Remarks by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, at the high-level side event of the UN General Assembly, “Gender-Based Violence in a COVID-19 context – activating collective responses, innovative partnerships and proven policies”


[As delivered]

Over the past several months, we have seen many governments and other partners take swift action to address gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we have also seen failures, neglect of women, and fault lines.

The positive actions that we have seen, and that we want to learn from, include women’s rights organizations integrating their actions on ending violence against women as they were implementing the response to the pandemic and their plans for recovery. We have seen responses that include provision of essential services for survivors of violence; prevention of violence against women through awareness-raising and social protection; and the collection of data to inform policies and programmes in many countries and that enables us to plan better.

There has also been significant innovation during this time, with the adaptation of services through the use of technology, and the strengthening of multi-sectoral partnerships and multilateralism. The UN-EU Spotlight Initiative programming clearly demonstrated this across five regions, and we see the need to do more of this work.

UN Women has been grateful to be in partnership with many of you and, of course, is here to continue to work together for the long haul through the planned activities of Generation Equality.

The pandemic has forced us all to think differently and re-build better and that is now what we need to spell out in much more detail. What does it mean to build back better in the context of violence against women, for instance?

One of the ways in which we are going to build back better is going to be through Generation Equality. You have heard the statement from the leaders of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence. This is the first ever multi-stakeholder and inter-generational platform with the objective of creating a compelling political compact and driving long-term change to end gender-based violence. The Action Coalitions are not just on gender-based violence; we also have Coalitions on other topics of Generation Equality. This Coalition brings together Member States, youth, private sector, researchers and academics, and UN agencies, with UN Women and WHO being the two UN agencies that are going to be supporting this particular Action Coalition on gender based violence.

This partnership model builds on ways we are already supporting governments and other stakeholders, through extensive global policy and thought leadership that has made sure that we establish very healthy and good working relations with stakeholders.

In 28 countries, for instance, we worked with governments to integrate gender-based violence measures into their COVID-19 responses and fiscal stimulus packages. We supported 44 countries to continue legal and policy reforms on violence against women and harmful practices. In Liberia, our continuous advocacy with civil society organizations and through Spotlight resulted in the government declaring a national emergency on rape.

We supported women with cash transfers and broader social protection measures.

We built on our partnerships with the private sector and major technology platforms to adapt services to survivors and address impunity through police and justice responses in over 40 countries.

Our offices around the world have partnered with tech giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook to provide important information about helpline services for domestic violence survivors, for example with WhatsApp in Zimbabwe supporting youth leaders. And for women at global level we partnered with the Global Network for Women’s Shelters and the National Network for Ending Domestic Violence, to build a global repository of helplines for gender based violence survivors along with Facebook.

In countries where the digital divide is larger, we built on partnerships with civil society organizations and traditional and faith leaders to increase community outreach on COVID.

This morning we had a very interesting discussion with traditional leaders who were warning us about the increase in child marriage. Some of them also shared the steps they have taken, including passing bylaws in their chiefdoms that enable them to stop violence against women and intervene when there is a forced marriage in their community. In Malawi, we have supported the establishment of the National Faith Leaders Platform. But I have to say that this is not enough because the problem is so big. There is still much more to do, which is why we need this Coalition.

To get real-time information, we conducted rapid assessment surveys in over 30 countries, and tracked the gender equality content of policy responses, including on gender based violence, in 136 countries working together with UNDP.

We will embark on a new partnership to collect critical data on violence against women in 25 countries and strengthen our methodologies, including in humanitarian settings.

I am proud that more than 80 per cent of UN-Women’s Spotlight partners are local grass-roots organizations, many with a special focus on the needs of marginalized groups of women who most need our support, like the local NGOs we support. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, we work with disabled women, transgender and LGBTIQ populations and women living with HIV.

I would also like today to announce that our UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which is managed by UN Women on behalf of the UN System, has responded rapidly to support its network of 144 civil society organizations – 59 per cent of which are women’s organizations – across 69 countries. They are made up of women from all walks of life, who are female phenomena.

The UN Trust Fund has approved the immediate reallocation of existing funds to enable civil society organizations to respond efficiently to pressing challenges and the safety of their staff, and to ensure institutional sustainability, manage potential organizational risks, and make sure that women and girls receive essential support. In May 2020, in partnership with the Spotlight Initiative and the European Union, the UN Trust Fund allocated an additional $9 million for immediate support to all of its existing grantees in sub-Saharan Africa in the context of COVID-19.

The latest UN Trust Fund assessment, released today, underlines these needs, showing for example, grantees operating shelters to protect women who are escaping violence in countries including Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Liberia, Mongolia and Tunisia. They all report a rapid increase in intake since the pandemic. Hardship and vulnerability are accelerated when women have to sell land to survive, as grantees in Bangladesh reported.

With UN Trust Fund support, civil society organizations are able to adapt to respond. For example, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa in South Sudan helps women and girls recover economically by training them in the production of masks and reusable sanitary pads.

Innovation and organizations like these are key to our response – and we need these for the long-term.

Today I am also delighted to announce that the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women will invest USD 11 million to further support such efforts. This new funding was made possible by generous contributions of a number of Member States and we thank them for that.

These are many significant actions. But there are just as many challenges, so there is room for all of us to contribute, to collaborate and to expand our work. We encourage others to follow suit with flexible funding and to engage women’s expertise and women’s organizations in all parts of the world. In these efforts of mobilizing women to end gender-based violence we must make sure that we leave no one to be a bystander.

I thank you for your participation today and for your continued engagement and fight against gender-based violence.