Gender Lens Crucial to Leaving No One Behind (Part 1)

Getting back on track post-COVID-19 is crucial says Regional Director of UNFPA ASRO, Dr Luay Shabaneh. The UNFPA runs several programmes for women and girls, here girls listen to a youth educator network Y-PEER presentation on the harms of female genital mutilation at their school in Garowe, Puntland. Credit: UNFPA Somalia/Tobin Jones

By IPS Correspondent
Johannesburg , Feb 27 2022 – Parliamentarians’ leadership in a post-COVID-19 recovery is crucial to achieving the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agenda. The involvement of lawmakers in ensuring a more equal, just, and sustainable society will come under the spotlight during a two-day inter-regional meeting organized by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) and the Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD,) and supported by UNFPA ASRO in early March 2022.

The Regional Director of UNFPA ASRO, Dr Luay Shabaneh, spoke exclusively to IPS.

Under the spotlight at the meeting will be efforts by lawmakers to ensure that no one is left behind.

“To this end, parliamentarians’ leadership is vital in ensuring population issues are addressed using a human rights approach and a gender lens and in securing rights and choices for all,” Shabaneh says.

At the Cairo hybrid meeting, APDA, with support from UNFPA ASRO and FAPPD, will engage parliamentarians in a debate on issues impacting human rights and gender-based violence (GBV). The aim is to champion a rights-based approach to policies and legislation to achieve the 2030 Agenda and ICPD PoA.

Regional Director of UNFPA ASRO, Dr Luay Shabaneh.

Here are excerpts from the interviews:

Inter Press Service:

UNFPA works extensively with women displaced, often affected by wars/conflicts, living in crises, and now over the past two years, has had to deal with COVID protocols characterized, in many countries, by lockdowns and restrictions. How has UNFPA continued with its GBV services during this time?

Regional Director of UNFPA ASRO, Dr Luay Shabaneh

It is well known that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and girls and has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, resulting in alarming health and economic impacts for women and increased reports of GBV.

UNFPA adjusted its support to mitigate against some of the impacts through programmes like Women and Girls Safe Spaces. UNFPA and partners have adopted different delivery modalities due to COVID-19 restrictions such as hotlines and online counseling instead of face-to-face engagement. It is increasingly investing in cash and voucher assistance (CVA) in the Arab States region to address economic barriers to access SRH and GBV services or purchase necessary items.

On the ground, UNFPA continues to address GBV prevention and response through sensitizing national partners on intersections of gender and public health and how to manage the increased risk of GBV ethically and effectively.

UNFPA works to ensure barriers and risks of exclusion faced by women and girls with intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination are lowered. It developed online tools on GBV prevention and response during COVID-19 supported hotlines to address the immediate needs of GBV survivors. It distributed dignity kits adapted to COVID-19 for female healthcare workers, women and girls in quarantine and isolation, and refugees and asylum seekers. UNFPA updated the GBV referral pathways to compensate for the disruption of services, particularly for clinical management of rape and offering GBV prevention and response essential services package at UNFPA-supported safe spaces.

At the regional level, UNFPA continues to provide capacity building and support to government and civil society representatives responsible for delivering GBV services to ensure that service provision continues to meet international human rights standards in light of COVID-19 restrictions.

In 2021, capacity-building training was delivered online to officials in Iraq, Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, and Bahrain based on a regional handbook on essential services for GBV developed by the UNFPA ASRO.

IPS:  In the Arab region, as in other areas, child and early marriage, harmful practices like FGM continue. How is UNFPA working with parliamentarians to ensure legislation, budget, and support services for women and girls?

Shabaneh: The collaboration with the parliamentarians in Somalia includes advocacy efforts for the passage of the draft sexual offenses bills, which considers child marriage as a violation of the bodily autonomy of young girls and therefore is considered a sexual offense. The women’s caucus of the national parliament is the focal point for child/women-related policies and strategies.

On June 10, 2021, Puntland State in Somalia passed a zero-tolerance FGM bill to the parliament. It is expected that this bill, once passed into law, will have a ripple effect in the campaign to end FGM in Puntland. The approval of the FGM bill in Puntland makes it one of the first constituencies in Somalia to approve a zero-tolerance FGM bill.

