Taking Humanitarianism Hostage – the Case of Afghanistan & Multilateral Organisations

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Peace, TerraViva United Nations


Women receive food rations at a food distribution site in Herat, Afghanistan. Credit: UNICEF/Sayed Bidel

NEW YORK, Jan 12 2023 (IPS) – Can you imagine what it would be like if women were simply not allowed to step outside of their homes, let alone to work for a living? When women choose to do so, and they can afford it, then it is a matter of choice. When women mostly cannot, as is the case in Afghanistan now, not only is half the population imprisoned, but children go hungry, and communities sink deeper into poverty.

World Bank data (as incomplete as it is), indicates that the average number of female-headed households (i.e. households where women are the primary – if not the only – breadwinners), is around 25%.

What that means is, that on average, a quarter of all households around the world depend on women earning an income. Children, families, communities, and nations –depend on women’s work, to the tune of a quarter of their labour force.

Economists are still pointing to the obvious challenges of counting female labour, which often lies disproportionately on the frontiers of the formal economy, such that women continue to serve as reserve armies of labour and frontline workers during industrialization.

Economists who work to document these specificities, also point out that as soon as these frontiers expand or change, women are expelled or relegated to the shadows of the informal economy and piece-rate labour, identifying this as an all too frequent failure to recognize the importance of the kind of work many women engage in, which both keeps an economy running, and enables its expansion and growth.

The Covid-19 Pandemic should have resulted in a clear realisation that all hands are necessary on deck, with so many women actually needed as first responders–the backbone of the public health crisis – everywhere in the world.

As economies take a nosedive and the realities of recession hit many of us, all economies need to be kept running, if not to expand and grow.

And beyond these very real challenges to counting women’s work – and making that work count – there is another very critical reality: culture. Lest we think only of the vagaries of women who take over “men’s jobs” (whatever that means in today’s world), we need to stop being blind to the fact that women are needed to serve other women.

In fact, in many parts of the world, including the supposedly liberal and ‘egalitarian’ Western world, many women still prefer to receive life-saving direct services from other women – in public health, in sanitation, in all levels of education, in nutritional spaces, and many, many others.

Now let us pause a moment and consider humanitarian disaster zones, where women and girls often need to be cared for – and this can only be done by and through other women.

Then let us envision a reality one step further – let’s call it a socially conservative country, which is facing humanitarian disaster, and is heavily dependent on international organisations (governmental and non- governmental) for the necessary humanitarian support.

How is it conceivable that in such a context, women can be excluded from serving? And yet this is precisely what the Taliban have decreed on December 24, when it barred women from working in national and international NGOs. And this is after they banned women from higher education.

Many international NGOs halted their work in Afghanistan, explaining that they cannot work without their women staff – as a matter of principle, but also as a question of practical necessity. Yet, the United Nations – the premier multilateral entity – continues to see how they could compromise with the Taliban rule, for the sake of ‘the greater good – real humanitarian needs’.

Thank goodness they are letting the UN continue to work with their women employees, runs one way of thinking. We will not fail to deliver humanitarian needs, runs another UN way of thinking.

Of course, humanitarian needs are essential to human survival – and thus, should never be held hostage. But why is the United Nations being accountable for humanitarian needs only?

Meanwhile, the Taliban claim that these edicts about womens’ work and education are a matter of religious propriety, a claim which, as of this moment, is not strongly challenged by another multilateral entity – the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), encompassing 56 governments and members of the United Nations.

While individual governments have spoken out, this multilateral entity has remained relatively silent on the Islamic justice of such a decree. Is it because this multilateral religious entity sees no need to speak to humanitarian needs?

Or is it because it sees no value to hard economic realities where women’s agency plays a central role? Or perhaps it is because there is no unanimity on the Islamic justification behind such decrees?

In light of this hostage-taking of humanitarian relief efforts, a group of women of faith leaders, have come together to ask some simple questions of the two multilateral entities involved. They have sent a letter with over 150 international NGO sign ons.

