Celebrate, support, recognize, fund, invest in women and girls

By Abigail Erikson, Chief, UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women

As the 68th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) concluded last month, centered around the priority theme, “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective, it prompts a thoughtful reflection on how the Agreed Conclusions — and the wider discussions taking place in and outside the halls of CSW68 — influence and shape the work of the UN Trust Fund.

Globally, 10.3 per cent of women live in extreme poverty today; multidimensional poverty is also putting women and girls at risk of various forms of violence, in both public and private spheres, including intimate partner violence, harmful practices, sexual exploitation and abuse such as trafficking in persons, and violence amplified by technology. Recently, the world has seen a surge in both human-made and natural disasters, worsening displacement and oppression globally. This increase in violence has had devastating impacts on women and girls, further plunging them into poverty and compromising their bodily autonomy, dignity and freedom amidst this turmoil. Yet, at the same time, we’ve witnessed the inspiring efforts of women’s rights and civil society organizations in saving lives and leading transformational change.

Throughout the two weeks of CSW68, I participated in several collective learning circles and dialogues. These experiences underscored the profound realities of ongoing and pervasive rollbacks on women’s rights worldwide. Among them, I convened our annual UN Trust Fund’s Meet and Greet dialogue, engaging with over 30 of our grantee partners providing life-saving services, promoting feminist leadership and advocacy, and working every day to prevent gender-based violence.

Meet & Greet with grantee partners attending CSW68 at UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women’s office in New York. ©️ Diep Nguyen/UN Trust Fund.

In addition, I joined several thought-provoking panels on a range of critical topics. These discussions included the need for feminist humanitarian response, particularly in light of the intensifying crises and their impact on all women and girls; the need to strengthen efforts to prevent female genital mutilation (FGM) especially in the current context of significant rollbacks on women’s bodily autonomy; the critical need for resourcing women’s rights and feminist movements to strengthen efforts aimed at countering backlash against gender equality, and strategies to fulfill commitments outlined in Special Article 39 regarding the rights of Indigenous women and girls. Within these dialogues, I spoke about the crucial, often lifesaving, work of our partner organizations, more than half of whom are currently operating in crisis context with insufficient resources while putting their lives at risk in rapidly evolving environments.

As CSW68 closed, and friends and colleagues bid farewell, I am left with a renewed commitment to address these urgent realities and needs:

Firstly, the lives of women and girls in all their diversity are threatened every minute and hour of the day, with devastating consequences in war and conflicts. The urgent need for — and clear potential — of collective action cannot be overstated. Secondly, we need to demonstrate trust through sustained core, flexible and long-term resources to women’s rights and civil society organizations working day in and day out to save lives and bring about transformational change. And thirdly, the UN Trust Fund will continue to listen, learn, adapt and stay firm in our commitment to supporting organizations safeguarding the rights, empowerment and transformation of women and girls.

Our commitment is directly demonstrated in the continued efforts to resource civil society-led initiatives to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls globally. In 2023, 24 additional grants were awarded across 22 countries and territories, totaling $11.1 million, with 34 per cent going to organizations working in protracted crises.

Our partner organizations will be providing support to women and girls in the context of protracted crises, including conflict settings, as well as focusing on reaching those most likely to be left behind. In Nigeria, our twice-funded grantee partner Empowering Women for Excellence Initiative (EWEI) will provide comprehensive specialist support to women and girls at risk of violence, including Indigenous women and girls and refugee or internally displaced women, in the context of the protracted conflict in Kaduna State. In Türkiye, the Syrian women-led Amal Healing and Advocacy Centre intends to prevent violence against Syrian refugee women and girls, including by preventing child marriage through training community mobilizers to lead advocacy groups in Gaziantep and Hatay provinces, both of which were especially affected by the devastating earthquake last year.

Cover of UN Women’s Gender Alert in Gaza.

While new grantee partners come onboard, existing grantee partners are grappling with acute challenges in hostile contexts, where women and children’s lives are at extremely high risk of violence, including in Gaza. Six months into the war on Gaza, over 10,000 women have been killed, among them an estimated 6,000 mothers, leaving 19,000 children orphaned. During this time, our team remains in close communication with our current grantee partners in the West Bank and Gaza, including the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) and Stars of Hope Society for the Empowerment of Women with Disabilities (SHS), both organizations have had to reassess how to operate in war. WCLAC has since intensified training activities on social media, first aid, and circulating information on existing laws that protect women survivors of violence in the war context. Working with women with disabilities, SHS and local partners have realigned regular interventions under their current project, and diverted the focus on emergency response. So far, SHS and partners have developed data collection tools and surveying the needs of women living with disabilities in the current context, which has led to SHS distributing 435 emergency bags and 170 assistive devices to women living with disabilities. In addition, SHS has also developed and published eight policy papers on the situation of persons with disabilities in Gaza, with information gathered by women with disabilities who act as focal points in their communities.

Invest in ending violence against women and girls at community level

A vibrant, important theme that ran through CSW68 was the collective conversation about where the money is going and how to mobilize domestic resources towards feminist movements and women’s empowerment. The Agreed Conclusions mentioned explicitly how the “impact of illicit financial flows” has exacerbated the “challenges faced by women and girls living in poverty”. Resourcing demand-driven initiatives led by civil society and women’s rights organizations has been at the heart of the UN Trust Fund’s work for the past 28 years, and we are proud to have fostered a true spirit of partnerships whereby our grantee partners inform how the Trust Fund adapts and evolves — we know that we need to be constantly listening and learning to do better. Women’s rights and civil society organizations know what they need, and it is our job to adjust and adapt to the greatest extent possible.

The Lotus Flower, a grantee partner in Iraq, conducting sensitization activities. ©️ The Lotus Flower.

As we continue into 2024, the UN Trust Fund is unwavering in our vision of women and girls, in all their diversity, living safely and equally. There is no single initiative that can deliver systemic solutions alone. We know the power of this vision can only be achieved through resourcing, partnerships, collaboration, listening and learning.

We are grateful to be on this journey with our incredible partners and allies around the world; we are thankful for the countless acts of resistance and solidarity made daily by feminists, women’s rights groups, civil society, and our allies, all steadfast in their dedication to a world where all women and girls enjoy a life free from violence. We will honor and continue this legacy.



UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to eradicating all forms of #VAWG. https://untf.unwomen.org/