Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum 2022 (SVRI) shed some light on the best ways forward.
Bringing together over 1,000 researchers, practitioners, policymakers and activists in Cancún, Mexico, the forum highlighted new research on what works to stop and address one of the most widespread violations of human rights.
While some participants candidly – and bravely – shared that their initiatives did not have the intended impact, many discussed efforts that transformed lives, in big and small ways.
After 5 days of the forum one thing was clear; a lack of evidence is not what is standing in the way of achieving a better future. It is a lack of opportunities and the will to apply that evidence.
Among the many shared findings, UNDP presented its own evidence.
Since 2018, the global project on Ending Gender-based Violence and Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a partnership between UNDP and the Republic of Korea, and in collaboration with United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, has tested new approaches for preventing and addressing gender-based violence, to galvanize more and new partners, resources, and support to move from rhetoric to action.
Three key strategies have emerged.
1. We need to integrate
Gender-based violence (GBV) intersects with all areas of sustainable development. That means that every development initiative provides a chance to address the causes of violence and to transform harmful social norms that not only put women disproportionately at risk for violence, but also limit progress.
Bringing together diverse partners to jointly incorporate efforts to end GBV into “non-GBV” programmes has been central to the Ending GBV and Achieving the SDGs project. Pilots in Indonesia, Peru and the Republic of Moldova integrated a GBV lens into local development planning.
The results were local action plans that focused on needs and solutions identified by the communities themselves, including evidence-based GBV prevention programming such as the Common Elements Treatment Approach, which has been proven to reduce violence along with risk factors such as alcohol abuse. This approach is growing, opening up new and more spaces for this work.
2. We need to elevate
While evidence is crucial to creating change, the work doesn’t stop there. We also need to elevate this evidence to policy makers and to support them in putting the findings into action. In our global project, we went about this in different ways.
In Peru women’s rights advocates and the local government worked together to draft a local action plan to address drivers of violence in the community of Villa El Salvador (VES). By working collaboratively and building trust between key players, the project was able to take a more holistic approach and to create stronger alliances to boost its sustainability and impacts.
In particular, the local action plan was informed by cost analysis research that showed that this approach would pay for itself if it prevented violence for only 0.6 percent of the 80,000-plus women in VES who are at risk for violence every year.
Since the pilot’s launch, more than 15 other local governments have expressed interest in the model, and it has already been replicated in three.
3. We need to finance
Less than 1 percent of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) and philanthropic funding is given to prevent and address GBV, despite the fact that roughly a third of women have experienced physical or sexual violence.
The “Imperative to Invest” study, funded by the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative and presented at the SVRI Forum, shows just what can be achieved with a US$500 million investment. The study highlights that Spotlight’s efforts will have prevented 21 million women and girls from experiencing violence by 2025.
The Ending GBV and Achieving the SDGs project also finds positive results when financing local plans. Through pilot initiatives in Peru, Moldova and Indonesia, it was possible to mobilize funds when different municipal governments take ownership of participatory planning processes at an early stage.
The local level is a key, yet an often overlooked, entry point to identifying community needs and, through participatory, multi-sectoral partnerships, to translate them into funded solutions.
In Moldova the regional government of Gagauzia assigned funds to create the region’s first safe space, with the support of the community.
The SVRI Forum was living proof that a better future is possible. It offered profound moments for thoughtful exchange, learning with partners and peers, and deepened our own reflections on the outcomes and next steps for this global project.
As we approach the final countdown to meeting the SDGs, including SDG5.2 on eliminating violence against women and girls, it has never been more urgent to take all this evidence and turn it into action against gender-based violence. Let’s act today.
Jacqui Stevenson is Research Consultant UNU International Institute for Global Health, Jessica Zimerman is Project Specialist, Gender-based Violence, UNDP, and Diego Antoni is Policy Specialist Gender, Governance and Recovery, UNDP.
