November 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the beginning of the “16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence” campaign.
Violence against women, a universal problem
Any woman can be a victim of violence, regardless of her origin, culture, social class, age and religion. Despite numerous commitments, no country has yet succeeded in putting an end to this widespread human rights violation. There is also a conservative pushback around the world on the issue of gender equality.
Since 2001, Belgium has been concretizing its policy to combat gender-based violence through a National Action Plan (NAP) involving the Federal State, the Communities and the Regions, and coordinated by the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men. This action plan includes an international component, for Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation.
The impact of COVID-19
In 2020, the theme of this International Day is the impact of COVID-19. According to the United Nations, a worrying increase in violence against women, particularly cases of domestic violence, was observed around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the containment measures introduced to curb the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to stay in their homes.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Belgian authorities have taken a number of measures to address the issue of violence against women, particularly domestic violence. Following the second wave of COVID-19, an action plan to combat gender and domestic violence has just been adopted by the federal government, aware that confinement and curfews carry a risk of aggravating gender-based violence, particularly at home.
A priority for Belgium’s external action
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmès underlines the active commitment of the Belgian diplomacy worldwide to protect women and girls against gender-based violence. Our country is working towards a broad ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe). This is a legally binding instrument that focuses on government measures in four main areas: prevention of violence, protection of victims, prosecution of perpetrators and the development of integrated, comprehensive and coordinated policy measures.
Belgium contributes to the implementation of EU policy, which has developed guidelines on violence against women and the fight against all forms of discrimination against women. With these guidelines, the EU confirms its commitment to concretely promote gender equality and women’s rights in its foreign policy.
Sophie Wilmès: “Belgium is a committed player in the fight against the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and terrorism. We have consistently given our political support to bring this issue to the highest level of the international agenda and we financially support the UN entities that address this problem. Today, I signed a contribution of 300,000 euros for the Trust Fund for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. This fund will provide services to survivors of sexual violence and to judicial institutions to address this type of crime“.
The fight against gender-based violence is also at the heart of the work of Belgian Development Cooperation. Minister for Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir: “Even before COVID-19 struck, 243 million women and girls worldwide were victims of violence by their intimate partners last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified violence, while support services were not always accessible. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are a priority for the Belgian Development Cooperation. For several years, we have played a major role in the fight against gender-based violence in a number of countries. And we are not giving up, our efforts will not cease in order to eradicate this serious problem that affects the health and lives of women and girls and hampers all development efforts. We aspire to a world free of gender-based violence, where every girl and woman can decide her own future.”
A call for proposals was launched in the summer of 2020 to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on populations by supporting the fight against gender-based violence, particularly against women and girls. This call promotes an approach based on three pillars (resilience, protection and participation) for a bugget amounting to nearly 4 million euros. A contribution of 800,000 euros to the Global Survival Fund is currently under consideration. Its mission is to ensure that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence have access to reparations. Restorative justice is crucial as it recognizes the harm inflicted on victims, provides support (financial or other) to victims so that they can rebuild their lives and, finally, plays a deterrent (prevention) role.
As every year, Belgium’s diplomatic network is mobilizing in support of UN WOMEN’s campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”. You will be able to follow the action of our embassies and diplomatic posts through their accounts on social networks. The color orange has been chosen as the symbol of this campaign on social networks.