How Spotlight Initiative is working toward Generation Equality

Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2021

This story has been adapted from the original version published by The Spotlight Initiative.

Girls and women in Mozambique celebrate the launch of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Photo: Leovigildo Nhampule/UN Women
Girls and women in Mozambique celebrate the launch of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Photo: Leovigildo Nhampule/UN Women

The Generation Equality Forum, a civil society-centred, global gathering for gender equality kicked off in Mexico City, Mexico on 29 March. Convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, the Forum aims to secure ambitious commitments to progressing gender equality by mobilizing governments; women’s, feminist, youth-led and international organizations; and the private sector.

The Generation Equality Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) has made four recommendations to accelerate progress to eliminate violence against women and girls. Find out how Spotlight Initiative is responding to these rallying cries below.

1. More states and regional actors must ratify international and regional conventions and public and private sector institutions must strengthen, implement and finance evidence-driven laws, policies and action plans to end gender-based violence against women and girls in all their diversity. 

silhouette of a young woman in a doorway. Photo: UNICEF
Photo: UNICEF Nigeria

In 2019, Spotlight Initiative contributed to the signing or strengthening of 41 laws that respond to violence against women and girls in 15 countries. This work continued in 2020. In Kyrgyzstan, the Initiative worked with civil activists and lawyers to change Kyrgyzstan's alimony laws and ensure that women receive financial support after a separation or divorce.

In Latin America, the Spotlight Initiative is supporting the development of a protocol to better protect women human rights defenders — critical given the region is the most dangerous place in the world for human rights defenders, according to data from Front Line Defenders. UN Women is making sure that the protocol has a gender perspective and integrates elements that allows responding to the specific needs of women human rights defenders of the region in their diversity. For achieving this, the draft of the Protocol it's being discussed in direct and broad consultations with the women human rights defenders of the region, as well, qualitative and quantitative evidence on their main needs have been generated and analyzed.

In Nigeria, the Initiative worked with the Ministry of Women's Affairs and community leaders and organizations to help end the “Money-Woman” custom, in which girls are promised to men in marriage in order to settle a debt. This practice often leads to underage marriage, physical and sexual violence, and forced labour. UN Women engaged the community to abolish this harmful practice in partnership with male engagement implementing partner, African Center for Leadership and Development (Center LSD) through targeted advocacy and community sensitization with various community stakeholders, including a virtual national roundtable conference for traditional and religious leaders; while utilizing an accountability framework developed by UN Women Country Office in Nigeria for traditional and religious leaders to guide their approach to eliminating harmful practices.

“It was not a happy marriage,” says Chief Egu*, 65, who was formerly in a Money-Woman marriage. “[My wife] was too young and married off against her will, she was unhappy.” After speaking with a chief who had attended Spotlight Initiative-supported training, Mr. Egu agreed to return his wife to her family. In 2020, the Council of Chiefs held a press conference publicly condemning the practice, as well as introducing penalties for offenders.

2. Scale up implementation and financing of evidence-driven prevention strategies by public and private sector institutions and women’s rights organizations to drive down prevalence of gender-based violence against women, adolescent girls and young women in all their diversity including in humanitarian settings. 

Girls in El Salvador learn about their rights through theatre. Photo: UNICEF.
Girls in El Salvador learn about their rights through theatre. Photo: UNICEF.

Evidence shows that prevention is the most cost-effective, long-term way to stop violence. This is why Spotlight Initiative invests the largest share of its resources in tackling the root causes of gender-based violence — discriminatory and patriarchal gender norms, and harmful stereotypes and behaviours.

To support the next generation of change-makers, youth and adolescents are heavily engaged in programming. For example, in El Salvador, which has one of the world’s highest rates of femicide, school children learn about their rights through the use of theatre and the arts. In San Martín, Spotlight Initiative has partnered with the local municipality to use games, puppets, painting and crafts as vehicles to speak to young people about violence prevention. “I have the right to control my own body,” says Lady Carmoda, 8, who participated in a play called ‘The Train of Rights’. "There are laws that protect girls.” 

Additionally, in San Martin City, 240 young people have joined a municipal decision-making body to ensure that the ideas and needs of young people are incorporated into local policy — including those of vulnerable women and

3. Scale up implementation and financing of coordinated survivor-centered, comprehensive, quality, accessible and affordable services for survivors of gender-based violence against women and girls in all their diversity including in humanitarian settings.

Spotlight Initiative is helping to remove many of the barriers that prevent survivors of violence from seeking help by streamlining, integrating and financing GBV support services. For example, in Mozambique, Spotlight Initiative is supporting ‘one-stop centres’ that allow survivors of violence to report their attacker, seek medical attention and access counselling at a single location without having to retell their story multiple times or relive their trauma.

When Amina*, 14, was raped, she contacted a local organization in Nampula who referred her case to a one-stop centre for GBV survivors. Once there, an integrated team of trained health staff, social workers, police and justice staff helped her. The team registered her case in a single confidential file to be used across sectors. They also referred Amina to a hospital where she received vital care. Justice services followed up on her case and, as a result, Amina’s attacker was sentenced to 12 years in prison. “When people take their case to a one-stop centre, they can solve it without any problem,” said Amina. 

4. Enhance support and increase accountability and quality, flexible funding from states, private sector, foundations, and other donors to autonomous girl-led and women’s rights organizations working to end gender-based violence against women and girls in all their diversity.

A woman speaks to a training session in Myanmar. Photo: UN Women/Nassarus Thuantongkhum/Kith&Kin
Photo: UN Women/Nassarus Thuantongkhum/Kith&Kin

Spotlight Initiative recognizes that civil society organizations (CSOs), grassroots organizations and women-led and feminist organizations are best placed to understand and respond to their local context. Fifty per cent of funds in 2019 were budgeted for civil society organizations. Additionally, civil society is engaged across all Spotlight Initiative programming through Reference Groups that both advise and hold us accountable.

In 2020, COVID-19 made it difficult for many organizations – particularly small women’s organizations – to continue their work. In response, the UN Trust Fund to EVAW, administered by UN Women, allocated a further US$9 million to support existing grantees in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Flexible funding is critical in allowing organizations to pivot their activities to meet demand. In Viet Nam, for example, Spotlight Initiative support meant a local women’s shelter was able to staff its helpline overnight during COVID-19 lockdowns. UN Women strongly advocated for shifting some of the programme funds to rapidly respond to COVID-19, which included hiring more helpline operators to respond to the increased number of calls to helplines and enabling counsellors to receive calls from their own homes. “[During lockdown] we get many calls late at night or early in the morning while the abuser is sleeping. For this reason, we had to open the hotline number 24/7 so we don’t miss an urgent call for help,” said Linh*, a hotline worker from Hanoi. “Support from the Spotlight Initiative’s Safe and Fair Programme was extremely timely as it meant we could hire more hotline operators for the night shift.” 

The Spotlight Initiative will continue working hand in hand with governments, service providers, civil society organizations and activists to ensure that women and girls everywhere can live a life free from violence.

*The name has been changed to protect the person’s identity.