UNFPA Calls for Protection & Justice for Women & Girls in Tigray

In retelling their stories, women in Tigray describe their attackers as “armed men”. Credit: UNFPA

By Julitta Onabanjo
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2021 – The 2018 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist celebrated for his work with survivors of sexual assault in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Panzi Hospital once said: “Rape is a strategy of war – it is meant to destroy women and communities physically and mentally”.

Sadly, this destruction has become a daily reality for women and girls in the Tigray region in Ethiopia.
In recent weeks, women have come forward with the most devastating stories of sexual violation and physical abuse. Selam, 22, who found shelter in a safe house, is one of the survivors.

She recalls “running from place to place without food or shelter” and “constantly living in fear” after being displaced from her home and repeatedly facing harrowing incidents of sexual violence.

Persistent fighting, forced displacement, and dire living conditions over the past eight months in Tigray and the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara in northern Ethiopia, have created one of Africa’s most pressing humanitarian crises.

More than 5.2 million people in Tigray alone require humanitarian assistance; among them are 118,000 pregnant women and 1.3 million women of reproductive age. Amid the crisis, gross violations and abuses against civilians, including sexual violence, continue to be reported.

The health and well-being of women and adolescent girls are further threatened by food insecurity that is expected to worsen. The destruction and looting of health facilities – around a third are partially functioning, and a mere one per cent are offering clinical management of rape services – further complicates the situation amidst the threat of COVID-19.

Julitta Onabanjo

Selam’s experience is just one of the stories captured by health officials and UN agencies, but these testimonies likely represent only a fraction of the real prevalence.
Even under normal circumstances, given the high levels of stigma, among other factors, gender-based violence is largely unreported in Ethiopia. Only 24 per cent of survivors ever seek assistance, according to the 2016 Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey.

Devastating impact

Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have a devastating impact on women’s physical and mental well-being, rights and choices, and affect their ability to care for their children, support their families and contribute to their societies.

A social worker at the UNFPA-supported safe house where Selam now resides described the women as arriving “traumatized and depressed due to prolonged suffering, distress and horrendous violence”.

Even when women have not experienced sexual violence, the fear of rape or insecurity prevents them from accessing food distributing centres, critical health-care services for themselves or their children, and adolescent girls may stay away from school.

In the long-run, hiding from potential attacks contributes to malnutrition, poor health outcomes, and a lack of educational attainment among women and girls.

UN Member States have recognized the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls. The UN Security Council-adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security, calls on all parties in hostilities to take special measures to “protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict”.

The African Union also committed to “Silencing the Guns” by “ending all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and preventing genocide on the continent by 2020”.

Women’s bodies must not be the object of war or the collateral in conflict. Rather women must be the central subject and partner in peacebuilding.

In retelling their stories, women in Tigray describe their attackers as “armed men”. These serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law must be swiftly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Call to end hostilities

We urge the government of Ethiopia and the international community to step up efforts to end hostilities and all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence, to ensure the health and safety of women and girls.

As part of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) system-wide scale up for the Tigray region activated in April 2021, UNFPA is expanding and accelerating support in its areas of responsibility — protection, prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) and delivering quality sexual and Reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Safe houses

Women-friendly spaces, safe houses and one-stop centres in the conflict-affected regions have been set up to provide clinical management of rape and psychosocial counselling. These spaces connect women to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services and legal services.

What transforms a rape victim into a rape survivor is justice. UNFPA is working with partners to ensure effective referral and prosecution systems are available.

We are working with the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth of Ethiopia to enable the capacity-building of armed personnel and the constitution of a Gender-Based Violence Task Force, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Police University and the Federal Police Commission.

UNFPA is also providing medical supplies, helping to restore health system services, and cumulatively, has distributed hundreds of Emergency Reproductive Health kits and thousands of Dignity Kits.

Additionally, to prevent COVID-19 infections among key staff providing SRH and GBV services and information in government and partner-run health facilities and one-stop centres, nearly 11,000 Personal Protective Equipment items have been distributed since November 2020.

Funds needed urgently

Providing adequate levels of these kinds of life-saving services requires urgent funding. We are calling on all that can help, including government and development partners, to assist us in addressing the immediate needs of women and girls and help us avert the medium to long-term repercussions of sexual violence. The immediate funding requirements for the next six months is $15 million.

The women and girls of Tigray have told us their stories, and we continue to hear them out. Our actions to deal with their trauma and rebuild their lives must be our urgent response.

For women to participate equally in society, they need to make decisions about their bodies freely and without fear. Rape and other forms of gender-based violence destroy the ability of women and girls to make choices and fulfil their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Even in times of conflict, we must continue to defend and protect the rights of women and girls and devote the necessary attention and resources to prevent sexual violence and decisively ensure justice.

