Violence against women and girls can take many forms. It is the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today.
30% of women over the age of 15 have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime and 18% of women worldwide have experienced sexual abuse in childhood.
In conflict-affected countries, displacement, economic insecurity and marred social networks lead to more unstable environments, increasing the risk of sexual violence. In some conflicts, rape and/or sexual torture are being used as a deliberate weapon of war.
Preventing and combating Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a precondition for equitable and inclusive sustainable development, as well as an important value and objective in itself.
The Spotlight Initiative
The EU and the UN launched the Spotlight Initiative in September 2017, a strategic partnership to eliminate all forms of VAWG across the world. The initiative is based on an initial unprecedented envelope of €500 million from the EU.
Three years after its launch, the Spotlight Initiative's activities are spanning the entire globe – thanks to the EU's and the UN's engagement, and the support of partners governments, regional bodies and civil society.
The initiative is currently implemented through 34 different programmes, 26 country programmes, 6 regional programmes and 2 programmes with UN Trust Funds, which specifically work with grassroots’ and women’s organisations. The EU’s initial seed funding has already been allocated.
The Spotlight Initiative focuses on distinct areas, including sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices, domestic violence and femicide, the entry points to address the continuum of violence against women and girls. The Spotlight Initiative takes a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder approach ensuring country ownership and a strong role for civil society, applying the leave no one behind principle. The initiative currently runs until the end of 2023; country activities should end in 2022.
Civil society plays an essential role in the initiative, not only as an implementing partner but also at country, regional and global levels in its advisor capacity. Nearly €150m is allocated to civil society within the country and regional programmes.
Ending harmful practices
In many countries, social norms and practices lock girls and women into unequal power relations, leaving many girls and women with little control over decisions that affect their lives.
Harmful practices, such as child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and gender-biased sex selection (GBSS) are discriminatory practices committed regularly over long periods of time that communities and societies begin to consider them acceptable.
Some 650 million girls and women around the world today have been married as children and 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade because of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice. The poorest and least-educated girls are most at risk of child marriage.
Ending child, early and forced marriages is essential to allow girls the opportunity for a better life and to realise their full potential.
Engaging and informing potential child brides is a first step towards empowering girls. Providing them with life skills, promoting their self-esteem and helping them remain in school is key to strengthening girls’ capacity to refuse forced marriages.
Parents, community members and religious leaders are the main decision-makers on child marriage and engaging them on the consequences of child marriage and the importance of education can change the views of these key actors in opting out of forced marriage.
Involving young people as advocates for ending early marriage and reaching a wider community can accelerate change and lead to stronger laws and law enforcement that protect adolescents.
This is precisely what the European Union is doing through its support to the ‘Global Programme to accelerate action to end child marriage‘ implemented by UNICEF/UNFPA since 2016 in 12 countries.
Female genital mutilation
Despite being internationally recognised as a human rights violation, FGM has been performed on more than 200 million girls and women alive today. The practice occurs in 30 countries across three continents. By 2030, 1 in 3 of the world’s girls will be born in these countries, meaning that as many as 68 million girls aged 0-15 may face FGM over the next 12 years.
Although Islam or Christianity do not endorse FGM, religious narratives are used to justify the practice. Here again, the role of information and dialogue within the community is key to put a stop to this harmful practice.
We are working together with our partners to end FGM by 2030. To do so, we work hand in hand with our partners to target local communities, empower young girls, strengthen child protection systems, better coordinate local and national responses to FGM.
The EU currently supports the ‘Global Programme of the abandonment of FGM’ implemented by UNFPA/UNICEF in 17 countries. To accelerate the end of FGM, the programme strengthens policy development and implementation, while improving access to quality health care, protection, and legal and social services. It engages communities and educates people on the need to eliminate FGM, transforming social norms through collective action.
Gender-biased sex selection
Gender-biased sex selection (GBSS) is the termination of pregnancy when the foetus is determined to be female. This harmful practice is an extreme manifestation of gender discrimination.
Today, around 140 million women are believed to be "missing" around the world – the result of son preference, including GBSS.
Emphasising the value of girls by addressing GBSS is central to the EU’s engagement in the same way as its fight against other harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and Child marriage.
Since 2016, the EU supports the ’Global Programme to Prevent Gender-biased Sex Selection and Son Preference‘ implemented by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Phase 1 (2016 - 2020) covered six countries across the Caucasus region (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) and three in Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam). Phase 2 (2020 - 2022) of the programme continued in 2020 after renewal of the EU commitment.