Coming together to end the most widespread human rights violation

Join the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence

© Illustration by Neda Hajmomeni

Five years after the rapid rise of the #MeToo movement, gender-based violence (GBV) is still the most widespread human rights violation, happening in every corner of the world. One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence, with rates that have stayed alarmingly high over the last decade.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s ongoing impacts and backlash against women’s rights are making things worse, threatening progress on gender equality gains and increasing the risks of GBV. Since the pandemic hit, one in four women describe more frequent household conflicts.

This violence not only tramples on the rights of women and girls, it is holding back progress on creating a more sustainable and equal world. Ending gender-based violence links to all aspects of sustainable development, from ensuring inclusive and effective governance, to economies that work for women, to protecting a healthy and peaceful planet. In crisis situations, stopping the brutal trend of gender-based violence is essential for recovery and to build long-term peace and resilience. For the best results, efforts to end gendered violence must be integrated into other areas of development.

UNDP does this collaborative work on GBV in 96 countries, including through the Spotlight Initiative, a European Union-UN partnership. The UNDP-Republic of Korea’s ‘Ending Gender-based Violence and Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ project has tested new and innovative approaches in seven countries. The results are promising, showing how this change is more possible when we — governments, civil society, the private sector and other partners — work together.

This 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, here’s a closer look.

Women’s rights groups and feminist movements

All over the world, women’s collective action is the cornerstone of social change. The activism and advocacy of women leaders and women’s rights organizations has been pivotal in building unprecedented awareness and momentum to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, especially since the rise of the #MeToo movement.

In the Villa El Salvador District in Peru, where there’s a long history of community activism and women’s grassroots leadership, about half of women were affected by GBV in 2018. In response, Project JUSTA worked to empower a network of women leaders in the district as well as create a participatory process to develop and budget for plans to prevent GBV.

“Building a network of organizations and female leaders in the district has allowed for our voices to be heard,” says Vilma Arce Oyolo, member of JUSTA.

The role of public institutions

Every public institution, on the national and local level, can help ensure that citizens live a life of dignity free from violence, from providing funding and services to drafting gender-just policies and laws.

In Moldova, multidisciplinary teams spanning several public institutions led participatory processes to design local action plans to address GBV. One of the outcomes of such a process led by UNDP and partners was a specialized centre in the Gagauzia region, which provides social, psychological and legal assistance as well as job seeking support. So far, 531 Moldovans and Ukrainian refugees in Moldova have received support.

“It is impossible to solve the issues of domestic violence with only one specialist; it is important to act in a team,” says a member of a regional multidisciplinary working group in Moldova.

Police training in Moldova. Photo: UNDP Moldova

Traditional and community leaders

As trusted advisors, chiefs and spiritual guides, community and traditional leaders play a crucial role in establishing and changing social norms, mediating disputes and facilitating important conversations.

In Iraq, married couples participating in the livelihood components of a UNDP project were invited to attend biweekly couples’ sessions that encouraged healthy and equitable relationships. Community leaders participated in a similar series of workshops, with the aim of creating more equitable community norms. In the end, integrating activities to prevent and respond to GBV into a broader economic recovery programme reduced the dropout rate of women participants by almost half.

“It is the first time in my life that I heard about gender and violence against women. I felt encouraged and empowered by attending the course that confirmed my rights. I used to be quiet, but now I understand I have to speak up,” says a female community leader participant.

Community outreach in Iraq. Photo: UNDP Iraq

The private sector

Not only is the private sector responsible for ensuring that workplaces stay safe and free from gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence, but it can also help to expand the scale and impact of GBV prevention efforts. One important anchor is the new Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, the first international treaty of its kind.

In Peru, the ‘No Estas Sola’ campaign, which was working to make GBV more visible and better connect services with those who needed them during the COVID-19 pandemic, teamed up with companies like Starbucks, Natura and Cencosud. The result was a campaign that reached an estimated audience of 11 million people, making it the most successful awareness-raising campaign of its kind in Peru.

“It was a cause that felt very close to the Natura network. More than 2,000 women joined in supporting this cause. For me it was an eye opener that it is a relevant issue and has sensitized thousands of women,” says one Natura employee.

The No Estas Sola campaign is a joint venture between UNDP, MIMP (the women’s ministry in Peru) and Cooperacion Espanola (you can find the partners at the bottom of the page here: https://www.noestassolaperu.pe/contacto/)

Arts and culture

Arts and culture can be life-altering vehicles to express social norms, issues and challenges. While these institutions can propagate harmful attitudes and dynamics, they can also be used to communicate and even harness a will for positive change.

In Bhutan, the Gakey Lamtoen programme, the first such GBV prevention initiative in the country, implemented workshops and social innovation camps for adolescents led primarily by artists. The programme resulted in more gender-equitable attitudes and behaviours of its participants, so much so that it is now being scaled up to three new schools, in a partnership between the Ministry of Education, the National Commission of Women and Children and UNDP Bhutan.

The programme has created change for both the participants and the facilitators. For dance instructor and Gakey Lamtoen facilitator Chado Namgyel, it was an opportunity to teach differently . “Previously I wouldn’t allow or encourage girls in our studio to learn all those dynamic moves. However, now they can come and learn whatever they are interested in.”

Violence against women and girls holds everyone back. We will only realize the coherent and radical vision of the future laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, one where all forms of this violence are eliminated, if we urgently ramp up global efforts. We must build on these lessons and the momentum created by #MeToo and other movements, working together to tackle every opportunity possible to create a truly equal world.

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