IPS UN Bureau
– A sign outside the United Nations reads, perhaps half-seriously, that it is a “No Drone Zone”—and “launching, landing or operating Unmanned or Remote-Controlled aircraft in this area is prohibited”.
The “warning” comes even as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – are some of the new weapons of war deployed mostly by the US, and more recently, by Iran, Ukraine and Russia in ongoing military conflicts.
But the unarmed versions continue to be deployed by UN peacekeeping forces worldwide and by national and international humanitarian organizations.
In a recently-released report, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA says for women in Botswana, especially those living in remote communities where medical supplies and blood may not be in stock, giving birth can be life-threatening.
In 2019, the country recorded a maternal mortality rate of 166 deaths per 100,000 births, more than double the average for upper-middle-income countries.
Lorato Mokganya, Chief Health Officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, is quoted as saying that when a woman has lost a lot of blood during childbirth and may need to be transferred to a bigger medical facility, she first needs to be stabilized where she is before being driven out of that place. Timely delivery of blood can be lifesaving.
“A drone can be sent to deliver the blood so that the patient is stabilized,”
In an effort to curb the country’s preventable maternal deaths and overcome geographical barriers this innovative initiative will revolutionize the delivery of essential medical supplies and services across Botswana, says UNFPA.
Joseph Chamie, a former director of the UN Population Division and a consulting demographer., told IPS the increased use of drones for humanitarian and peacekeeping missions of the United Nations is certainly a good idea and should be encouraged.
“Why? Simply because the numerous benefits from the use of drones greatly outnumber the possible disadvantages”.
As is the case with all new technologies, he pointed out, resistance to the use of drones is to be expected. The public’s distrust in the use of drones is understandable given their use in military operations and surveillance activities.
Also, it should be acknowledged that drones could be misused and efforts are needed to ensure privacy, security and safety, said Chamie.
“In brief, the use of drones should be promoted and facilitated in the work of the UN’s humanitarian and peacekeeping operations as it will greatly enhance the effectiveness of their vital work,” he declared.
Drones have been deployed in several UN peacekeeping missions, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda—going back to 2013.
Although this technology is not a magic solution, “the promise of drones is really tremendous,” says Christopher Fabian, principal advisor on innovation at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
For UNICEF and other humanitarian and development agencies, he said, in an interview with UN News, drone technology can make a big difference in three ways.
First, drones can leapfrog over broken infrastructure in places where developed transportation networks or roads do not exist, carrying low-weight supplies.
Second, UAVs can be used for remote sensing, such as gathering imagery and data, in the wake of natural disasters like mudslides, to locate where the damage is and where the affected peoples are.
Third, drones can extend wi-fi connectivity, from the sky to the ground, providing refugee camps or schools with access to the Internet.
As big as a Boeing 737 passenger jet and as small as a hummingbird, a huge variety of drones exist. According to research firm Gartner, total drone unit sales climbed to 2.2 million worldwide in 2016, and revenue surged 36 per cent to $4.5 billion.
Although UNICEF’s use of drones has been limited, the agency is exploring ways to scale up the use of UAVs in its operations, Fabian said.
“Hardware itself does not violate human rights. It is the people behind the hardware,” said Fabian, stressing the need to “make sure that any technology we bring in or work on falls within the framing of rights-based documents,” such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
UNICEF has a set of guiding principles for innovation, which includes elements like designing with the end-user.
For drone applications to spread further, Fabian said, the UN has a strong role in advocating this technology and ensuring that policy is shared with different governments.
In addition, governments have to clearly define why they need drones and what specifically they will be used for, while also building up national infrastructure to support their use.
The private sector must understand that the market can provide them real business opportunities.
In 10 to 20 years, drones might be “as basic to us as a pen or pencil,” said Fabian.
“I believe this technology will go through a few years of regulatory difficulty but will eventually become so ubiquitous and simple that it’s like which version of the cell phones you have rather than have you ever use the mobile phone at all,” he said.
