Stories you may have missed: A look back at 2016

Date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The year 2016 marked the first implementation year of the Sustainable Development Goals, which put women’s empowerment and gender equality at the centre of development efforts. It was also a year in which disasters uprooted communities in the Pacific and the world witnessed the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Women were massively impacted by the devastation wrought by nature and war, yet at the same time also took leadership in times of crises. From changing the narrative of peacebuilding in Colombia, to new laws that promoted women’s participation in politics in Liberia and Tunisia, we take a look back at some UN Women stories that captured events, which may not have made the headlines, but are certainly worth telling.

Are women at the heart of humanitarian action?

Lenche Zdravkin. Photo: Mirjana Nedeva
Lenche Zdravkin. Photo: Mirjana Nedeva

“It took me only two days to realize who they were and why they were passing by my house by the railway track,” says Lenche Zdravkin, a legend in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The refugee crisis changed her life. 

As Anthony Ngororano, UN Women Representative in Haiti flew over the coastal town of Jeremie in Southern Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, the devastation below was overwhelming. Months have passed since then, and women’s needs are urgent and different—from safe spaces to protect them from gender-based violence to cash-for-work programmes that can help them rebuild their lives. Read Ngororano's expert take from HaitiDonate to help.

Leading up to the World Humanitarian Summit, a diverse group of over 130 Syrian women political and civil society activists met in Beirut, Lebanon from 20-22 May. Overcoming significant political divides, they forged a statement of unity. These are their messages »


Women lead climate action

Our climate is changing, with devastating impact on species and ecosystems. Women farmers in Morocco are preserving and planting traditional seeds, and indigenous women in Laramate, Peru are returning to ancestral farming techniques for healthier crops and improved incomes.

Awa Ndiaye Seck Photo: UN Women DRC
Awa Ndiaye Seck. Photo: UN Women DRC

Women make up to 80 per cent of all farmers in some places in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where consistently higher temperatures and heavier floods and drought are impacting crops. But women farmers have less access to arable land, financing and technologies. At COP22, we spoke to Awa Ndiaye Seck, UN Women Country Representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, about climate-smart agriculture.


Getting more women in politics

Barbara Garma Soares, from Suku Sau, is one of 21 women elected Xefe Suku (Village Chief) in local elections in Timor-Leste. Photo credit: UN Women/Corinne Roberts
Barbara Garma Soares, from Suku Sau, is one of 21 women elected Xefe Suku (Village Chief) in local elections in Timor-Leste. Photo credit: UN Women/Corinne Roberts

More women in politics make for stronger democracies. But in a year where elections featured prominently in the news, the gaps were stark. As of June 2016, only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women. But from Liberia to Tunisia and Moldova, 2016 also saw new progressive laws to facilitate women’s participation in politics.

Meet Barbara Garma Soares from Suku Sau, a coastal fishing village in Timor-Leste. She is one of 21 women elected as Xefe Suku (Village Chief), in Timor-Leste’s local elections held on 13 November. 

When women build peace

In 2016, the Colombian peace talks and the resulting agreements illustrated how the entire narrative of peace changes when women play a key role in the talks. Debora Barros Fince had just graduated from law school when the paramilitary massacred her community in Villa Portete. Read about what peace means, from where Debora stands.

Syrian Women's Advisory Board member Monira Hwaijeh speaks at the UN Women organized panel discussion. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Syrian Women's Advisory Board member Monira Hwaijeh speaks at the UN Women organized panel discussion. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Amidst the dismal news of escalating conflict in Syria, women of Syria raised their voices as a strong constituency for peace this year. In an unprecedented move, the UN Special Envoy for Syria established the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board (WAB) this year. Monira Hwaijeh, one of 12 members of WAB, shared her experience.


Women on the move

Women represent almost half of the 244 million migrants and half of the 19.6 million refugees. Ahead of the first-ever high-level UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, where governments discussed a global compact for safe, regular and orderly migration and a global compact on responsibility-sharing for refugees, we spoke to women refugees and migrant workers from around the world about their journeys and experiences.