Substantial advocacy efforts have been invested ahead of the passing of this legislation. The Ministry of Justice in Puntland, which is among the key recipients of UNFPA UNICEF Joint Program funds, has been vigorously pushing to endorse the zero tolerance of FGM. UNFPA supported consultations with religious leaders, parliamentarians, and communities and in drafting the FGM Zero Tolerance Bill. UNFPA has also supported FGM campaigns in Puntland, leading to many abandoning the practice. Currently, UNFPA Somalia is working with the women caucus in the parliament and the human rights committee to ensure the passage of the zero-tolerance bill.

In Djibouti, the UNFPA has put two strategies to end harmful practices and child marriages.

This includes article 333 of the penal code and Article 13 of the 2013 Family Code now stipulate that the legal age of marriage is 18 years old. In February 2020, a law on the promotion, protection, and care of victims of gender-based violence with the technical support of UNFPA was adopted by a presidential decree.

UNFPA continues to implement activities through a joint program against FGM. UNFPA has also supported the development of a national protocol for the care of victims of GBV, including FGM. It established a circuit for the care of victims through the adoption of essential service packages by the three key sectors such as health, justice, and social.

IPS:  How is UNFPA supporting parliamentarians in developing human rights-based legislative frameworks in the region?

Shabaneh: ICPD affirmed the application of universally recognized human rights standards to all aspects of population programmes. Its Programme of Action (PoA) provides that the promotion rights for all people in reproductive health, including family planning and GBV, is deeply rooted in gender inequality. It is a notable human rights violation in all societies.

To this end, parliamentarians’ leadership is vital in ensuring population issues are addressed using a human rights approach and a gender lens and securing rights and choices for all.

ASRO proved to have interlinkages between the executive and legislative authorities to collaborate and work closely towards implementing Nairobi commitments and the ICPD’s unfinished agenda through Parliamentarians’ declarations.

These declarations rolled out at the country level, for example, Lebanon, Morocco, Djibouti, Palestine, to ensure concrete implementation and linkage between the regional and national levels, promoting and advocating for the UNFPA mandate.

IPS: Many countries are far off course to meeting the ICPD25 agenda. How can parliamentarians assist in getting the Programme of Action back on track?

Shabaneh: Parliamentarians can support the enforcement of laws and policies to respect and protect human rights-based approaches and eliminate GBV to accelerate the implementation of the ICPD PoA.

IPS: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Shabaneh: It is important to plan for growing numbers and proportions of older persons and ensure budgetary issues to achieve the goals laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

There is a need to invest in young people (life cycle approach) by promoting healthy habits and ensuring education and employment opportunities. We also need to broaden access to health services and social security coverage for all workers to improve the lives of future generations of older persons.

Overall, opportunities to strengthen partnerships to use informal support systems and unveil the potential capacities can significantly drive the agenda forward.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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6 in 7 People Worldwide Experience ‘High Levels of Insecurity’ – Why?

Six out of seven people all over the world—including in the wealthiest countries— were experiencing high levels of insecurity even before the pandemic, finds new report

Credit: Parvez Ahmad/Unicef

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Feb 27 2022 – Safety and security are at the base of the ‘hierarchy of needs’ pyramid, second in importance only to life’s absolute necessities—air, water, food and shelter, warns a new report.

The report “Why we don’t feel safe,”elaborated by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and released on 8 February 2022, adds that in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, people were on average living healthier, more prosperous and better lives than ever.

“Yet still a growing sense of unease has taken root and is flourishing.”


Insecurity is everywhere, among the poor and the rich

It says that six out of seven people all over the world—including in the wealthiest countries— were experiencing high levels of insecurity even before the pandemic.

COVID-19 may have supercharged this feeling. Unlike any other recent crisis, it has laid waste to many dimensions of our wellbeing and set human development back.

“As well as the appalling health consequences, the pandemic has upended the global economy, interrupted education and life plans, disrupted livelihoods and stirred political division over masks and vaccines.”

