On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly officially acknowledged November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Since then, efforts to fight violence against women have risen at local, regional and global levels. Roughly a decade after the U.N. officially marked November 15 as the global day to fight violence against women, then-U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon launched the “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” campaign. The main goal of this campaign is to eliminate all forms of violence — physical, emotional and sexual — against women.
Key Achievements and Milestones
Since its launch, the UNiTE campaign has sparked a revolutionary change across the globe in the following ways:
- The campaign led to the creation of a new post of “Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict,” whose first occupant, Margöt Wallstrom, played a crucial role in fighting the culture of impunity by bringing to court perpetrators like Bernard Munyagishari, who was later convicted of various crimes against humanity, such as rape, which were perpetrated during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
- The deployment of Gender Advisers to peacekeeping and political missions includes:
- UNAMID in Sudan, which addressed the impact of conflict on Sudanese women and girls.
- MINUSTAH in Haiti, which has worked to restore order and stability, promote the country’s political process and protect human rights.
- MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose major goals were monitoring, collecting and reporting information related to human rights violations, which played a crucial role in the international criminal justice’s fight against impunity and supported the court’s prosecution of Germain Katanga and Bosco Ntaganda, both of whom were convicted of war crimes of rape and sexual slavery.
- The campaign also devitalized impunity for sexual violence as an act of war: the most prominent example is the 2016 conviction of Congolese Jean-Pierre Bemba of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape.
- The rise of other campaigns against the violation of women’s rights, such as the Stop Rape Now campaign and the Spotlight Initiative, which deploys substantial investments to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls across regions of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific.
Current State of Affairs: Violence Against Women During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Over the years, efforts to fight violence against women have generated remarkable results, but in 2020, reports show that the rate of violence against women has skyrocketed at a shocking rate due to the stay-at-home measures that most governments implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In the report “Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19,” the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres says, “Accompanying the crisis has been a spike in domestic violence reporting, at exactly the time that services, including rule of law, health and shelters, are being diverted to address the pandemic.”
Another early 2020 U.N. report reveals that in the last 12 months, a total of 243 women and girls aged 15-49 have experienced sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner.
UNiTE Campaign: “Fund, Prevent, Respond, Collect!”
In response to the intensifying rates of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, UNiTE has increased its efforts and is kickstarting this year’s campaign in partnership with the theme, “Orange the World: Fund, Prevent, Respond, Collect!”
The main goal of this theme is to fund essential services that include gender-based violence (GBV) prevention in COVID-19 fiscal stimulus packages, the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy for GBV, putting in place measures to strengthen services that support GBV victims and collecting the necessary data to ensure the effectiveness of GBV services and programs.
The Battle Continues
Over the years, transformative action, such as the creation of the Spotlight Initiative, the conviction of major war criminals, a majority of whom had violated women’s rights, and the deployment of Gender Advisers across areas in dire need, has taken place.
There is no doubt that there is still much work to do to diminish the high rates of violence plaguing the world, but the past success that the UNiTE campaign has achieved is not only worth celebrating but is also a guarantee of an even higher leap in the coming years.
– Divine Mbabazi