Whether at home, at work, on the street or even on the internet, women and girls around the world remain highly vulnerable to gender-based violence, something that the COVID-19 pandemic has only done magnify, six senior UN female leaders said Thursday.
Senior officials, including Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and the heads of major UN agencies, discussed ways to end this “invisible emergency” at a round table held at UN headquarters in New York.
The frank and open conversation was organized by the Spotlight Initiative, a joint UN and European Union (EU) program working to end violence against women and girls.
UN Women / Erica Jacobson
16 Days of Activism against Violence Against Women
Clear and very current danger
In a video opening the debate, the UN No. 2 described gender-based violence as a “clear and current danger” for millions of women and girls around the world.
The moderator Melissa Fleming, head of the Department of Global Communication (DGC), asked her about the impact of violence against women in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
“In essence, what it does is jeopardize all targets,” Mohammed explained. “Because if only 50% of humanity is not assured of this – whether it be ending poverty, access to education or decent work – everything is in danger.”
Not so invisible
Gender-based violence permeates all aspects of life, whether public or private, said Reem Alsalem, an independent UN human rights expert. Furthermore, it begins early, in childhood, and represents a “continuum” of violence.
“That is why I also wonder if we are really talking about an invisible emergency since it is quite visible to those who want to see it,” said Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women.
“It’s a bit like the climate crisis. The evidence is there. We can see it, we can see the consequences.”
The debate capped off the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women, an annual global campaign that runs from November 25 to December 10, Human Rights Day.
According to Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, gender-based violence has increased dramatically around the world, although we do not have enough statistics.
The increased use of digital technology during the pandemic also created an online “danger zone” for women and girls, she noted, where they are harassed and harassed.
Mexicans march on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Afraid to speak
This issue was raised by Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who spoke about the risks faced by young women and adolescents on the internet, As the grooming (pedophile cyber cheating) and the sextingsending sexually explicit text messages or images), which can harm your mental health.
The UN has described the increase in gender-based violence that has spread with COVID-19 as a “shadow pandemic”. Despite the increase in incidents, women remain reluctant to speak out about the abuse they have suffered.
A UN Women survey of 16,000 women in thirteen countries revealed that, although one in two said that she, or a woman she knew, had been a victim of some form of violence since the start of the pandemic, only one in ten reported the matter to the police.
Social media is a very important part of young people’s lives. Therefore, they must be protected in these channels against gender violence.
In addition, data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that last year 47,000 women and girls were killed at the hands of their partners or relatives.
For Sima Bahous, the newly appointed executive director of UN Women, the low level of trust of women in the institutions that are supposed to protect them was concerning. He fears that women are being victimized twice.
“First, they suffer violence. Then they experience the lack of support services and justice when they seek them. And, many times, when they report, and have access to these services, the aggressors are rarely brought to justice,” he lamented.
End the culture of silence
The UN continues to work both to dismantle what some of the participants called the “conspiracy of silence” surrounding violence against women and girls, and to ensure that they can speak out and report.
Thanks to the Spotlight Initiative, some 650,000 women and girls were able to access services despite the current pandemic.
Fore also highlighted some of UNICEF’s activities in countries such as Mexico, where the agency negotiated a collaboration with the government and the hospitality sector to provide safe havens in hotels for surviving women and their children, essential during the pandemic.
On the other hand, in Ecuador, Iraq and Lebanon, UNICEF created safe virtual spaces to provide greater access to services and information for women and girls, particularly those who have disabilities or face other forms of marginalization. .
“Could these initiatives and many others be scaled up around the world?” Fore was asked. Yes, was his answer, adding that the Spotlight Initiative serves as a common space for collaboration for UN agencies.
Ghada Waly, director of the Office on Drugs and Crime, pointed to another positive development arising from the pandemic. Governments now realize that they must invest in digitization and online platforms, including in the legal arena. He also highlighted other areas for improvement.
“We know that women are safer when there are more female police officers, when there are more female judges, when there is equality and gender representation among those who make decisions and receive calls for help.”