Photo: Evelyn Amony’s autobiography is an unforgettable story of war, rape and survival, and a chance to learn from the lived experiences of survivors. Credit: Erin Baines | UN Women. - Photo: 2016

Progress in Achieving Gender Equality No Cause for Complacency

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – UN Women, United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, has drawn attention to three “historic firsts” achieved this year in combatting sexual violence in conflict. At the same time, the organisation’s Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri has stressed that “realizing gender equality has a deadline, and it is 2030”.

In run-up to the first International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 19, UN Women said all three historic firsts were “long overdue and all had one thing in common: the unstoppable force of women’s voice and leadership”.

According to the statement, in February 2016, a national court in Guatemala convicted two former military officers of committing sexual violence during the country’s civil war – the first time that a national court anywhere in the world considered charges of sexual slavery during armed conflict.

Women’s organizations worked for years with indigenous women to develop their case, which was presented in the court by Guatemala’s female Attorney General before a female presiding judge.

In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down its first conviction for sexual and gender-based crimes. An all-female panel of three judges presided over the case against former Congolese Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was brought to justice by a female prosecutor, thanks to unprecedented levels of participation of women victims and witnesses from the Central African Republic.

In May, the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal convicted the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery. This was the first universal jurisdiction case to make it to trial in Africa, and the first time a former Head of State was held personally accountable for committing rape as an international crime.

“This conviction would not have been possible without the testimonies of women and the inspiring determination of lawyers, victims’ advocates, human rights defenders, and local and international civil society organizations,” UN Women said.

In Guatemala and Senegal, as in many other investigations, UN Women was proud to partner with Justice Rapid Response with the deployment of gender advisors from a roster of experts on investigation and documentation of sexual and gender-based crimes.

This roster is made up of experts from 62 nationalities. Altogether, this expert group – 80 per cent of them women – speaks a total of 34 different languages. All go to great lengths to ensure that survivors of sexual violence during conflict are treated with dignity, and that their voices are heard in the quest for justice. 

“The landmark cases we have seen this year are proof that the connection between justice for women and women’s direct participation and leadership in such cases is neither new nor coincidental,” UN Women said.

It added: “With widespread sexual violence still a devastating reality in too many conflicts in the world, it is heartening to see that steps are being taken towards securing accountability for these acts, and that women are persevering with strength and unity in not letting these crimes go unspoken or unpunished.”

UN Women would celebrate in July 2016 six years of existence as “the only 21st century UN entity with the mandate to promote and realize the most transformative and, with the biggest potential, project for humanity”.

Addressing the Academic Council on the UN System (ACUNS) on June 17 in New York, UN Women’s Executive Secretary Puri said: “The year 2015 was glorious for its path-breaking intergovernmental normative achievements and the consolidation of the highest level of political commitment from governments and the UN System.”

In the course of the year, Puri explained, UN Women and its partners – Member States, UN organizations, academia, the private sector and civil society – have incorporated gender into several areas where it was lacking or minimal and which impact development.

These areas include migration, humanitarian action, urban development, information technology, disabilities, health (HIV/AIDS, Ebola prevention) and indigenous women. It cannot be emphasized enough that anything having a human impact, impacts women and girls though not necessarily in the same way as men and boys.

“But stronger than that is the recognition that there is no area of life in which women’s agency has not made a huge contribution. Therefore, gender-sensitivity and gender-responsiveness are crucial to ensuring the safety, well-being, and full enjoyment by women and girls of their rights, including their rights to participate, contribute and benefit on an equal basis,” UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director said.

She warned that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow-up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

UN Women’s work on costing national gender equality action plans and strategies in a number of countries – Honduras, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan – has found financing gaps ranging from 70-90 per cent.

In Honduras the 2010-2022 National Action Plan for Gender Equity and Equality estimated at USD 13.3 million per annum, only received an allocation of USD 2.8 million per annum by the State budget resulting in a 78 per cent financing gap.

In Jordan, the 2013-2017 National Strategy for Women, estimated at USD 5.8 million per annum, received only USD 254,237 per annum resulting in a 79 per cent gap.

In Kyrgyzstan, the 2012-2014 National Action Plan for Gender Equality, estimated at USD 10 million, only received an allocation to cover 10 per cent of activities, resulting in a 90 per cent financing gap.

Similarly, with ODA (official development assistance) only 5 per cent of the aid screened against the gender marker of the OECD Development Assistance Committee in 2012-13 targeted gender equality as a principal objective with low allocations in critical areas including women, peace and security and economic empowerment. “To illustrate, in 2012-13, only 2 per cent of aid to peace and security in fragile states targeted gender equality as a principal objective,” said Puri.

Financing for women’s organizations too remains a challenge. A 2011 survey conducted by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) found that the combined income of 740 women’s organizations in 2010 was only USD 106 million (a fraction of the budget of a big NGO) with mean annual incomes of only USD 20,000.

UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director declared: “Ensuring financial inclusion for women on the ground is key to making inclusive development a reality. This means ensuring full and equal access of women to financial services, as well as access and control over productive and financial resources.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 June 2016]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: Evelyn Amony’s autobiography is an unforgettable story of war, rape and survival, and a chance to learn from the lived experiences of survivors. Credit: Erin Baines | UN Women.

2016 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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