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UN launches 2020 campaign to raise awareness of ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence

CW: gender-based violence

25 November marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence.

Launched on Wednesday, the 2020 campaign will focus on the ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence worldwide.

“Men’s violence against women is also a pandemic — one that pre-dates the virus and will outlive it”, explained Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women. Data collected by the UN shows that globally, 35% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, or sexual violence by a non-partner.

Some national studies suggest that that number may be as high as 70% of women with figures worsening since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Calls to helplines have increased five-fold in some countries as rates of reported intimate partner violence have risen.

However, the UN has said that the data it has collected cannot fully capture the extent of the surge in gender-based violence. This is partially due to the fact that, according to UN estimates, less than 40% of women who experience gender-based violence seek any kind of help and less than 10% report attacks to law enforcement.

The UN is seeking to raise awareness of the shadow pandemic and to help the women it affects via its UNiTE to End Violence Against Women Campaign. Launched in 2008, the UNiTE Campaign is designed to call on “governments, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system to join forces in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.”

The launch of this year’s campaign was celebrated around the world, with buildings from the European Parliament to the pyramids of Giza being lit up in orange in a show of solidarity. The UN’s rallying cry of “Orange the World” has also made a global impact.

In the wake of the widespread impact of #MeToo, the UN’s strategy to end violence against women has placed a greater emphasis on the role of activism in driving social change. A central theme of this year’s UNiTE Campaign is ‘handing over the mic’, with the UN stating that it aims to amplify the voices of “survivors and activists”. This commitment to empowering activists and individuals has manifested in a focus on the stories of survivors and funding for women-led organizations working to end gender-based violence.

The UNiTE Campaign has also stressed the importance of intersectionality, its website stating that “while gender-based violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable – for instance, young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrants and refugees, indigenous women and ethnic minorities, or women and girls living with HIV and disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises.”

The UN hopes to advance a ‘human rights based’ approach to ending violence faced by women, focusing attention on the most disadvantaged groups of women and girls. One activist prominently featured in this year’s UNiTE Campaign works to end violence against one of the most vulnerable groups of women – transgender women. Ukranian activist Anastasiia Yeva Domani, a transgender woman, campaigns to erode the stereotypes surrounding transgender individuals in order to reduce the discrimination they face.

In order to help individuals get involved, the UNiTE Campaign has drawn attention to the UN Secretary-General’s 7 Point Call for Action, which includes increased investment in online services and civil society organizations, strengthened judicial systems and scaled up public awareness campaigns.

Individuals are also encouraged to take action through social media, education, community work, donations and a personal commitment to refusing to accept violence.

The UN hopes that by empowering activists and harnessing the power of collective mobilisation on social media, it can alleviate some of the suffering brought about by the shadow pandemic and bring about an end to gender-based violence globally.

Image source: Pixabay