Amplifying the work of women activists in the fight to end gender-based violence

December 6, 2022
Illustration: Anina Takeff for Fine Acts x OBI

Progress has been made on many fronts to achieve gender equality and empower women worldwide - from increasing women’s political participation to closing gender pay gaps, adopting legislation for gender responsive budgeting to engaging men in sharing unpaid care work and being responsible fathers. Incredible women activists and solidarity movements emerging across the globe have contributed immensely to moving the gender equality agenda forward.  The explosive growth of the #MeToo movement demonstrated the power of unity as a global wave of activism and public support shifted the conversation and narratives around gender-based violence and equal rights for men and women.

Momentum has increased, but challenges remain when it comes to the ongoing battle to end gender-based violence. Across the Europe and Central Asia region, reports have shown increases of violence against women of up to 65 percent during the initial lockdown phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outbreaks of conflict such as the war in Ukraine have resulted in an escalation of the rates and risks around conflict-related sexual violence, domestic violence, and human trafficking. As of June 2022, the Human Rights Monitoring Team of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Ukraine had received reports of 124 alleged acts of conflict-related sexual violence across the country. Services for survivors of violence are still difficult to access. Highly vulnerable populations such as those living with HIV/AIDS, individuals with disabilities, or certain gender identities or sexual orientations are still excluded from receiving support. There is still a lack of a unified approach to data collection around gender-based violence, as well as a lack of capacity and funding for provision of specialized services - in particular around psychological support.  

In spite all these challenges, women activists and organizations are at the forefront, bearing the brunt of the global struggle to stop this phenomenon despite limited resources and access to decision-making spaces, even when operating in the midst of wars and conflicts. Civil society and activists are working around the clock, from providing direct support to survivors to calling for legal and justice system reforms for stronger protections and improved implementation, often putting themselves at risk of experiencing intersecting forms of violence every day.

In Ukraine, since the very first day of the war in February, 68-year-old Liubov Maksymovych, a woman activist and head of the UNDP-supported Women’s Perspectives Center NGO in Lviv, Western Ukraine, and her colleagues have collaborated with local volunteers to help find safe shelters for women. Aside from necessities such as food, clothing, medicine, hygiene products and temporary shelter — women in those shelters received psychological, legal help, and advice how to avoid human trafficking.

In Central Asia, the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme supports the work of women’s NGOs that, despite facing multiple challenges around a lack of financial resources, imperfect legal frameworks, and insufficient public awareness, continue assisting those in need. They offer support in various ways: from digital solutions to direct hands-on support. Elena Tkacheva, head of "Chance-CC", Kyrgyzstan says: "Seeing first-hand changes brought to the lives of women our organization provides assistance and experiencing the sense of solidarity and friendly relations through joint activities, inspires us and all women."

Civil society and activists are not only working to end violence; they are equipping women with the tools to recover and thrive. These acts of solidarity are exemplified in the stories of women supported by these movements. After fleeing from Ukraine, Irina received the help she needed to get back on her feet from UNDP and Swedish-government partner Everyone Contributes for Change (FCPS), in Moldova. Today, she works with FCPS to empower other women who have been through traumatic or violent experiences.

UNDP is partnering with a wide variety of initiatives across the region as a core component of our Gender Equality Strategy and our goal of driving change forward. Engagement and partnership with civil society, local NGOs, and women activists is an essential ingredient for enacting real change, and a key part of our newly launched action-oriented 10-Point Action Agenda for advancing gender equality in crisis settings.

With the foundation of our civil society partnerships, we must move the needle forward, together. Gender-based violence can only be resolved through empowering people at all levels, from ensuring basic needs are met, to providing support systems for survivors, to strengthening mental health services, to enabling economic independence, to ensuring that legislation and implementation reflect the needs of all communities. We must continue to learn from and build on the immense knowledge and experience of feminist and women’s organizations, and other groups advocating for equality. It is now up to us to strengthen civil society’s support system, and to ensure that they have the legal protections, financial resources, and public support needed to continue their critical work. UNDP along with other international institutions must use our influence to continue to bring together women’s rights movements, civil society, and activists together with policy makers and the private sector to ensure that these crucial actors have a seat – and a voice - at the table.

In honor of the theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls” – let us continue to amplify the advocates and activists who put themselves on the frontlines of these battles every day.