Meanwhile, armed UAVs are being increasingly used in war zones in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and most recently Ukraine.
The US has launched drone strikes in Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan targeting mostly terrorist groups. But the negative fallout has included the deaths of scores of civilians and non-combatants.
In recent months, the use of drones by both Russia and Ukraine has triggered a raging battle at the United Nations while Iran has launched drone attacks inside Iraq.
The US, France, UK and Germany have urged the UN to investigate whether the Russian drones originated in Iran. But Russia has denied the charge and insisted the drones were homemade.
Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, urged Secretary-General António Guterres and his staff on October 25 not to engage in any “illegitimate investigation” of drones used in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, going back to 2017, Malawi, in partnership with UNICEF, launched Africa’s first air corridor to test the humanitarian use of drones in Kasungu District.
Also with UNICEF, Vanuatu has been testing the capacity, efficiency and effectiveness of drones to deliver life-saving vaccines to inaccessible, remote communities in the small Pacific- island country, according to the United Nations.
Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands separated over 1,600 kilometres. Many are only accessible by boat, and mobile vaccination teams frequently walk to communities carrying all the equipment required for vaccinations – a difficult task given the climate and topography.
To extend the use of drones, UNICEF and the World Food Programmes (WFP) have formed a working group.
In addition, UNICEF, together with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), chairs the UN Innovation Network, an informal forum that meets quarterly to share lessons learned and advance discussions on innovation across agencies, the UN points out.
“Drones are also used in other parts of the UN system. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its partners have introduced a new quadcopter drone to visually map gamma radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged by the devastating 2011 tsunami”.
ROMEO, or the Remotely Operated Mosquito Emission Operation, met the competition’s aim of improving people’s lives. It was designed to transport and release sterile male mosquitoes as part of an insect pest birth control method that stifles pest population growth.
Some UN peacekeeping missions, such as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and the Central African Republic, have deployed unarmed surveillance UAVs to improve security for civilians, according to the UN.
The UN, however, warns that drone technology can be a double-edged sword. UN human rights experts have spoken out against the lethal use of drones.
IPS UN Bureau Report
Active Citizens, Civil Society, COVID-19, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations
This article is part of IPS coverage of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.
– Violence against women has failed to decline in the Latin American region after the sharp rise recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, while preventing the causes of such violence remains a major challenge.
This is what representatives of the United Nations, feminist organizations and women’s movements told IPS on the occasion of the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.
“We attack the problem but not its causes. I have been talking for 30 years about the importance of preventing violence against women by fostering major cultural changes so that girls and boys are raised in the knowledge that it is unacceptable in any form.” — Moni Pizani
This date, established in 1999 by the United Nations, was adopted in 1981 at the first Latin American and Caribbean feminist meeting held in Colombia to promote the struggle against violence against women in a region where it continues to be exacerbated by high levels of ‘machismo’ or sexism.
The day was chosen to pay tribute to Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal, three sisters from the Dominican Republic who were political activists and were killed on Nov. 25, 1960 by the repressive forces of the regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo.
The date launches 16 days of activism against gender violence, culminating on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, because male violence against women and girls is the most widespread violation of human rights worldwide.
“It is not possible to confirm a decrease in gender violence in the region at this post-pandemic moment,” said Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of the region’s leading experts on women’s rights. “I could say, from the information I have gathered and empirically, that the level has remained steady after the significant increase registered in the last two years.”
Pizani, who retired from the United Nations, currently supports the UN Women office in Guatemala after a fruitful career advocating for women’s rights. She was twice representative in Ecuador for UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, then worked for East and Southeast Asia and later opened the UN Women Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama City as regional director.
“Before the pandemic we used to talk about three out of 10 women having suffered violence, today we say four out of 10. The other alarming fact is that the impact is throughout the entire life cycle of women, including the elderly,” she told IPS in a conversation in Tegucigalpa, Honduras during a Central American colloquium on the situation of women.
