UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the launch of the Spotlight Initiative on September 20th, a joint UN-EU fund with the aim of ending violence against women and girls across the globe. The programme will receive a 500 million Euro targeted investment from the EU over the next few years and will fast-track the accomplishment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of gender equality. The trust fund is open to, and indeed will rely on, donations from all social and political entities at any level.
Secretary-General Guterres stated at the program’s launch that “it is women’s empowerment that is the crucial aspect of all our programmes when we talk about gender equality,” adding that “violence against women and girls is linked to other acts of violence, including violent extremism and even terrorism.” Both multinational entities already have established a large number of important institutions to eradicate violence against women and to promote female economic and political empowerment and gender equality. The European Commission often works in conjunction with the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to achieve development goals in poverty-stricken or conflict-ridden communities. Indeed, the EU contributes more than half of total development aid worldwide and its foreign policy budget is dedicated significantly towards guiding the sustainable development of neighbouring regions, gender equality being a key priority in this process.
Responding to the initiative’s launch, Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights stated that “gender equality is only attainable if universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights is achieved under the new development agenda.” The announcement is a welcome signal that the EU is willing to double down on its commitment to funding gender equality programmes that, unfortunately, can be politically sensitive. It comes after the US, under President Trump, withdrew funding to UNFPA in April this year, a move which could undermine years of progress in providing social, economic and political empowerment to women, particularly in areas as crucial as women’s reproductive rights without which any effort in empowering women would be quite meaningless.
A communique issued by the EU outlines the initiative’s plan to coordinate funding and logistics in the regions of Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, focusing on eradicating the most prevalent, region-specific forms of violence against women including femicide, female genital mutilation, human trafficking of women and girls and sexual assault. Statistics of violence against women and girls provided by UN and EU agencies are staggering: 200 million women and girls alive today have suffered genital mutilation, while 35% of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse, the vast majority of which are carried out by current or former husbands, boyfriends or partners. Also of concern, according to UN Women, is that 49 countries have no legislation protecting women and girls from violence.
The Spotlight Initiative is to be highly commended not simply for the amount of money initially to be invested by the EU, but the promise that such an important partnership entails. Together, the EU and UN are in the best position to implement programmes and funding on such a large scale, as they already have structures and professionals in place on the ground that can make use of investments and resources immediately. However, the unprecedented scope of the programme will need more than just a cash injection from the EU in the long term: it will require a strong combination of political willpower, logistical savvy and greater efforts in encouraging the interaction of local and national social interest groups and multinational corporations in order to build on past successes.
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