Meet Abigail Erikson, the new Chief of the UN Trust Fund!
Abigail “Abby” Erikson is a licensed clinical social worker who has dedicated her career to improving the lives of women and girls. A fierce advocate for ending violence against women and girls, Abby has 20 years of experience working on sexual and reproductive health and rights; promoting gender equality, and strengthening efforts to address gender-based violence, in diverse development and humanitarian settings. For the past seven years, she has served as UN Women’s lead technical expert on ending violence against women and girls based in the Fiji Multi Country Office, providing leadership on policy and programme development.
Prior to UN Women, Abby held multiple positions leading on gender-based violence in emergencies for the International Rescue Committee, ranging from Programme Manager of a Gender-Based Violence Programme in the Burmese refugee camps to the Acting Senior Technical Director for Women’s Protection and Empowerment Unit. In the US, she also worked for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, rape crisis centres, domestic violence shelters, LGBTQ counselling centres.
In January 2023, Abigail joined the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) to take on her new role as Chief.
Welcome aboard! You come to this role with a wealth of experience and expertise on ending violence against women and girls. What are some of the pressing challenges that women’s rights and civil society organizations are facing in the current context of intersecting and compounding crises?
We are in an increasingly complex global environment of escalating insecurity and conflict as well as chronic humanitarian disasters fueled by climate change. This is all happening in the global context of inflation and on the heels of COVID-19, when gains in women’s rights are being rolled back. We are also seeing a shrinking space for civil society and women’s rights.
Yet, we are also seeing incredible resilience, solidarity and bravery by women’s rights activists’ and organizations globally: from Iran to Afghanistan, to Myanmar to Ukraine, across so many different contexts. This is one of the few things giving us hope and is at the center of the work of the UN Trust Fund. In all settings, the UN Trust Fund advocates for better resourcing and support to civil society and women’s rights organizations, through a focus on core and flexible funding.
Despite the challenges, civil society and women’s rights organizations continue to drive a global movement that aims collectively to end violence against women and girls. How do you see the role of the UN Trust Fund in the larger ending violence against women ecosystem?
The UN Trust Fund’s pivotal role is very clear: to sustain civil society and women’s rights movements so they can continue to act as a catalyst for change locally and globally.
The way we support our grantees with capacity development, organizational resilience and institutional strengthening is also very special. It means we not only garner support and financial resources, but also amplify the voices of civil society organizations where their knowledge and leadership skills are spearheading regional and global advocacy.
There is this amazing community that we have supported and nurtured. For instance, in Eswatini and South Africa, two UN Trust Fund grantees, Sonke Gender Justice and the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse, are working together to implement the “Safe at Home, Safe in Relationships” project aimed at empowering local civil society and community-based organizations to end violence against women and girls. This sub-region collaboration among grantees contributes to strengthening regional feminist and women’s rights movements.
We now have a really important role in supporting partnerships for action across diverse contexts.
What are some of the key partnerships that you intend to focus on?
First and foremost, the most important partnership for the UN Trust Fund is our partnerships with our grantee civil society and women’s rights organizations. We ensure our grant-giving is demand-driven. We prioritize what our partners need in terms of capacity development and support, based on their requests. We aim to amplify their practice-based knowledge to inform the UN and key partners’ policies and programming, and continue advocating for the recognition of the essential role of civil society and women’s rights organizations in ending violence against women and girls. There is also an important growth area for partnerships with the feminist funding space which we can learn from and support one another, grounded in our feminist values and approaches.
How can we accelerate implementation of the UN Trust Fund’s Strategic Plan 2021–2025 to help achieve the targets of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 — “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”?
There is widespread recognition that we are not going to achieve any SDG, including SDG 5, without reducing and hopefully eliminating gender-based violence globally.
The UN Trust Fund continues to lobby for resources to go directly to women’s rights and civil society organizations, in the context of shrinking spaces for and direct attacks on women’s rights organizations.
In addition to dedicated project funding, the UN Trust Fund has an opportunity to strengthen practice-based knowledge. The research on ending violence against women is still predominantly centred on the “what” question, which is really important. But we want to complement this with “how” and “why” questions, the process and mechanisms questions, of how do we get there, how do we effectively end violence against women across diverse communities and contexts? We have so much more to learn from the successful work done for decades by women’s rights organizations but hasn’t yet been brought into mainstream research data.
The UN Trust Fund is in a unique position as an interagency UN mechanism that helps facilitate connections through the support we provide at a country level and the existing partnerships between the UN, civil society and governments for gender-transformative policy making at national, regional and global levels
We have a crucial role to play in driving social change and I am proud to be working alongside global civil society and women’s rights organizations, the UN and other key partners to advance a world where women and girls can live free from violence.