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A call to action to tackle rise in gender-based violence

Members and supporters of feminist groups scuffle with police during a protest in Mexico City, 27 September 2020. Mexico has been witnessing several protests in the past few months against gender-based violence. Credit: Keystone/EPA EFE/Sashenka Gutierrez

As instances of gender-based violence (GBV) continue to rise around the world, the Call for Action initiative has set out a five-year plan to put tackling GBV at the top of the humanitarian agenda.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is on the rise, as restrictions on movement and isolation measures imposed to halt the spread of Covid-19 exacerbate existing gender inequalities, economic stresses, and social pressures that put women at risk of violence. 

The Call to Action initiative has launched a new ‘road map’ to address GBV in humanitarian crises and improve access to GBV services immediately after emergencies. 

“Whether she lives in a house or in a tent in a refugee camp, every woman has the right to peace in the home,” said Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), speaking at a high-level sideline event to the UN General Assembly on Friday. 

A partnership of over 80 global donors, states, international organisations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Call to Action initiative aims to ensure the needs and rights of women and girls are prioritised in humanitarian emergencies. The new Road Map, launched on Friday, outlines steps to tackle GBV over the next five years. 

Why now? Speaking at the event, UN relief chief Mark Lowcock noted that the new road map could not be more timely.  

“We already know that gender-based violence has increased everywhere since the pandemic began,” he said. “We see a surge in family disputes, in intimate partner violence and in child marriage. We see girls dropping out of school, many of them with little hope of returning, leaving them…at greater risk of gender-based violence and early marriage.”

Lowcock outlined the UN’s work to tackle GBV in recent years, including scaling up GBV services such as community-based protection and sexual health services, and ensuring these can run while other health systems are strained by Covid-19.

However, he added, “the rhetoric is way ahead of the reality of our collective action, and of the effectiveness of that action. We are not meeting the needs of women and girls in the way we all want.”