Multilateralism is supposed to be the guarantor of all human rights and dignity, for all people, at all times. But as governmental regimes weaken, so do traditional multilateral entities heavily reliant on those governments. Time for community based transnational networks based on intergenerational, multicultural, gender sensitive leaders.

Rev Dr Chloe Bryer is Executive Director, Interfaith Center of New York; Prof Azza Karam is Secretary General, Religions for Peace; Ruth Messinger is Social Justice Consultant, Jewish Theological Seminary; and Negina Yari is Country Director, Afghans4Tomorrow

IPS UN Bureau


Gender Parity at the UN Willfully Ignores the Facts

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations


WASHINGTON DC, Dec 21 2022 (IPS) – There are two sides to the problem of Gender Parity at the United Nations.

On the one hand, member states need to appoint more women to their senior ambassadorial ranks. There is always tremendous competition for the post of UN ambassador, especially if a member state is on the UN security Council.

It’s a pipeline question for the member states. To reach that level of seniority, a diplomat has to have the years of service. It will likely take time for countries to have the flow through of women ambassadors. So, the UN Secretary-Genera (SG) is correct in putting the onus on member states to change or accelerate their systems.

That said, there is still a problem within the UN itself.

In the last 5 years, many governments notably the UK, Italy, the Scandinavians have sponsored the regional women’s mediation networks. For example. I’m a member of the Women Mediators Across the Commonwealth (WMC).

The vision was to identify women with the requisite skills and experience in mediation efforts and provide a new pathway into senior UN positions particularly as Envoys and mediation work. In the WMC we have 50 amazingly experienced women from across Commonwealth nations.

Similarly, the Mediterranean Women’s Mediation Network has members from that region. For senior positions, our governments have to support our candidacy, and they have done so.

But the UN system is a blockage, because when it comes to determining eligibility, their criteria still include things like ’15 years of UN experience’. Well, the whole point is that most of us have gained experience outside of the UN bureaucracy or as expert consultants with the UN, but not as UN staff.

We bring a wealth of other valuable expertise, yet the skill and knowledge that outsiders might bring seems of less value to the recruiters, than then traditional institutional knowledge. As a result, the female candidates that member states might endorse, are blocked by the UN.

If they are serious about having more women in the peace and security sector, particularly women with the relevant experience in inclusive and gender responsive peacemaking, security humanitarian work, they need to look for us in civil society. This is where most of the innovation has happened and is happening.

The work being done by women on the ground and lessons sharing that goes on through our networks is invaluable. It is exactly what the UN needs to be more fit for purpose. It is also the path towards actual reform and renovation of the UN architecture and practice.

But it can only happen if the member states and the UN leadership and bureaucracy have the vision, political will and willingness to change their recruitment priorities and practices.

Anyone claiming they can’t find the women, is willfully ignoring the facts.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, MBE, Founder & CEO, International Civil Society Action Network in Washington DC.

IPS UN Bureau


Gender Inequality: A Question of Power in a Male-Dominated World, Declares UN Chief

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

While women have come a long way since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action nearly 25 years ago, they still lag behind on virtually every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Credit: UN Women, India

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 21 2022 (IPS) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has singled out Gender Parity as one of his key priorities in his second term in office, beginning 2023.

Describing it as “a strategic goal of the Organization,” he pointed out some of the “notable advances achieved in the past five years.”

Gender parity, he said last week, has been reached among the UN’s senior leadership two years ahead of the target date; along with parity among heads and deputy heads of peace operations; as well as parity among the 130 Resident Coordinators.

The number of UN entities, with at least 50 percent women staff, has also risen from five to 26.

But, the Secretary-General added, gaps remain. In the field, “progress has been slow, and in some cases, we have gone backwards”.

“Therefore, the next phase of implementing the Gender Parity Strategy will focus on advancing and sustaining progress in the field.”

He pointed out that gender inequality is essentially a question of power.

“Our male-dominated world and male-dominated culture damage both men and women. And to transform power relations, we need equality between men and women in leadership, decision-making and participation at all levels. “

Still, the 193 member states lag far behind in promoting gender parity and gender empowerment.

There have been nine secretaries-generals over the last 77 years—all men.

Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, U. Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea and, currently, Antonio Guterres of Portugal.

The male-female ratio for the Secretary-General stands at 9 vs zero. And the Presidency of the General Assembly (PGA), the highest policy-making body at the UN, is not far behind either.

The only four women elected as presidents were: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969), Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006) and Maria Fernando Espinosa Garces of Ecuador (2018).

The score stands at 73 men and 4 women as PGAs– even as the General Assembly elected another male candidate, as its 77th President, and who serves his one-year term, beginning September 2022.

The 15-member Security Council’s track record is probably worse because it has continued to elect men as UN Secretaries-General, rubber-stamped by the General Assembly, – despite several outstanding women candidates.

Purnima Mane, a former Deputy Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), with the rank of UN Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG), told IPS the UN Secretary General’s recent remarks on gender empowerment in the UN evoke a mixed reaction.

“While one can certainly celebrate the progress made by the UN in this area, one would also regret the lack of it in many areas that have proven resistant to change. As SG Antonio Guterres stated, gender parity has been achieved for the first time in the UN in 2020 and two years ahead of the target date, to boot”.

The SG gave several examples among senior leadership in the Organization, including Resident Coordinators, where gender parity has grown significantly. But he admitted that gaps remain, and mentioned the slow progress in the field.

However, one of the most difficult areas to change has been one over which the member states exercise control, she noted.

“As many have repeatedly said over the last several years is that there has not been a single woman SG in the history of the UN and only 4 women have been presidents of the General Assembly, the UN’s highest policy-making body, as compared to 73 men.”

To date, it has also been difficult to raise the number of women UN ambassadors, which remains regrettably low. And this despite the significant number of resolutions supporting gender empowerment which have been adopted by the GA and key UN committees, said Mane, a former President and CEO of Pathfinder International.

At the current rate of progress, Guterres said, the Secretariat as a whole is forecast to be close to parity in professional staff in 2025 – three years before the deadline.

“But this aggregate figure disguises the fact that in the field, we are unlikely to reach parity at any level by 2028”.

So, the next phase of implementing the Gender Parity Strategy must therefore focus on advancing and sustaining progress in the field.

He said he was also pleased to see positive changes to support gender parity in the wider working environment.

“I welcome the decision of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to recommend 16 weeks of parental leave for all parents, and to provide an additional 10 weeks to birth mothers to meet their specific needs.

These recommendations are now under consideration by the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee. “And once again I ask for the support of the members of this group.”

Roopa Dhatt, Executive Director, Women in Global Health (WGH), told IPS: “We applaud the statement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres last week — and the progress made within the UN system towards reaching gender parity in leadership.”

“We agree with the Secretary-General that there remain gaps and areas where progress is still lacking. Women in Global Health remains committed to supporting the UN, particularly in the health sector, to achieve equality and leadership in the UN which will be a game changer not only for women but also for achieving the UN‘s mission,” she said.

“We have campaigned for equal leadership for women in global health since we were launched in 2015. Women are 70% health workers but hold only 25% senior leadership roles. So, the issue is not attracting women into the health sector, the issue is addressing the barriers that keep women out of leadership”.

WGH tracks the percentage of women in global governance in health.

“Our data shows that women are seriously underrepresented, especially women from the Global South. It also shows that women have lost ground in health governance since the start of the pandemic”, she declared.

Mane said it is truly regrettable that when it comes to acting on their good intentions and rhetoric on gender empowerment, the member states do not seem to indicate a sense of urgency.

One cannot say that there is lack of global pressure and support to take the necessary steps. For example, before every election of the UN SG over the last several years, the need to seriously consider a woman candidate has been raised by different UN stakeholders, not just civil society, and with every year, this advocacy has grown substantially, she argued.

Having a woman in the role of the SG was raised to a critical level of discussion at the last election of the SG when there were several female candidates who were being considered but business went on as usual.