 Zanep with her daughter Marija, at Vinojug in July 2016. Photo: UN Women/Ventura Formicone
Zanep with her daughter Marija, at Vinojug Transit Centre in July 2016. Photo: UN Women/Mirjana Nedeva

Zanep Hasi from Aleppo, Syria, reached the refugee transit centre Vinojug, located near the border with Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, following a perilous journey. At the transit centre, Hasi gave birth to a daughter, Marija, now four months old. The transit centre is the only home that Marija has ever known. Since March 2016, several countries along the “Balkan route” closed their borders to refugees and migrants from Syria and its neighbouring countries. Hasi and her children were stuck between a past she tried to escape and a future she was trying to reach. 

In the past two decades, an annual average of 172,000 Filipino women have left the country as migrant workers, majority of them as domestic workers.

Photo essay: In the Philippines, women migrant workers rebuild lives, advocate for each other

A global programme by UN Women, “Promoting and Protecting Women Migrant Workers’ Labour and Human Rights”, supported by the European Union and piloted in the Philippines, works to build the capacities of migrant women’s organizations and networks to better serve and assist women migrant workers.
Members of the “Promoting and Protecting Women Migrant Workers’ Labour and Human Rights” Programme in the Philippines. Photo: UN Women/Norman Gorecho

No sustainability without ending violence against women

Donate to end violence against women

One in three women experience violence, often perpetrated by someone they know and love. The cost of intimate-partner violence amounts to 5.2 per cent of the global economy. Where’s the money to end this pandemic? Read more »

In 2016, some of the girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria returned home. But what happens after we bring back the girls? Supporting them requires investment in rebuilding their lives after Boko Haram.

Marina and her children in the My Home Crisis Centre in Temirtau, Kazakhstan. Photo: UN Women Kazakhstan Multi-Country Office
Marina and her children in the My Home Crisis Centre in Temirtau, Kazakhstan. Photo: UN Women Kazakhstan Multi-Country Office

Kazakhstan’s non-state domestic violence centres cannot keep up with the demand due to funding shortfall. For women escaping violence, the centres provide safe housing and life-saving services. Take Marina’s story, for example. As long as Marina can remember, she has suffered violence. She finally found safety and support at the My Home Crisis Centre. Today, she is working in a bakery and supporting herself and her children. She is on a waitlist for a home of her own! Read more »


Empowered women, resilient economies

Mama Nalepo in her shop in the local market of Mamura village in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Deepika Nath
Mama Nalepo in her shop in the local market of Mamura village in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo: UN Women/Deepika Nath

If women in every country were to play an identical role to men in markets, as much as $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025. The Maasai women in northern Tanzania stepped out of their bomas (homesteads), acquired land for the first time, and set up cross-border trade after receiving trainings in entrepreneurship and land rights. In Afghanistan, where negative perceptions and stereotypes routinely limit women’s economic empowerment, an internship programme is opening doors for young women.

This year, the UN High-Level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment, with UN Women as its Secretariat, came out with its first findings. Among other measures, the report highlighted the need to bring women’s informal work from the margins to the mainstream and to recognize, reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid work and care.

Scoring for gender equality through sport

In the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, 45 per cent of all athletes were women, and gender equality was in the spotlight. See more »

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), together with UN Women, presented an innovative programme, ‘One Win Leads to Another’, which is building the leadership skills of adolescent girls in Brazil through quality sport training and creating safe spaces for girls.

Photo essay: For adolescent girls in Brazil, ‘One Win Leads to Another’

Every day after school, 30 girls meet at the Olympic Vila of Mangueira—one of 22 public spaces with free sports facilities managed by the municipality in the north of Rio de Janeiro— to play basketball.
Girls meet at the Olympic Vila of Mangueira to play basketball. Photo: UN Women/Gustavo Stephan