UN Women last year measured the “shadow pandemic” in 13 countries in all regions, a term used to describe violence against women during lockdowns due to COVID.
Seven out of 10 women were found to have experienced violence at some time during the pandemic, one in four felt unsafe at home due to increased family conflict, and seven out of 10 perceived partner abuse to be more frequent.
The study also revealed that four out of 10 women feel less safe in public spaces.
Pizani said the study showed that this violation of women’s human rights occurs in different age groups: 48 percent of those between 18 and 49 years old are affected, 42 percent of those between 50 and 59, and 34 percent of women aged 60 and over.
According to the same study, unemployed women are the most vulnerable: 52 percent of them experienced violence during the pandemic.
And with regard to mothers: one out of every two women with children also experienced a violation of their rights.
The expert highlighted the effort made by many countries to adopt measures during the pandemic with the expansion of services, telephone hotlines, use of new means of reporting through mobile applications, among others. But she regretted that the efforts fell short.
This year, the region is home to 662 million inhabitants, or eight percent of the world’s population, slightly more than half of whom are girls and women.
The level of violence against women is so severe that the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) cites it as one of the structural factors of gender inequality, together with gaps in employment, the concentration of care work and inequitable representation in public spaces.
Governments neither prevent nor address violence
Peru is an example of similar situations of gender violence in the region.
It was one of the countries with the strictest lockdowns, paralyzing government action against gender violence, which was gradually resumed in the second half of 2020 and which made it possible, for example, to receive complaints in the country’s provincial public prosecutors’ offices.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office Crime Observatory reported 1,081,851 complaints in 2021 – an average of 117 per hour. The frequency of complaints returned to pre-pandemic levels, which in 2020 stood at around 700,000, because women under lockdown found it harder to report cases due to the confinement and the fact that they were cooped up with the perpetrators.
Cynthia Silva, a Peruvian lawyer and director of the non-governmental feminist group Study for the Defense of Women’s Rights-Demus, told IPS that the government has failed to reactivate the different services and that the specialized national justice system needs to be fully implemented to protect victims and punish perpetrators.
She stressed the importance of allocating resources both for addressing cases of violence and for prevention. “These are two strategies that should go hand in hand and we see that the State is not doing enough in relation to the latter,” she said.
Silva urged the government to take action in measures aimed at the populace to contribute to rethinking socio-cultural patterns and ‘machista’ habits that discriminate against women.
Based on an experience they are carrying out with girls and adolescents in the district of Carabayllo, in the extreme north of Lima, she said it’s a question of supporting “deconstruction processes” so that egalitarian relations between women and men are fostered from childhood.
On Nov. 26 they will march with various feminist movements and collectives against machista violence so that “the right to a life free of violence against women is guaranteed and so that not a single step backwards is taken with respect to the progress made, particularly in sexual and reproductive rights, which are threatened by conservative groups in Congress.”
An equally serious scenario
Argentina is another example of gender violence – including femicides – in Latin America, the region with the highest levels of aggression against women in the world, the result of extremely sexist societies.
This is in contrast to the fact that it is one of the regions with the best protection against such violence in national and even regional legislation, because since 1994 it has had the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.
The problem is that these laws are seriously flawed in their implementation, especially in the interior of the countries, agree UN Women, regional organizations and national women’s rights groups.
Rosaura Andiñach, an Argentine university professor and head of community processes at the Ecumenical Regional Center for Counseling and Service (CREAS), said it is worrying that in her country there are still high rates of femicide, despite the progress made in terms of legislation.
Between January and October 2022, there were 212 femicides and 181 attempted gender-based homicides in the country of 46 million people, according to the civil society observatory “Ahora que sí nos ven” (Now that they do see us).
She said the government still owes a debt to women in this post-pandemic context, as it fails to guarantee women’s rights by not adequately addressing their complaints.
