participation for uniformed personnel”.
He commended the Council for passing the first resolution this year focused on women in peacekeeping, noting that although the numbers are still too low, they continue to increase significantly, which is an important trend as women bring their own perspectives and expertise to every issue, including peace and security.
The women, peace and security agenda challenges the relentless focus on interstate conflict at the expense of measures to protect women with 20 years of research and practice demonstrating the close links between gender equality, conflict prevention, and peace.
“For Governments and international institutions everywhere, gender equality is one of the surest ways of building social cohesion and trust, and inspiring people to be responsible, participating citizens”, he flagged.
“We cannot wait another twenty years to implement the women, peace and security agenda”, concluded the Secretary-General. “Let’s start that work together, today”.
Women step up, speak out
Adding her voice, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Danai Gurira, who is also an actor and award-winning playwright, said that when women make their mark “in spite of impossible odds” it was not because they were given “the space and the opportunity, but because they protested against their exclusion and persisted”.
In her briefing, Zarqa Yaftali, Afghan Activist and Executive Director of Women and Children Legal Research Foundation said that “peace cannot come at the cost of women’s rights”.
“All we have achieved hangs in the balance in the current notiations between the Talban and the Afghan Government”, she asserted.
EU to support COVID-19 vaccination strategies and capacity in Africa
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has announced today €100 million in humanitarian assistance to support the rollout of vaccination campaigns in Africa, which are spearheaded by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). Subject to the agreement of the budgetary authority, this funding will support the vaccination campaigns in countries with critical humanitarian needs and fragile health systems. The funding will, among others, contribute to ensuring the cold chains, roll-out registration programmes, training of medical and support staff as well as logistics. This sum comes on top of €2.2 billion provided by Team Europe to COVAX.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said: “We’ve always been clear that the pandemic won’t end until everyone is protected globally. The EU stands ready to support the vaccination strategies in our African partners with experts and deliveries of medical supplies at the request of the African Union. We are also exploring potential support to boost local production capacities of vaccines under licensing arrangements in Africa. This would be the fastest way to ramp up production everywhere to the benefit of those that most need it.”
Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management, said: “International vaccine solidarity is a must if we are to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic. We are looking at ways to use our humanitarian aid and civil protection tools to help in the rollout of vaccination campaigns in Africa. Ensuring equitable access to vaccines for vulnerable people, including in hard-to-access areas, is a moral duty. We will build on our valuable experience in delivering humanitarian aid in a challenging environment, for example via the Humanitarian Air Bridge flights.”
Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, added: “Team Europe has stood by the side of our African partners from the onset of the pandemic and will continue to do so. We have already mobilised more than €8 billion to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. We are strengthening health systems and preparedness capacities, which is absolutely key to ensure effective vaccination campaigns. And we are now exploring support through the new NDICI and how to leverage investments in the local production capacities through the External Action Guarantee.”
The EU also has a range of instruments at its disposal, such as the EU Humanitarian Air bridge, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, and the EU’s humanitarian budget. These tools have been used extensively in the context of COVID-19 to deliver crucial material and logistical assistance to partners in Africa.
The Commission is also currently exploring opportunities to support African countries in the medium term to establish local or regional production capacity of health products, in particular vaccines and protective equipment. This support will come under the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and the European Fund for Sustainable Development plus (EFSD+).
The EU has been scaling up its humanitarian engagement in Africa since the onset COVID-19 crisis. A key of part of these efforts is the EU Humanitarian Air Bridge, which is an integrated set of services enabling the delivery of humanitarian assistance to countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The air bridge carries medical equipment, and humanitarian cargo and staff, providing humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable populations where the pandemic imposes constraints on transport and logistics. The air bridge flights are fully funded by the EU. So far, almost 70 flights have delivered over 1,150 tons of medical equipment as well as nearly 1,700 medical and humanitarian staff and other passengers. Flights to Africa have aided the African Union, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan.
20th International Economic Forum on Africa
The global economic recession triggered by COVID-19 is hitting African countries hard. In 2020, 41 African economies experienced a decline in their gross domestic product (GDP). Although situations vary across the continent, this crisis has made clear that post-COVID strategies need to tackle two major obstacles to Africa’s long-term sustainable growth: dependence on external markets, and the incapacity of the formal economic sectors to create enough quality jobs.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), now open for business, provides a platform to accelerate productive transformation, create regional value chains and spur continental integration. Its effective implementation, however, depends on African economies’ capacity to create fiscal space and boost private investment in quality infrastructure and sustainable projects.
