UN steps-up action against gender-based violence

Credit: UNFPA-UNICEF Nepal / KPanday

The UN has allocated new funding for women-led initiatives that combat gender-based violence.

The UN has released $25m in emergency funds to tackle escalating levels of gender-based violence (GBV) and protect the lives of women and girls during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The funding has gone to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women, which will help victims and survivors with access to services such as medical care, family planning, legal advice, safe spaces, mental health services and counselling.

“It’s time to say ‘enough’ to gender-based violence and to prioritise the rights and needs of women and girls in humanitarian crises,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA, said in a statement.

“In 2019, nearly 40 per cent of UNFPA's humanitarian funding went to national and local partners. We look forward to making an even bigger impact together with life-saving interventions to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and advance sexual and reproductive health,” she added.

Before the pandemic, one in three women, or some 243 million, experienced GBV. It's even worse now. In March, UNFPA projected that gender-based violence would rise by 20 per cent during lockdown, leading to an additional 15 million cases for every three months lockdowns continue. UNFPA also projects that there will be an additional 13 million child marriages and two million cases of FGM as a result of Covid-related programme disruptions.

The UNHCR says refugees, displaced and stateless women are most at risk from GBV as the pandemic continues, including intimate partner violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced marriage.

The UNHCR-led Global Protection Cluster, a network of UN agencies and NGOs providing protection to people affected by humanitarian crises, said it was seeing higher incidences of violence against women in most of its operations, caused by the compounded effects of confinement, deepening poverty and economic pressure, and warned that the sale or exchange of sex as an economic coping mechanism is also on the rise in many countries.

UN Women, meanwhile, said that while reported incidents of GBV are on the rise in many countries, access to health, support and legal services is limited. Some domestic violence shelters have reached capacity, with many resources being diverted to Covid-19 relief. Mark Lowcock, head of the UN's humanitarian emergency response body, said some 30 per cent of the UN emergency funds will go to women-run organisations assisting victims.

“The high levels of gender-based violence that women and girls experience, especially in countries that are in crisis and in need of humanitarian assistance, remains one of the greatest injustices in our world, ”UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in a statement.

“Putting these resources into the hands of women-led organisations that respond to gender based violence in humanitarian settings is essential to address the needs of survivors and to strengthen systems to prevent and promote accountability, so that we finally end this scourge.”

The announcement on Thursday came at the start of the UN's annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an awareness initiative that runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to Human Rights Day on 10 December.