Gender-based violence can be a form of genocide, and has been recognised as such since Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin first coined the term ‘genocide’ in the aftermath of World War II.
Today the issue of genocide continues to loom large.
In 2018, the international community marks the 70th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines the crime of genocide under international law and obliges states parties to prevent and punish this crime. It also marks the 20th anniversary of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handing down the first international conviction of an individual for genocide. Furthermore, it marks the 10th anniversary of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s request for an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on charges of genocide and other crimes against ethnic groups in Darfur.
It is the year that the UN Human Rights Council found that there were serious grounds to believe that Myanmar’s Rohingya people have been subject to genocide, just two years after concluding that Iraq’s Yazidi people had likewise been subjected to that crime. And it is the year that the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – a joint initiative of the Cambodian government and the UN – convicted two surviving leaders of Pol Pot’s regime for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. It cuts across all generations, nationalities, communities and spheres of our societies, irrespective of age, ethnicity, disability or status.
One out of three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
Domestic violence, including intimate partner violence, remains the most prevalent form of violence against women and girls, reportedly causing more deaths than in civil wars.
More than 700 million women alive today were married as children (before the age of 18), with more than one third married before their 15th birthday.
An estimated 200 million women and girls have experienced the human rights violation known as female genital mutilation.
Across the globe, the #MeToo movement has brought attention to the fact that millions of women and girls still face the threat of sexual harassment and violence in public spaces, the workplace, in school and at home.
A barrier to realizing the world we want
If the current rates and trends for gender inequality and violence persist, it will be impossible for the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – the global commitment to end all forms of poverty, inequality and tackle climate change by the year 2030.
To achieve the world we want, all women and girls must fully enjoy their human rights and live free from violence and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.
In fact, eliminating all forms of harmful practices and violence and against women and girls are specific targets under the Sustainable Development Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
The good news
There is now an unprecedented and global effort to remove this primary obstacle to achieving a sustainable world free from poverty, hunger and inequality.
I work for the Spotlight Initiative – a new global multi-year partnership between the European Union and United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
Launched last year with a five-year funding commitment of €500 million from the European Union, the Initiative represents the single largest global investment in gender equality and women’s empowerment as a precondition and driver for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the next few years, we will invest in innovative programmes and projects that respond to all forms of violence against women and girls, with a particular focus on ending domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence, harmful practices, femicide, trafficking in human beings and sexual and economic (labour) exploitation.
A comprehensive response
While many different efforts to confront these issues exist, the Spotlight Initiative’s comprehensive programme design, theory of change and its high-level political and financial commitments promise to deliver meaningful results on a large scale.
Programmes funded by the Initiative will simultaneously address legislative and policy gaps, strengthen institutions, promote gender-equitable attitudes, provide quality services for survivors and reparations for victims of violence and their families. Interventions will also strengthen systems for collecting data on violence and empower women’s movements.
A pivotal year ahead
By the first quarter of 2019, we will have invested €325 million – 65% of our overall funding envelope – to fund programmes to eliminate violence against women and girls reaching 170 million people in 24 countries.
In Latin America, we will fund initiatives to end femicide – when a woman or girl is killed based on gender – in Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. 12 women are killed because of their gender every day in the region.
In Africa, we will begin implementing interventions to end sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and promote access to sexual and reproductive health in Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
In Asia, we are already funding a regional programme to strengthen rights-based and gender-responsive approaches to labour migration. The “Safe and Fair” programme will address vulnerabilities to violence and trafficking and the support the delivery of essential services for women migrant workers in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
New programmes to end domestic violence in the Caribbean and the Pacific are currently under development.
One of our goals at Spotlight is to demonstrate to the world that significant, concerted and comprehensive investments in gender equality can make a transformative difference in the lives of women and girls.
We want to show that the United Nations and its agencies, national governments, civil society, donors, academia and the private sector can work closely together and join resources to solve an issue affecting half of the world’s population.
While €500 million is the largest investment ever made to end violence against women and girls, much more resources and commitments will be needed to improve the lives of girls and women everywhere.
We want to work hand-in-hand with everyone from world leaders to local communities to end violence against women and girls. Learn more about us and our work at spotlightinitiative.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalSpotlight.
Over the past few decades, feminist activity has spread to more than a hundred countries in both old (street marches and ), and new forms (e.g. the exploding digital activism of the #metoo movement). This past success, however, does not justify complacency about the inevitability of progress on women’s rights, which continues to be strongly contested around the world. Indeed, the spread of feminist activism has increased the frequency of state repression specifically focused on women’s organizing; and transnational campaigns funded by donors in rich countries have pushed opposition to what they call “gender ideology,” sponsoring initiatives to resist and roll back attitudinal and policy changes in women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and related areas.
Across the world we are witnessing an atmosphere of backlash to efforts to address broader gender equality efforts and campaigns to address violence against women and the LGBTIQ community. Resistance to progressive schools curricula designed to improve acceptance and awareness of gender inequality and LGBTQ rights has emerged in Peru on the Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas (“don’t mess with my kids”) campaign, and is a phenomenon in Colombia, Mexico, France, Poland, and Canada and Australia. In the USA, recent reports indicate the Trump Administration is seeking to remove the word “gender” from UN documents and domestically, erasing LGBTQ people from websites and other government documents.
At the same time, funding for women’s initiatives is declining. Development assistance targeted to women has declined 20% overall. Similarly, funding from the USA, a major source of funding for women’s organizations worldwide, has also declined. This decline means a loss of material support for women-focused initiatives, including vital resources for anti-violence against women initiatives.
These factors are contributing to a worrying trend in women’s organizing, which in spite of the explosive growth in the eighties and nineties, has stalled globally. And even the best funded organizations need more support. Women’s organizations have tiny budgets compared with other social movement organizations: AWID found that the combined budget of the 1000 women’s organizations they studied was $106 million, a figure dwarfed by the budgets of even a single organization in the environmental field such as Greenpeace at $309 Million, or child well-being such as Save the Children. 1.442 Billion. (AWID 2013).
Women’s activists worry that core funding focused on feminist values and purposes is hard to come by, with funding increasingly tied to specific programs, and funded by corporate interests or offered in partnership with such interests. Those organizations who are at the forefront of identifying the intersectional nature of violence against women, find funding particularly hard to secure. This situation makes it difficult for women’s organization to set their own agenda, which is essential for those seeking to address violence against women.
Given the worrying context of backlash and funding cuts, during these 16 days of activism, we must call for greater support for women’s own efforts to address violence and oppression. Feminists’ activists have drawn the connection between women’s rights and human rights; this equation must remain at the forefront of efforts to address the violence and oppression that blocks our pathways to greater democracy, peace and sustainability.