Source: Africa Renewal, United Nations

 


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Excerpt:

The writer is UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

Protecting Plants Will Protect People and the Planet

By Barbara Wells
ROME, Jul 26 2021 – Back-to-back droughts followed by plagues of locusts have pushed over a million people in southern Madagascar to the brink of starvation in recent months. In the worst famine in half a century, villagers have sold their possessions and are eating the locusts, raw cactus fruits, and wild leaves to survive.

Barbara Wells

Instead of bringing relief, this year’s rains were accompanied by warm temperatures that created the ideal conditions for infestations of fall armyworm, which destroys mainly maize, one of the main food crops of sub-Saharan Africa.

Drought and famine are not strangers to southern Madagascar, and other areas of eastern Africa, but climate change bringing warmer temperatures is believed to be exacerbating this latest tragedy, according to The Deep South, a new report by the World Bank.

Up to 40% of global food output is lost each year through pests and diseases, according to FAO estimates, while up to 811 million people suffer from hunger. Climate change is one of several factors driving this threat, while trade and travel transport plant pests and pathogens around the world, and environmental degradation facilitates their establishment.

Crop pests and pathogens have threatened food supplies since agriculture began. The Irish potato famine of the late 1840s, caused by late blight disease, killed about one million people. The ancient Greeks and Romans were well familiar with wheat stem rust, which continues to destroy harvests in developing countries.

But recent research on the impact of temperature increases in the tropics caused by climate change has documented an expansion of some crop pests and diseases into more northern and southern latitudes at an average of about 2.7 km a year.

Prevention is critical to confronting such threats, as brutally demonstrated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on humankind. It is far more cost-effective to protect plants from pests and diseases rather than tackling full-blown emergencies.

One way to protect food production is with pest- and disease-resistant crop varieties, meaning that the conservation, sharing, and use of crop biodiversity to breed resistant varieties is a key component of the global battle for food security.

CGIAR manages a network of publicly-held gene banks around the world that safeguard and share crop biodiversity and facilitate its use in breeding more resistant, climate-resilient and productive varieties. It is essential that this exchange doesn’t exacerbate the problem, so CGIAR works with international and national plant health authorities to ensure that material distributed is free of pests and pathogens, following the highest standards and protocols for sharing plant germplasm. The distribution and use of that germplasm for crop improvement is essential for cutting the estimated 540 billion US dollars of losses due to plant diseases annually.

Understanding the relationship between climate change and plant health is key to conserving biodiversity and boosting food production today and for future generations. Human-driven climate change is the challenge of our time. It poses grave threats to agriculture and is already affecting the food security and incomes of small-scale farming households across the developing world.

We need to improve the tools and innovations available to farmers. Rice production is both a driver and victim of climate change. Extreme weather events menace the livelihoods of 144 million smallholder rice farmers. Yet traditional cultivation methods such as flooded paddies contribute approximately 10% of global man-made methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By leveraging rice genetic diversity and improving cultivation techniques we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance efficiency, and help farmers adapt to future climates.

We also need to be cognizant that gender relationships matter in crop management. A lack of gender perspectives has hindered wider adoption of resistant varieties and practices such as integrated pest management. Collaboration between social and crop scientists to co-design inclusive innovations is essential.

Men and women often value different aspects of crops and technologies. Men may value high yielding disease-resistant varieties, whereas women prioritize traits related to food security, such as early maturity. Incorporating women’s preferences into a new variety is a question of gender equity and economic necessity. Women produce a significant proportion of the food grown globally. If they had the same access to productive resources as men, such as improved varieties, women could increase yields by 20-30%, which would generate up to a 4% increase in the total agricultural output of developing countries.

Practices to grow healthy crops also need to include environmental considerations. What is known as a One Health Approach starts from the recognition that life is not segmented. All is connected. Rooted in concerns over threats of zoonotic diseases spreading from animals, especially livestock, to humans, the concept has been broadened to encompass agriculture and the environment.

This ecosystem approach combines different strategies and practices, such as minimizing pesticide use. This helps protect pollinators, animals that eat crop pests, and other beneficial organisms.

The challenge is to produce enough food to feed a growing population without increasing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment, particularly through greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable farming practices that degrade vital soil and water resources, and threaten biodiversity.

Behavioral and policy change on the part of farmers, consumers, and governments will be just as important as technological innovation to achieve this.

The goal of zero hunger is unattainable without the vibrancy of healthy plants, the source of the food we eat and the air we breathe. The quest for a food secure future, enshrined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, requires us to combine research and development with local and international cooperation so that efforts led by CGIAR to protect plant health, and increase agriculture’s benefits, reach the communities most in need.

Barbara H. Wells MSc, PhD is the Global Director of Genetic Innovation at the CGIAR and Director General of the International Potato Center. She has worked in senior-executive level in the agricultural and forestry sectors for over 30 years.

 


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Beware UN Food Systems Summit Trojan Horse

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jul 26 2021 - Undoubtedly, the world needs to reform existing food systems to better serve humanity and sustainable development. But the United Nations World Food Systems Summit (Read more »