Even with the distribution of vaccines and the partial economic recovery that began in 2021, the crisis has been marked by a drop in life expectancy of about one and a half years, UNDP further goes on.


Unequal level of suffering, unsafety

So far so good. However, the human suffering is most spread among the poor, rather than the rich. Just take the Sahel region as an example. Africa’s Sahel region is facing ‘horrendous food crisis,’ the World Food Programme (WFP) on 16 February 2022 warned.

As the Sahel region “stares down a horrendous food crisis”, the UN emergency food relief chief warned that the number of people on the brink of starvation has “increased almost tenfold” over the past three years and “displacement by nearly 400 percent.”

The vast Sahel, which runs nearly the breadth of the continent, south of the Sahara Desert, is experiencing some of its “driest conditions” in years.

“In just three years, the number of people facing starvation has skyrocketed from 3.6 to 10.5 million, in the Sahelian nations of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.”

And insecurity, COVID-induced poverty, dramatic food cost increases and other compounding factors, have put those countries and others in the region, on a trajectory that would surpass any previous crises, according to WFP.

“I’ve been talking with families who have been through more than you can possibly imagine”, Beasley said. “They have been chased from their homes by extremist groups, starved by drought and plunged into despair by COVID’s economic ripple effects”.


On the brink of starvation

The number of people on the brink of starvation across Africa’s Sahel region is ten times higher than it was in 2019, the World Food Programme warns, while the number of people who are displaced is up by 400 percent.

The combined effects of conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate, and rising costs are putting basic meals out of reach for millions.


Afghanistan tragedy

Let alone Afghanistan, where conflict last year (2021) had forced more than 700,000 Afghans to leave their homes and added to the 5.5 million people already displaced over past years, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on 8 February 2002 reported.

“The ongoing crisis in Afghanistan is intensifying humanitarian needs and increasing displacement risks both inside the country, as well as across borders to countries in the region”, according to a statement issued by Ugochi Daniels, the IOM Deputy Director-General for Operations.


Growing distrust

Back to the UNDP special report on unsafety and insecurity, it also warned that in tandem with this comes a growing distrust in each other and in the institutions which are, in theory, designed to protect us.



“The world has always been in flux, but the challenges we face today as technology advances, and we experience inequality and conflict, are playing out on a different stage.

“Because we are now in the Anthropocene, the era in which humans are changing the planet in dangerous ways that our species has never seen.”


A deadly dance

It’s a deadly dance and no-one is immune from its consequences, UNDP warns.

“Despite global wealth being higher than ever before, a majority of people are feeling apprehensive about the future and this feeling has likely been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

“In our quest for unbridled economic growth, we continue to destroy our natural world while inequalities are widening both within and between countries,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

Climate change is likely to become a leading cause of death. With a moderate decline in carbon emissions, it could still cause 40 million deaths before the end of the century.

“The Anthropocene era is adding fuel to conflict, as human lives become more precarious. Conflicts involving the state—raging in 37 countries—are the highest since the end of World War II.”


Violence, normalised

According to the UNDP report, violence is becoming normalised in many places, and the number of people forcibly displaced due to conflict or disaster has risen over the past decade, reaching more than 80 million in 2020.

“About 1.2 billion people live in areas affected by conflict—almost half of them in countries not considered to be fragile.”


Old inequalities, new realities

“Old inequalities are still with us despite advances in wealth and living standards. And a new generation of inequalities is opening up. These include the ability to flourish in a modern economy, and access to now-necessary technology such as broadband internet.”

Technology is a two-edged sword—bringing vast opportunities and potentially catastrophic risks, says the UNDP report.

“At the same time as digitalization can connect communities, encourage new skills and education, and promote human security, social media is spreading misinformation and fueling polarisation.”


Cybersecurity in Africa, below “poverty line”

In 2017, an estimated 95 percent of companies in Africa were rated on or below the cybersecurity ‘poverty line’, unable to protect themselves from malicious attacks, the report adds.

“The damage of cybercrime was estimated to cost about US$6 trillion in 2021, a 600 percent increase since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.”