“We do not want the same thing to happen as with a recent case: Noelia Sosa, 30 years old, lived in Tucumán and reported her partner in a police station for gender violence. They ignored her and she committed suicide that afternoon because she did not know what else to do. We are very concerned because the outlook is still as serious as ever in terms of violence against women,” Andiñach said.
It was precisely in Argentina that the #NiunaMenos (Not one woman less) campaign emerged in 2015, which spread throughout the region as a movement against femicides and the ineffectiveness of the authorities in the enforcement of laws to prevent and punish gender-related murders, because femicides are surrounded by a very high level of impunity in Latin America.
Moni Pizani, from UN Women, stressed that the prevention of gender violence should no longer fall short in the region.
“We attack the problem but not its causes. I have been talking for 30 years about the importance of preventing violence against women by fostering major cultural changes so that girls and boys are raised in the knowledge that it is unacceptable in any form,” she underlined.
This strategy, she remarked, “involves investing in youth and children to ensure that the new generations are free from violence, harassment and discrimination, with respect for a life of dignity for all.”
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– The United States, which recently laid down a set of guidelines to monitor sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by US citizens in international organizations, including the United Nations and its agencies worldwide, has implicitly accused the UN of faltering on a high-profile case last month.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced Karim Elkorany, an American citizen and a former UN employee, to 15 years in prison for the drugging and sexual assault of one victim and making false statements to cover up another sexual assault.
As part of the federal investigation, Elkorany admitted that he had drugged and/or sexually assaulted 17 additional victims between 2002 and 2016.
Ambassador Chris Lu, U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform at the US Mission to the United Nations, said that consistent with State Department policies, “we have referred this matter to the Office of Inspector General for review to ensure a culture of accountability”
“We also call on the United Nations to undertake a similar review that includes a comprehensive examination of the handling of any sexual exploitation and abuse or sexual harassment (SEAH) allegations against Mr. Elkorany during his employment with the United Nations”.
The investigation, he said, should examine whether UN officials were aware of Elkorany’s misconduct and failed to take appropriate action, including ensuring the availability and accessibility of assistance to survivors.
In line with the “Principles on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEAH) for U.S. Government Engagement with International Organizations”, the United States said it is committed to preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the UN system.
“We strongly support the United Nations’ zero tolerance policy and the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen its implementation”.
“Protection from SEAH is the responsibility of leadership and managers at every level who have a duty to take action in response to allegations of SEAH and ensure implementation of governance policies and delivery of services in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of all personnel and communities served by our institutions.”
The critical stand against the UN comes amid “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”, beginning November 25, and billed as an opportunity to call for prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has established a Chief Executive Board Task Force to review policies to prevent sexual harassment and develop improved and consistent approaches across the UN, including a review of how the UN defines sexual harassment.
Tsitsi Matekaire, the Global Lead on Equality Now’s End Sexual Exploitation Programme based in the UK, told IPS the publication of these principles by the US government is a welcome development.
They echo similar positive initiatives by countries such as Australia and the UK, which have introduced measures following highly publicized scandals in recent years within the international aid sector.
“It is good to see more organizations introducing and extending safeguarding policies, but words must be underpinned by effective action and we need more evidence about the impact of these commitments. It is no good having protection strategies and procedures in place if they are not being well implemented and abuse continues unchecked”, said Matekaire.
“We don’t know the true scale of the problem, but we do know from frequent revelations that sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse remain a widespread problem inside the United Nations system and within other international development organizations”.
In September 2022, she pointed out, a media investigation disclosed sexual abuse by humanitarian workers at an UN-run camp in South Sudan. It was reported that abuse occurred “on a daily basis” over a number of years and aid officials were aware as early as 2015.
Although the UN did take some action, it faced criticism for failing to introduce effective strategies to end the problem, and an external review cited a lack of victim support, she noted.
