As COVID-19 exposes the fault lines of gender equality, a strong focus on violence against women at the UN General Assembly

Call to action to FUND-RESPOND-PREVENT-COLLECT to world leaders to urgently address violence against women and girls


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(New York, 29 September) — With alarming rise of domestic violence reports during the pandemic lockdowns from millions of women worldwide, UN Women convened today a high-level meeting with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Member States, UN agencies, activists, the private sector and philanthropies. The spotlight was on the urgent need for targeted investments, commitments and innovative new ways of tackling the exponential increase in gender-based violence around the world since the onset of COVID-19. 

Prior to the pandemic, violence against women was already alarmingly high, with nearly one in five women (18 per cent) experiencing violence in the past 12 months at the hands of an intimate male partner. With COVID-19, an increased reporting of domestic violence has surfaced, with a staggering 40 per cent rise in some countries. As the UN Secretary-General called for “peace at home” in April, 146 Member States responded with their strong statement of commitment. In response, in recent months 135 countries have strengthened actions and resources to address violence against women as part of the response to COVID-19, with stronger essential services, such as shelters, helplines and other reporting mechanisms. Yet, much more is needed. Only 48 countries, less than a quarter of those analyzed, are treating violence against women and girls-related services as an integral part of their national and local COVID-19 response plans, with very few adequately funding these measures.

To address the gaps, there is a need to mobilise all actors to address gender-based violence in the context of COVID-19, and to FUND women’s organisations and services, RESPOND by strengthening services to survivors, PREVENT by addressing harmful social norms that normalise violence against women and COLLECT data to inform policies and programmes.

Taking place on the margins of the 75thsession of the UN General Assembly, and ahead of the high-level meeting on 1st October to mark the 25th anniversary of the landmark Beijing Platform for Action, the virtual event, a first of its kind, today brought together different stakeholders , around the urgent issue of gender-based violence in this pandemic world, led by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Women.

Their call to action was clear: a higher level of ambition is needed to make the necessary policy changes, investments and partnerships to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence. 

Speaking in a video message, the UN Secretary-General António Guterreswhile commending the efforts so far, strongly underlined, “We urgently need new thinking and momentum on this critical issue,” he said. “Together, we must tackle male violence that affects everyone and damages everyone. We need to increase accountability and question attitudes and approaches that enable violence. And we must provide resources for women’s civil society organizations on the front lines.”

Research shows that due to the crisis, many women’s organizations, crisis centers, helplines and shelters have had severe funding cuts and are struggling to continue service delivery. For example, a recent survey in the UK indicates that 76 per cent of front-line services for survivors of violence have had to reduce their service delivery due to COVID-19. 

Civil society organizations are reporting that one of the most significant drivers of violence against women and girls in the COVID-19 context is the economic impact on families and communities. Boosted funding for civil society organizations who are on the front line of the pandemic response was highlighted by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as she shared the latest report from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. From Ethiopia to Tunisia, from Mongolia to Bangladesh, the latest assessments with inputs from 144 CSOs funded by the UNTF in 69 countries released today, shows a continued and significant increase in reports of violence, and need for additional funds and services to meet the demand. 

In May 2020, in partnership with the Spotlight Initiative and the European Union, the UN Trust Fund allocated an additional USD 9 million for immediate support to all of its existing grantees in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, UN Women Executive Director announced that the UN Trust fund will invest a further USD 11 million. 

“Innovation and partnership are key to tackling gender-based violence and rebuilding better – now and in the longer-term,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “We must join forces on a common blueprint to end violence against women and girls that gives us tangible action, flexible funding and measurable results. It will take all of us working together on this: the UN, with governments, the private sector, faith leaders’ networks, philanthropic organizations and civil society.”

The European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen, a strong partner to the UN on addressing gender-based violence, including through the EU-UN Spotlight initiative, which represents the largest-ever single investment in ODA on addressing violence against women said:.

Joining in, grantees of the UN Trust fund who are actively responding to the pandemic shared their recommendations for a more robust response to support their fight on the frontlines of gender-based violence:

Action Coalitions

To accelerate long term change, innovative partnerships are critical to eradicate gender-based violence, and today’s event featured a call to action by the recently launched Generation Equality Action Coalition on Gender-based Violence. The Action Coalitions, which were launched in the context of the Generation Equality Forum, are a global, innovative, multi-stakeholder platform to drive commitments, concrete actions and financing over the next five years in support of gender equality during the UN Decade of Action (2020-2030). The 15 leaders of the Action Coalition for Gender-Based Violence, who are UN Member States, civil society, the private sector, philanthropies and international organizations, issued a strong statement, and outlined steps needed to bring real change:

Echoing their support, representatives from Mexico and France, Ms. Elisabeth Moreno, Minister Delegate for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities of France, and Ms. Martha Delgado Peralta, Under-Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, as co-conveners of the Generation Equality Forum to be held in 2021, also delivered a strong message of solidarity at the event. 

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