As the COVID-19 pandemic and a prevailing culture of impunity threatens progress achieved on gender equality and ending violence against women and girls, UN Women is calling for robust and decisive action in response to this unprecedented crisis on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
In the run up to the 2021 Generation Equality Forum - where global actors will step up to make bold new commitments to eradicate violence against women - governments, civil society, youth, influencers and the private sector will lend their voices for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a global mobilization campaign that runs from 25 November until 10 December. Together, they will demand a reset and to build a "new normal" that delivers a future without violence for all women and girls.
Even before COVID-19, violence against women was one of the most widespread violations of human rights, with almost 18 per cent of women and girls experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner over a 12-month period.
As the pandemic raged on, an alarming upsurge of the "shadow pandemic" of violence against women became evident, with increased rates of reporting on domestic violence, as well as in the streets, online and in a variety of settings. Calls to helplines increased up to five-fold in some countries during the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak - while in others, they decreased given the inability of women to seek help through the regular channels, while sheltered in place with their perpetrators.
Projections show that for every three months the lockdown continues, an additional 15 million women are expected to be affected by violence.
"We have seen the whole world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all hands on deck, and with responsive investment and protocols backed by determination. Violence against women is also a pandemic - one that pre-dates the virus and will outlive it. As we face COVID-19's devastation, there has never been a more important moment to resolve to put our combined resources and commitment behind the biggest issues, and to end violence against women and girls, for good," said UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
In response to a "cease-fire at home" called by the UN Secretary-General earlier this year, almost 150 countries agreed to make ending violence against women and girls a key part of their response plans for COVID-19. Many have followed through with stronger essential services, such as shelters, helplines and other reporting mechanisms.
Yet, only 48 countries, less than a quarter of the 206 analyzed in a recent study, treated violence against women and girls-related services as an integral part of their national and local COVID-19 response plans, with very few adequately funding these measures.
Addressing the pervasive under-resourcing of this critical issue, UN Women has convened the Action Coalition on Gender-based Violence, an innovative partnership of governments, civil society, youth leaders, private sector and philanthropies to develop a bold agenda of catalytic actions and leverage funding to eradicate violence against women. These bold actions and investments will be announced at the Generation Equality Forum in 2021, in Mexico and France, along with those of other five Generation Equality Action Coalitions.
Orange the World: Fund, Prevent, Respond, Collect!
The 16 Days of Activism, which is powered by grassroots organizations globally, is an opportunity to leverage the renewed sense of urgency COVID-19 has created and propel concrete action against gender-based violence. In the lead up to the International Day commemoration, UN Women has appealed to Member States to make concrete, tangible commitments during the 16 Days of Activism.
This year's theme, "Orange the World: Fund, Prevent, Respond, Collect!", announced by the UNiTE campaign, bolsters the UN Secretary-General's appeal and UN system-wide rapid response to the alarming surge in violence against women and girls seen this year.
"Together, we must tackle male violence that affects and damages everyone - families and communities, societies and economies - and holds back all our efforts for peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. We need to increase accountability and question attitudes and approaches that enable violence. And we must provide resources for women's civil society organizations on the front lines," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In that vein, this year's campaign urges all governments and partners to accelerate concrete policy responses within four areas:
- FUND essential services on gender-based violence and women's organizations working on the issue in all COVID-19 response efforts
- PREVENT gender-based violence though mobilization campaigns and a zero-tolerance policy
- RESPOND to survivors' needs for services like hotlines, shelters and justice response, even during lockdowns
- COLLECT data to improve services, programmes and policies.