The Spotlight Initiative, a multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations aimed at eliminating violence against women and girls, was featured at the opening of the 12th edition of the European Development Days (EDDs, 5-6 June) on Tuesday.
Hosted by the European Commission, this year’s EDDs were held under the banner of ‘Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development: Protect, Empower, Invest’ focusing on ‘Sustainable Development Goal #5’ on gender equality and living free from violence and discrimination.
"Spotlight aims to support Governments, build on the leadership of civil society, and focus on the most urgent needs, such as preventing violence, providing services for survivors and reforming the criminal justice system," said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed in her keynote.
The panel segment kicked off with UN Women Regional Goodwill Ambassador and anti-FGM activist Jaha Dukureh who underwent FGM as an infant and was married twice before the age of 18.
"When you force a young girl to get married at an early age, you have actually given someone the right to rape her every day," said Dukureh.
Launched in September 2017 with EUR 500 million in 'seed money' from the EU, the Spotlight Initiative seeks to address harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage as well as domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence, femicide, trafficking in human beings and sexual and economic (labour) exploitation, in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and the Caribbean.
The UN Deputy Secretary-General applauded EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica for his leadership in bringing the Spotlight Initiative into being and championing women’s rights around the world. "His vision, his passion and his commitment to the cause of women is quite incredible," Ms. Mohammed said.
"From the heads of global and European institutions, to the heart of governments, from grassroots organisations, to the very soul of families and communities – women and girls are leading the change that we need to see", said Commissioner Mimica.
The panel, moderated by Zain Verjee, discussed how to ensure that programmes aimed at eliminating violence would leave no one behind, especially women who faced additional risks based on ethnicity, religion, disability, nationality, income, sexual orientation or other factors.
"Laws are not enough. You need to address the underlying social norms and stereotypes at the community level that sustain harmful practices," said Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Feminist and co-Executive Director of the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) Hakima Abbas stressed that the #MeToo movement was not started in Hollywood in 2017 but was launched by activist Tarana Burke in 2006 as a "platform for healing. We need to defend the human rights defenders and take a bottom-up approach," she said.
The panel concluded with Dr. Abhijit Das, Global Co-Chair of the MenEngage Alliance and Director of the Centre for Health and Social Justice in New Delhi who recommended educating boys from a young age to be aware of male privilege and to make space for girls. Like Hakima Abbas, he favoured a "bottom-up approach based on empathy and solidarity."