What are the key priorities for implementing the AfCFTA and accelerating Africa’s productive transformation? How can African governments strengthen their borrowing capacity and improve their debt management? How can bilateral and multilateral co-operation facilitate the process? The 2021 edition of the Forum will gather all key actors to share their views and solutions for action.
The Forum hosts Europe’s largest annual conversation on Africa’s ongoing, formidable transformation. It invites African and OECD policy makers, investors, academics, civil society and international organisations to share their views, and discuss how better policies can improve development outcomes for Africans and the world.
To host the Forum, the Government of Senegal, is teaming up with the Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; and the African Union, along with partners Casa Africa, le Cercle des Economistes, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC).
The debates will build on the findings of the recently launched Africa’s Development Dynamics 2021, a report by the African Union Commission, produced in collaboration with the OECD Development Centre.
Honourable speakers include:
- Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal
- Andry Rajoelina, President of the Republic of Madagascar
- Toshimitsu Motegi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan
- Angel Gurría, Secretary-General, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
- Moussa Faki Mahamat, President, African Union Commission
- Ibrahim A. Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer, African Union Development Agency (AUDA/NEPAD)
- Arkebe Oqubay, Senior Minister and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia
- Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General, AfCFTA Secretariat
- Jean Hervé Lorenzi, President, Cercle des Economistes
- Rémy Rioux, Director-General, Agence Française de Développement
DR Congo: Lives and futures of three million children at risk
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on Friday, highlighted the dire situation of some three million displaced children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who face brutal militia violence and extreme hunger.
Whole villages have been set ablaze, health centres and schools ransacked, and entire families – including children – hacked to death, in a series of merciless attacks in eastern DRC by fighters using machetes and heavy weapons, UNICEF said in a news release. Communities have been forced to flee with only the barest of possessions.
“Displaced children know nothing but fear, poverty, and violence. Generation after generation can think only of survival”, Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative for the DRC, said.
“Yet the world seems increasingly indifferent to their fate. We need the resources to continue helping these children have a better future.”
There are some 5.2 million displaced people in the DRC, about half of whom were displaced in the last twelve months, according to UN data. The overall figure includes about three million children.
Families forced from their homes and villages are compelled to live in crowded settlements lacking safe water, health care and other basic services. Others are taken in by impoverished local communities. In the most violence-afflicted provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika, more than 8 million people are acutely food insecure.
Sharp rise in violations against children
UNICEF’s report Fear and Flight: An uprooted generation of children at risk in the DRC, released on Friday, underscores the gravity of the crisis.
The report recounted testimony of children who have been recruited as militia fighters, subjected to sexual assault, and suffered other grave violations of their rights – abuses that registered a 16 per cent increase in the first six months of 2020 compared to the previous year.
However, delivering relief assistance to populations who have been displaced is complex, and often hampered by insecurity and a weak transport infrastructure.
A rapid response programme directed by UNICEF with partner NGOs offers a temporary solution, providing tarpaulins, cooking utensils, jerrycans and other essentials to nearly 500,000 people in 2020, said the UN agency.
According to Typhaine Gendron, the Chief of Emergency for UNICEF in DRC, such emergency distributions help deal with the “immediate shock” of being displaced. They are also part of an integrated response that looks to address a family’s broader needs in health, nutrition, protection, water and sanitation (WASH), or education, she added.
Additional funds desperately needed
While the volatile security situation is a major concern for aid workers and UNICEF personnel engaged in the humanitarian response, additional funds are also desperately needed. UNICEF’s 2021 humanitarian appeal for the country, amounting to about $384.4 million is only 11 per cent funded.
Without timely and adequate funding, UNICEF and its partners will not be able to provide critical services addressing the acute humanitarian needs of almost three million Congolese children and their families and protect and promote their rights, the agency warned.
UNICEF Representative Beigbeder stressed the urgency, “without sustained humanitarian intervention, thousands of children will die from malnutrition or disease, and displaced populations will not receive the basic lifesaving services they depend on.”
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