It's time to end violence against women and girls
Every day, millions of women and girls suffer physical or sexual violence worldwide. The European Union is not an exception: one in three aged 15 and over have experienced it, and half of the total female population has been harassed. These phenomena have far-reaching consequences for them, as well as for their families and communities. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is getting worse. Stronger action is needed to address it, by decision makers, civil society and other actors; everybody must work towards eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is firmly committed to preventing, mitigating and responding to sexual and gender-based violence, both through its aid programmes and by engaging in humanitarian diplomacy to support dignity, access, participation and safety, factoring in the specific needs and protection risks of individuals, and ensuring a survivor-centred approach.
Help in action
In Europe, National Red Cross Societies and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have been working hard to tackle violence against women and girls for decades. On migration and asylum, for example, the Belgian Red Cross develops activities in reception centres for asylum seekers such as ‘Pierre Bleue’, specialised in supporting women that have been subjected to violence; some had suffered from feminine genital mutilation or honour crimes, while others were trafficked or forcibly married. Likewise, the British Red Cross has been part of the two-year Safe Women in Migration (SWIM) project, funded by the European Commission to strengthen the protection of women and girls who endured or were at risk of violence in the EU.
At present, women are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: care workers are often women, many elderly live alone, and lockdowns are increasing domestic work and child care responsibilities primarily managed by women. Moreover, widespread confinements are sometimes heigthening the risk of violence in the home, exacerbated by other factors linked to a difficult socio-economic context. It is therefore essential to guarantee that adequate measures are in place to minimise the risks of sexual and gender-based violence against women across the board, including in quarantine and isolation facilities, and to ensure tailored support for women looking after children and others. On that note, the Spanish Red Cross has been assisting over 20,000 women suffering from violence each year, through a wide-range of interventions, and they reinforced services when the ongoing emergency broke out, including the dissemination of a set of recommendations on hotlines and other useful resources to get help. Staff and volunteers in other countries have also expanded their support in this domain, amid growing cases.
Furthermore, violence against women and girls is a major concern for humanitarian aid and international development cooperation work, whether it be in areas affected by poverty, disasters or conflict. The Luxembourg Red Cross is one of many National Red Cross Societies that works closely with local teams to offer further protection to women and girls in emergencies, e.g. by building adequate latrines in displacement camps, which improves sanitary conditions and contributes to lessen the exposure to attacks.
New EU Gender Action Plan
The EU and its Member States are signatories to the main global instruments seeking to eliminate violence against women. The European Commission is committed to better protecting victims of crime and achieving gender equal Europe, and has just presented the EU’s new Gender Action Plan 2021–2025 (GAP III), which looks at dealing with violence against women and girls among other priorities to put gender equality at the heart of the its external action. This represents a positive step, as it paves the way for enhanced gender mainstreaming in all policies and sectors in that domain, and underlines the importance of moving forward with a gender-transformative, rights-based and intersectional approach.
For a steady and effective implementation of the Gender Action Plan, including on violence against women, the European Union must maintain regular dialogue and work in cooperation with a broad range of actors including civil society organisations, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, young people, religious and faith-based organisations. Further efforts will be needed to materialise EU’s commitment to “build back better.” Stepping up collective action will be key, with increased strategic engagement at multilateral, regional and country levels together with Member States.
No country in the world is on track to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030, and that includes EU Member States. Critical issues cannot wait for the pandemic to be brought under control, though. They must be swiftly acted upon, also considering the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Violence against women and girls is a grave violation of human rights, and must be combated with all possible resources.
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