€500M pledge on gender-based violence is a start, but won't solve the 'huge problem'

Group photograph of signatories of EU-U.N. Spotlight Initiative for the elimination of violence against women and girls. Photo by: Rick Bajornas / U.N.

UNITED NATIONS — The European Union has pledged €500 million ($585 million) for gender-based violence grants as the single biggest financial commitment to emerge during Global Goals Week. But experts in the sector point out it is still far from enough to solve such a serious problem.

The funding pledge was announced Wednesday during the launch of a spotlight initiative and “historic meeting” of United Nations agency heads with U.N. Director-General António Guterres, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, and European Commission development officials at the U.N. Headquarters.

The funding — as part of a trust fund that will be open to more donors — will be implemented within the next two years, a European Union source told Devex. Programs in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and the Pacific region will benefit from the new funding, which will arrive through grants, within the next five to six years. The U.N. will act as an implementing partner.

Natalia Kanem, the acting executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, described the partnership between the U.N. agencies and the EU as a “great start.”

“This initiative is a multi-agency partnership, so the SG's office, U.N. Women, UNFPA, and UNDP are all cooperative on this. This will be done in dialogue, so it is not finished yet,” she told Devex in a phone interview following the announcement.

“Half a billion is a lot of money, but this is a huge problem that we don't expect this is going to solve and make this vanish from the Earth. So, we have to focus and prioritize what the regions themselves say are their priorities,” Kanem explained.

Approximately one in three women will face some form of violence throughout their lifetimes, according to U.N. estimates that Guterres cited in his speech. Forty-nine countries do not have any laws protecting women from violence, according to UNFPA’s Kanem.

But that stark statistic is increasingly “linked to other acts of violence, including violent extremism and even terrorism,” Guterres said.

Through extensive consultations, regions have signaled that different issues are priorities to them. Femicide will receive funding in Latin America, a region that has the world’s highest rate of the targeted killing of women. The Pacific region will focus on domestic and family violence, while the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa will likely devote the resources to sexual and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation. Trafficking and economic exploitation will come into focus in Asia with the initiative.

The trust fund will be open to more donors and is designed to reach the most remote areas in these regions. The next phase, Kanem says, is moving beyond regions to specific countries that will benefit from the funding.

The method of partnership is historic, says Kane, noting both the financial size of the backing and also the decision of the EU to work with the U.N. and Guterres.

“The money is not coming specifically to the U.N. It is earmarked to the regions, so this leaves no one behind,” she said.

The move speaks to the development agenda and priorities of the European Union, which in 2016 committed €419 million, or more than $500 million, for specific gender actions as part of its foreign policy. It also worked to promote gender equality across 92 percent of all of its new foreign policy initiatives.

The partnership is also aimed at responding to a human rights agenda, which continues to see setbacks.

“Everywhere in the world you have courageous women demanding their rights. The SDG agenda fosters equality and it also fosters empowerment of women and girls, yet we do see pushback on this agenda,” Kanem said. “It is very important to have a signal like this that every women and girl matters and that every women and girl should be treated with respect and dignity.”

Devex is on the ground in New York at Global Goals Week, bringing you daily morning briefings with everything you need to know whether you're here in person or following the events from afar.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.