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Spotlight Initiative combats gender-based violence during COVID-19 pandemic

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Young girls campaign to end violence against women and girls in El Salvador. © UNICEF

Despite COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, some 650,000 women and girls were provided with gender-based violence services through a joint UN and European Union (EU) programme working to stamp out what is arguably one of the most prevalent human rights violations. 

This is just one of the achievements detailed in the Spotlight Initiative’s impact report for 2020-21, launched in New York on Friday. 

Rising to the challenge details how the partners rapidly adjusted programmes during the global crisis to address the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls. 

COVID-19 continues to exacerbate violence against women and girls in a context of sustained and new backlash against women’s rights globally,” said Sima Bahous Executive Director of UN Women, which supports governments in achieving gender equality. 

“Now more than ever we need concentrated action to protect the gains made and to guard against reversals.” 

Grassroots support 

The Spotlight Initiative is the world’s largest targeted effort to end all forms of violence against women and girls. 

In addition to scaling up services during the pandemic, it assisted civil society organizations to swiftly adapt to the changing environment and to strengthen online services, such as telecounselling and hotlines. 

Funds were also shifted to support more local and grassroots organizations, with $146 million allocated to date.   

Targeting men and boys 

Additionally, some 880,000 men and boys were educated on positive masculinity, respectful family relationships, non-violent conflict resolution and parenting. 

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reported on some of the activities across the globe.  

“In Malawi, we are working with community organizations and media partners to raise awareness among educators, young people, and especially boys. These efforts are helping to increase reporting and providing girls and women with faster and more effective support,” she said. 

Promoting stronger laws 

Violence against women and girls, which exists in all societies, is often compounded by other humanitarian crises and has only intensified during the pandemic. 

Achim Steiner, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), stated that although strong strategies and legal frameworks do not guarantee the end of gender-based violence, “they are essential to making a dent in this global scourge.”  

For example, the Spotlight Initiative has helped 17 Latin American countries to fully incorporate femicide in their penal codes, and to add clauses that severely punish perpetrators. 

“We have also worked with thousands of parliamentarians, for instance through collaborating with UN Women, in setting up a COVID-19 global response gender tracker to try and allow legislators and policy makers to immediately draw, in the midst of the pandemic, on best practices and the ability to actually act on violence against women, and working with well over 1,000 local and grassroots women’s organizations,” he said. 

Taking it forward 

To build on achievements so far, the EU and UN have decided to develop a Spotlight Global Platform which combines a knowledge hub, community of practice and “advocacy instrument” grounded in the practical experience gained through the initiative. 

Olaf Skoog, Ambassador of the EU Delegation, said even though incidences of violence against women and girls worldwide have been devastating, the partnership has yielded impressive results. 

“We always say that if we are to make a better world, it has to start at home. And here at the UN, we are busy on a daily basis trying to resolve the major conflicts of the world.  But part of that has to be that we are very effective fighting the violence in our own societies,” he said. “And no society is free of this plight.”

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Europe accuses US of ‘profiting from war’

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Top European officials are furious with Joe Biden’s administration and now accuse the Americans of making a fortune from the war, while EU countries suffer. “The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that is most profiting from this war is the U.S. because they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons,” one senior official told POLITICO.

Washington announced a $369 billion industrial subsidy scheme to support green industries under the Inflation Reduction Act that Brussels went into full-blown panic mode. “The Inflation Reduction Act has changed everything,” one EU diplomat said. “Is Washington still our ally or not?”

“We are really at a historic juncture,” the senior EU official said, arguing that the double hit of trade disruption from U.S. subsidies and high energy prices risks turning public opinion against both the war effort and the transatlantic alliance. “America needs to realize that public opinion is shifting in many EU countries.”

The biggest point of tension in recent weeks has been Biden’s green subsidies and taxes that Brussels says unfairly tilt trade away from the EU and threaten to destroy European industries. Despite formal objections from Europe, Washington has so far shown no sign of backing down.

As they attempt to reduce their reliance on Russian energy, EU countries are turning to gas from the U.S. instead — but the price Europeans pay is almost four times as high as the same fuel costs in America. Then there’s the likely surge in orders for American-made military kit as European armies run short after sending weapons to Ukraine.

Officials on both sides of the Atlantic recognize the risks that the increasingly toxic atmosphere will have for the Western alliance.

“The U.S. is following a domestic agenda, which is regrettably protectionist and discriminates against U.S. allies,” said Tonino Picula, the European Parliament’s lead person on the transatlantic relationship.

Cheaper energy has quickly become a huge competitive advantage for American companies, too. Businesses are planning new investments in the U.S. or even relocating their existing businesses away from Europe to American factories. Just this week, chemical multinational Solvay announced t is choosing the U.S. over Europe for new investments, in the latest of a series of similar announcements from key EU industrial giants.

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American view: ‘Putting an end to Volodymyr Zelensky’s follies!’

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“Zelensky comes out of the process smelling really bad as he has worked assiduously at blaming Russia, which clearly is not true,” – writes Philip Giraldi from Ron Paul Institute.

One week ago, he reminds, the Ukrainian government may have deliberately attacked neighbor Poland in an attempt to draw the NATO alliance into its war with Russia. The incident involved a missile that hit a grain processing site inside Poland and killed two farmers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately blamed Russia for the incident even though he surely must have known that the missile had been fired from Ukraine, meaning that he may have been using a so-called “false flag” to create a false narrative of what had occurred.

Given the fact that Zelensky has been saying and doing everything possible to draw the US and NATO into fighting Russia on his behalf, I believe that the missile strike was quite plausibly a deliberate “false flag” attempt to start a much broader war.

That such a war could easily turn nuclear reveals just how reckless Zelensky can be. One NATO country foreign diplomat based in Kiev told “The Financial Times”, that “This is getting ridiculous. The Ukrainians are destroying [our] confidence in them. Nobody is blaming Ukraine and they are openly lying. This is more destructive than the missile.”

There has been considerable speculation that the unregulated and unmonitored flow of billions of dollars of US taxpayer provided money through Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt government provided a perfect mechanism for large scale money laundering.

Even assuming that the Ukrainian missile strike on Poland was due to some malfunction, Zelensky comes out of the process smelling really bad as he has worked assiduously at blaming Russia, which clearly is not true.

He is using his contrived narrative to dramatically expand the war by creating a situation which would bring NATO directly into the conflict and which could easily go nuclear.

Indeed, he is attempting to compel NATO participation.

Beyond that, the US and NATO, burdened with such an “ally,” should take immediate steps to disengage from supporting the fighting and call for a negotiated settlement of the conflict.

To be sure, Zelensky is capable of anything and no lie is too mendacious for the former comedy actor who is now basking in the glow of his celebrity, writes Philip Giraldi.

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Iran’s Parliament approves bill on accession to SCO

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Iran’s Parliament has approved by a majority vote a bill on the Islamic republic’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), according TASS information.

205 parliamentarians voted for the bill, 3 voted against and 4 abstained.

On September 30, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi signed a bill on the country’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. According to the Young Journalists Club news agency, Raisi sent the bill to the country’s parliament for consideration.

Iran signed a memorandum on liabilities for joining the Organization.

The Organization’s summit in Uzbekistan on September 15-16 launched the procedure of admitting Belarus as a full-fledged member.

Egypt and Qatar were granted a dialogue partner status, while Bahrain, Kuwait, the Maldives, Myanmar, and Saudi Arabia began the procedure for obtaining this status.

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