“We are fortunate to have a strong SG in Guterres and one who values gender parity and empowerment. With the help of continued and heightened advocacy from all quarters, the strong examples of stellar female leadership especially in relation to the efforts to work on the multiple crises the world is facing (including the COVID pandemic and areas like climate change), and the UN’s repeated calls for gender empowerment, a strong case has already been made for the member States to act on areas that are not progressing in gender empowerment within the UN – by electing a woman in the role of the SG, increasing the proportion of women in the role of the President of the General Assembly and building up the number of women UN ambassadors”.

By taking on their own calls for gender empowerment, the member States would thereby show that they are serious about translating the rhetoric of gender empowerment into concrete action, even in areas which have earlier proven difficult to change, she declared.

Meanwhile, A study published in April this year by the WGH network on gender representation in World Health Assemblies (WHA) (from 1948-2021) found that 82.9% of delegations were composed of a majority of men, and no WHA had more than 30% of women Chief Delegates (ranging from 0% to 30%).

At the current rate, some countries may take over 100 years to reach gender parity in their WHA delegations. In January 2022 WGH calculated that only 6% of members of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board were women, down from an all-time high of 32% in 2020 .

WGH’s research in 2020 showed that 85% of national covid-19 task forces had majority male membership. The extraordinary work by women in the pandemic right across the health workforce has not translated into an equal seat at the decision-making table.

WGH has campaigned for senior leadership posts in the UN and other multilaterals in health to have equal representation of women.

To date, eight of the 13 Global Action Plan agencies in health (WHO, International Labour Organization, Global Fund Financing Facility, United Nations Development Programme, Unitaid, Global Fund, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and World Bank), the most influential in policy and spending, are headed by men from high income countries.

Only one – UNAIDS – is headed by a woman from a low-income country.

“We commend Dr Tedros, Director General of the World Health Organization, for his efforts when he took up office in 2017 to appoint a majority (60 percent) of women to the senior leadership team”, said Dhatt.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Three Ways to End Gender-based Violence

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health


Testing new approaches for preventing gender-based violence to galvanize more and new partners and resources. Credit: UN Women

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 30 2022 (IPS) – How are the multiple shocks and crises the world is facing changing how we respond to gender-based violence? Almost three years after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered high levels of violence against women and girls, the recent 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.

Source: UNDP

IPS UN Bureau


Pandemic Aggravated Violence against Women in Latin America

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

Gender Violence

This article is part of IPS coverage of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.

"Not one woman less, respect our lives” writes a Peruvian woman on the effigy of a woman in a park in front of the courthouse, before a demonstration in Lima over the lack of enforcement of laws against femicides and other forms of violence against women. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

“Not one woman less, respect our lives” writes a Peruvian woman on the effigy of a woman in a park in front of the courthouse, before a demonstration in Lima over the lack of enforcement of laws against femicides and other forms of violence against women. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

LIMA, Nov 24 2022 (IPS) – 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.

Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of Latin America's leading experts on gender issues, with a long career at UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, takes part in a Central American colloquium in Tegucigalpa on sustainable recovery with gender equality in the wake of the COVID pandemic. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Venezuelan lawyer Moni Pizani, one of Latin America’s leading experts on gender issues, with a long career at UN Women and its predecessor Unifem, takes part in a Central American colloquium in Tegucigalpa on sustainable recovery with gender equality in the wake of the COVID pandemic. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

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.

Lawyer Cynthia Silva, director of the Peruvian feminist institution Demus, poses for a picture at the headquarters of the feminist organization in Lima. She stresses the need for government action against gender violence to include not only strategies for attending to the victims, but also for prevention in order to eradicate it. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Lawyer Cynthia Silva, director of the Peruvian feminist institution Demus, poses for a picture at the headquarters of the feminist organization in Lima. She stresses the need for government action against gender violence to include not only strategies for attending to the victims, but also for prevention in order to eradicate it. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

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.”

Adolescent women and men in Lima, the Peruvian capital, wave a huge banner during the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, 2019, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that exacerbated such violence in Latin America. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Adolescent women and men in Lima, the Peruvian capital, wave a huge banner during the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, 2019, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that exacerbated such violence in Latin America. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

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.”


US to Fight Sexual Abuse in International Organizations

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Security Council members vote to adopt a resolution endorsing special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 21 2022 (IPS) – 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:

Zero Tolerance

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