“The UN and all international development agencies must enforce a zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and harassment directed at, and perpetrated by, staff. This must apply to everyone, regardless of what level their position is”.
“All staff should receive training, with policies and procedures well communicated. Reports of abuse should be taken seriously, investigations carried out swiftly and effectively, and perpetrators held fully to account”.
She also said that aid workers and other whistle-blowers need to be well protected so they are able to disclose allegations of abuses without fear of negative repercussions, including retaliation or sidelining.
And safeguarding and reporting mechanisms need to ensure sexual predators are not able to evade punishment or move to different jobs where they are able to commit further offences.”
And here is the link to the article about the South Sudan story referenced above.
Meanwhile, a Reuters report of November 1 said the World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended a senior manager at its Geneva headquarters after a British doctor publicly alleged she was sexually assaulted at a health conference last month, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Rosie James, a 26-year-old junior doctor working for England’s National Health Service tweeted last month that the assault occurred at the World Health Summit in Berlin. The event, which took place from Oct. 16-18, was jointly organized by the WHO. James said at the time that she planned to report the incident.
“The alleged perpetrator is on leave and the investigation is on-going,” a WHO spokesperson said in an emailed response to Reuters about James’s statements, without naming him.
The set of “Government Engagement Principles on Protection from Sexual Exploitation Abuse and Sexual Harassment within International Organizations, laid down by the US includes six key components:
The United States will continue to promote the full implementation of policies of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment, including zero tolerance for inaction in response to allegations, across the United Nations and other International Organizations.
This includes support for policies that prioritize prevention and mitigation efforts, monitor the effectiveness of such efforts, ensure safe access to confidential SEAH reporting mechanisms and appropriate survivor support, and embed survivor-centered principles across all actions in response to reported allegations – including investigations.
The United States recognizes that an absence of reporting does not mean incidents are not being perpetrated, nor does it indicate that zero tolerance policies are being fully implemented.
A Survivor-centered Approach
The United States expects all allegations or incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment to be reviewed and addressed, while respecting principles of due process.
In its engagement with the United Nations and other International Organizations, the United States will continue to advocate for the use of survivor-centered principles and standards – an approach that recognizes and empowers survivors as individuals with agency and unique needs, safeguarding their dignity and wellbeing.
Prevention and Risk Mitigation
The United States will work with the United Nations and other International Organizations to institutionalize prevention and mitigation measures that go beyond basic awareness-raising, training, capacity-building or dissemination of codes of conduct, and include a commitment to promote adequate funding, dedicated technical staff, and meaningful risk analysis and mitigation.
The United States will hold the United Nations and other International Organizations to the highest standard, including from the onset of a crisis, conflict or emergency, to mitigate against such risk, especially with highly vulnerable populations.
Accountability and Transparency
The United States expects the leadership of the United Nations and other International Organizations to take meaningful action to support accountability and transparency through, among others, the following: the conduct of timely and survivor-centered investigations; response efforts driven by the needs, experiences, and resiliencies of those most at risk of SEAH; clear reporting and response systems, including to inform Member States of allegations or incidents; and accountability measures, including termination of employment or involvement of law enforcement, as needed.
Organizational Culture Change
The United States will work to advocate for the development by the United Nations and other International Organizations of evidence-based metrics and standards of practice in the implementation of zero tolerance policies, promote holistic approaches, empower women and girls, and reinforce leadership and organizational accountability.
Policies, statements, and training are essential, but alone are insufficient to produce lasting positive change. Systems-level change requires a shift in organizational culture, behavior, and the underlying processes and mechanisms to deliver assistance and promote internal accountability.
Empowerment of Local Communities
The United States will prioritize, in partnership with the leadership of the United Nations and other International Organizations, the critical importance of locally-led efforts, particularly those led by women and girls, who, when meaningfully supported and engaged, can inform the measures that may mitigate risks and promote safer foreign assistance programming.
IPS UN Bureau Report