UN Trust Fund launches its Annual Report 2021
Foreword by Vesna Jaric, Chief a.i., UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women
Every year since 1996, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) has reported on trends in challenges to achieving freedom from violence for women and girls, at the same time highlighting how women’s rights organizations and feminist movements have harnessed opportunities and developed promising practices to counteract these trends. During that time, women’s rights organizations and feminist movements have spearheaded transformational change and shown extraordinary resilience in the face of obstacles.
Gender inequality is both universally pervasive and context dependent. Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent obstacles to development and a deeply rooted cause of inequality sustained by socio-cultural norms that govern our societies. In more recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic and a number of overlapping crises have greatly exacerbated an already dire situation for women and girls. This is why the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is heavily dependent on our ability to put an end to violence against women, especially in the context of disruptive events that represent significant threat multipliers.
The year 2021 was marked globally by a backlash regarding women’s rights. This is one of the key indicators of the erosion of freedom, increased risks of authoritarian rule and shrinking spaces for civic action. As the world has been adjusting to the “COVID-19 new normal”, 2021 witnessed a series of overlapping crises, from natural disasters linked to climate change, to the sudden escalation of protracted crises into outright conflict as well as increased economic insecurity. These crises have devastated the lives of civilian populations and there is a direct correlation between their impact and the rise in violence against women and girls.
Natural disasters are increasingly driving the destruction of habitats, migrations, instability and food shortages. This increases the risks that women and girls turn to negative coping mechanisms to survive or are the victims of gender-based violence, such as trafficking, forced and child marriage and sexual exploitation. In addition, waves of growing populism and radical right-wing politics, coupled with anti-gender movements, are mutually reinforcing each other and jeopardizing the gains made in creating a more equal and safer world for women and girls. The organized attacks on women’s bodily autonomy, health choices and reproductive rights are coordinated and well resourced.
As we are preparing to publish this report, the war in Ukraine is raging, taking a massive toll on human lives and generating indescribable suffering. It appears that the violations of the human rights of women and girls — extensively documented by international ad hoc tribunals (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) and the International Criminal Court — are happening once again. Sexual violence, including rape is yet again weaponized against women and girls and will have a long-lasting impact on the generations to come.
The sudden shift from the development to humanitarian context in Ukraine has challenged the foundational concepts of the separation between development and humanitarian aid. Concurrently, the rapid escalation of war, forced migration and the global outcry for a rapid response created an increased focus on investments in security through military protection and shifts in funding toward humanitarian responses. These shifts carry a risk of scaling down development aid investments in ending widespread human rights abuses such as violence against women and girls. Reduced spending on ending violence against women, heightens the likelihood of a backlash on hard won gradual progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
New challenges require new solutions that transcend divisions and build on a development-humanitarian-peace nexus while recognizing the central role that women’s rights organizations and feminist movements play in this space.
The UN Trust Fund’s report bears testimony to the life-saving work of women’s rights organizations in contexts of multiplied threats and overlapping crises that have required them to adapt, build solidarity networks and act collectively to safeguard women and girls’ lives, dignity and rights. Investment in their organizational resilience is an investment in the infrastructure of hope. Women’s rights organizations are rooted in the territory of their operations and have the ability to reach those at risk of being left furthest behind, by providing services and support and bolstering women’s empowerment, which has proven to be the most effective strategy for achieving human development.
If we measured development success by the ability to reach and serve those at risk of being left furthest behind, there would be no doubt that direct resourcing to women’s rights organizations is our best bet for delivering upon the promise of sustainable human development.
Chief a.i., UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women