European Commission among the other prominent international players has been alarmed by the rising levels of violence against women and girls, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic confinement measures but also following the social-economic stress and insecurity that many families have to face.
In sub-Saharan Africa women are disproportionally more exposed to both health and economic risks, and this is linked to their roles and responsibilities in their communities or society as a whole. Unfortunately, according to available statistics the threat of child marriage is also greater when communities are affected by shocks like disease outbreak, when all the referral systems to prevent and respond to gender-based violence may underperform.
Responding to the significance attributed by the EU to gender equality and women and girls empowerment, including Africa, the European Commission currently invests in around 40 ongoing projects targeting or contributing to the elimination of violence against women and girls on the African continent amounting to approximately €310 million. The most significant one for a total amount of €250 million is the Spotlight Initiative (Africa envelope), – the largest global programme to eliminate violence against women and girls, with an initial investment of €500 million, launched in September 2017. The Initiative aims at eliminating all forms of VAWG in partner countries from five regions: Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Caribbean and Pacific.
In Sub Saharan Africa the objective is to prevent, combat and prosecute sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including the elimination of harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The programme is implemented in eight African countries (Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe) for a total amount of €220 million.
The African regional programme complements eight countries programmes with a substantive allocation of €30 million. An allocation of 10% of the overall Africa investment budget supports the women’s movement which is implemented by two existing UN Trust Funds (the UN Women Peace and Humanitarian Fund, and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women and Girls).
According to the EU officials, following the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the Commission is adapting and refocusing the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to identify risk factors related to pandemic context and to respond to critical needs. Efforts are currently focussing on ensuring swift action to counter increased domestic violence, boost prevention, support survivors and support civil society organisations.
The EU supports the scale-up of existing hotlines, shelters and equipping health, police, justice and social protection sectors for women and girls. One good example is Mozambique, where Spotlight Initiative funding is being used to strengthen the preparedness of staff working in health centres and shelters to better assist victims. Protective gear and hygiene material is being supplied in these centres and shelters. Spotlight also supports police in better responding to violence cases by providing transport and mobile phones.
Other projects are mainly implemented by Civil Society Organisations (NGO). The EU contribution to these projects is close to €60 million, and they are implemented across the African continent.
The inclusion of the prevention of and response to gender-based violence, and is aligned to COVID-19 national prevention and containment measures, is the EU ongoing mission, for example, in Uganda, a consortium led by CARE Denmark, in partnership with other three international and four national NGOs, working on empowerment, accountability and leadership for refugees and host communities, will continue to provide prevention and response services to survivors of gender-based violence and work on other protection issues.
Experiences of past epidemics lead to conclusion that intimate partner violence and sexual exploitation and abuse increase during these periods. Based on this knowledge CARE and partners have adapted the assistance: case management will be provided remotely, while social workers stationed at the health facilities will support gender-based violence screening. For high risk cases, face-to-face interactions will continue, while maintaining social distancing and hand hygiene precautions. The EU’s humanitarian contribution to this action is €2.3 million. In 2019, it is estimated that the EU allocated approximately €26 million of its humanitarian aid budget to the prevention and response to gender-based violence worldwide.
Most EU-funded projects to eliminate violence against women and girls are implemented in partnership with the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) or with international organisations. When the European Commission works with international organisations, the European civil servants also often work with CSOs. For the Spotlight Initiative it is foreseen that at country level, 30-50% should be delivered through CSOs. CSOs also play a crucial role in the design and the governance of the Spotlight Initiative, at national, regional and global level.
Following the COVID crisis, the EU is also providing flexible support to women’s organisations and grassroots organisations, including the much needed core funding. In this context, the EU in close collaboration with the UN is re-directing around €15 million to support and ensure business continuity of CSOs and mitigate challenges and risks linked to the COVID-19 crisis through two above mentioned UN Trust Funds. In the short term, the funds support activités to counter the increase of domestic violence under COVID-19 crisis, prevention, support to survivors, including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), and help provide a lifeline to women’s organisations, CSOs working on gender-based violence related issues.
The Commission adopted its Communication on a global response to COVID-19 in April 2020. This “Team Europe” response is a joint effort between the European Union, its member states and European financial institutions to mobilise resources to support partner countries’ efforts in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
In order to ensure a comprehensive response, the EU’s response includes both urgent, short-term emergency measures, and more medium to long-term measures such as research and health systems strengthening (right to health), and mitigating the economic and social impact.
The response also includes social protection actions, addressing all inequalities and non-discrimination and promotion of human rights. The Communication recalls the importance “to promote and uphold good governance, human rights, the rule of law, gender equality and non-discrimination, decent work conditions, as well as fundamental values and humanitarian principles”.