The pandemic caused by the novel COVID-19 has disrupted our everyday lives at all levels. Whilst there is the incertitude regarding the magnitude of the currently evolving multidimensional crisis, one thing is certain – women and girls are, and will be, affected disproportionately.
On 5 April UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched an appeal for peace at home ‘and in homes’ and urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of gender-based violence a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19. The appeal was followed by the publication of a Policy Brief on 9 April underlining the need to ‘put women and girls at the centre of efforts to recover from COVID-19’.
EU fully mobilized
Gender equality is mainstreamed in all aspects of the European Union’s response, in line with the EU Gender Equality Strategy (2020-2025). The EU has mobilized several instruments, in and outside its territory, to ensure the protection of women and girls and the recognition of their role and leadership in tackling the crisis.
Women and Girls at the centre of the EU’s response
The European Commission is monitoring that all emergency measures taken by EU Member States are based on the EU’s fundamental values, including the principles of equality and non-discrimination, and address the needs of women and girls and of all vulnerable groups. On 8 April, EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakidou and Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmidt sent recommendations to EU Member States in this respect. The European Commission Joint and Research Centre published a set of policy recommendations to mitigate the impact of the crisis on women and girls.
Also on 8 April, the EU launched the Team Europe Package of EUR 20 billion, aimed at supporting partner countries affected by the crisis. The protection and promotion of the human rights of all women and girls is at the centre of the initiative. Funding is being redirected to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on women and girls and address its economic and social consequences.
The EU has issued guidelines to all EU Delegations around the world to ensure a gender-responsive approach to the crisis, drawing attention to implications for women’s access to health services, in particular sexual and reproductive health and rights, the situation of women healthcare workers and the importance of creating the conditions for the participation of women in decision making processes. Ensuring safe and unhindered access to sexual and reproductive health, including in emergency and conflict-related settings, is an absolute necessity. The EU is ready to step up support wherever these rights are being challenged.
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
EU Member States have taken concrete measures to address the rise of domestic violence in the face of the COVID-19 restrictions. For instance, in Spain, an instant messaging service with a geolocation function offers an online chat room that provides immediate psychological support to survivors of violence. In France, grocery stores are housing pop-up services and 20,000 hotel room nights have been made available to women needing shelter from abusive situations. A mapping of best practices is currently underway.
Globally, the EU is adapting the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to respond better to these risks. With an EU funding of EUR 500 million, Spotlight is the largest global investment to eliminate violence against women and girls. UN Residence Coordinators and EU Delegations are working jointly to prioritise and re-focus activities relating to the prevention of violence and access to comprehensive services for women and girls victims of domestic and gender-based violence in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. Concrete projects are being implemented to scale-up existing hotlines, shelters and to equip health, police, justice and social protection sectors for women and girls.
Spotlight has invested USD 1 million in Timor Leste to counter gender-based violence during the pandemic. Similarly, the Spotlight Initiative is supporting government partners in Mozambique in their efforts to stem the spread of the virus while working to end violence against women and girls. Another positive example is the programme implemented in El Salvador where, in partnership with the Municipality of San Martin, the Spotlight Initiative uses art and theatre productions to speak to young people about violence prevention.
Women’s Economic Empowerment
The socioeconomic impacts of the crisis are hitting women and girls the hardest. Women are more likely to be in temporary, part-time and precarious employment than men. They also carry a disproportionate part of unpaid care work, which has increased during the crisis. The EU’s comprehensive economic response to the outbreak aims at supporting people and businesses that are facing the most difficulties.
Through the WE EMPOWER programme, the EU is leading advocacy efforts to highlight the economic impact on women and girls, but also their role in recovery processes. The WE EMPOWER Programme is currently preparing recommendations to G7 countries on how to ensure women’s economic empowerment and security in the post covid-19 economy.
Grassroots women’s organisations
Civil society organisations are struggling economically, while restrictions imposed by Covid-19 measures are limiting their reach. Under the Spotlight initiative, the EU has mobilized USD 137 million for direct and flexible support to women’s and grassroots’ organisations through UN women. Funding is currently being redirected to ensure the business continuity of civil society organisations, and mitigate challenges and risks linked to COVID-19. The EU will continue to prioritize support to and dialogue with civil society organisations and women human rights defenders. The EU is proud to take the lead of the Violence Action Coalition under the Generation Equality Forum, which will meet next year in Mexico and France.
United with 146 partners
The coronavirus pandemic reminds us how interconnected we are and how crucial multilateral cooperation is. We must join forces to find global solutions. This is why the EU launched together with Argentina, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, New Zealand, and Turkey, a statement in support of the UN Secretary-General’s appeal against Gender-Based Violence and COVID-19. Joined by 146 UN Member States and Observers from all regions, the initiative underlines our strong commitment to making gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls a key part of all national and international responses.
The European Union will continue to promote coordination in all relevant multilateral fora, including working with the UN, the World Health Organisation, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other regional organisations.
The only way to “build back better” for everyone is to ensure the inclusion of women and girls in response and recovery decisions. The EU is fully committed to leading efforts in this respect.