The Hammer of Justice for Sexual Assault Victims Must Be Swift, Loud and Consistent

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 14 2020 – Every year Valentines Day is celebrated with great relish & celebration. People show their affection for another person or people by sending cards, flowers or chocolates with messages of love.

But there is a tragic dark side which stays in the shadows, when considering violence against women, one is confronted with an apparent contradiction.

“If you don’t fight, silence will kill you,” says Kenyan musician Wendy Kemunto, explaining why – a month after suffering a sexual assault by two Kenyan rugby players early in 2018 – she finally went to the police. For several weeks Wendy had remained silent, blaming herself, paralysed by a toxic mixture of shame, fear and well-founded dread at the usual & insensitive treatment of sexual assault victims by law-enforcement agencies.

But in November 2019, the two rugby players were each handed 15-year jail terms for rape, and now Wendy is speaking out to encourage more women to report such crimes.

Currently less than a third of victims report their ordeal, but data shows more than one in three women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence. In the face of such figures we can no longer shrug our collective shoulders and ignore the misogyny that fosters and encourages sexual violence.

When you know that only a tiny proportion of reported rapes ever make it to court, it is easy to understand, perhaps, why so few rape victims come forward.

The conviction of Wendy’s attackers is an encouraging sign that the Kenyan justice system is shifting from a trend where such cases – particularly those that involve high-profile individuals – remain in limbo in the courts, leaving a swathe of victims of violent assault not only without sufficient legal protection, but with the additional trauma of facing societal stigma.

The commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM last week is another reminder that all forms of gender based violence are not merely vestiges of historical harmful cultures, but are practices that continue to impoverish women and their families, and lower the productivity of entire countries.

With ever more studies illustrating the developmental hazards of sexual and gender violence, it is to our collective shame that, in the words of UN Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres, women’s rights are increasingly being “reduced, restricted and reversed”.

Around 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts, with current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends the most common perpetrators. Around 700 million women alive today were married as children. Of those women, more than one in three—or some 250 million—were married before the age of 15.

The UNDP Africa Human Development Report for 2016 says, “Gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year”. The justice system, supported by the necessary legislation, must pursue individuals who commit such acts with the same vigour that we use to go after economic saboteurs.

Countries must begin by fast-tracking the implementation of progressive policy commitments and institutional frameworks on gender equality and women’s empowerment. For instance, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa has yet to secure universal ratification.

Beyond policies, there is an enormous task ahead in changing the mind-set of insidious male entitlement that finds expression through sexual and gender based violence.

The natural place to begin must be in the home, where husbands must not only set an example of respect for their wives but also raise their sons to value girls and to respect their rights and autonomy. Schools must teach respect and gender equality to both sexes.

Such early formation is invaluable in dealing with societies that see gender based violence and misogyny as expressions of “culture” and “tradition”. In my own country India, culture and concepts such as ‘family honour’ have continued as the distorting lenses through which gender based violence, patriarchy and misogyny are seen.

President Uhuru Kenyatta must be commended for his unequivocal message that such deeply-embedded practices as female genital mutilation and early marriages will not go unpunished.

As the United Nations in Kenya, we believe this leadership is crucial for programmes such as the Government of Kenya and UN Joint Program on the Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence, which is supporting the establishment of strong prevention interventions and protection mechanisms for survivors.

While the case of Wendy Kemunto is an encouraging win for assault victims, we must remember that most victims remain invisible, as male-controlled money and power keep their plight hidden. Many are poor and ill-educated. Countless are growing up in cultures where their life chances are severely diminished simply by virtue of their gender.

So on this Valentines Day, Kenya has an opportunity to lead the way in showing that institutions and structures are ready, willing and able to enforce equal and fair treatment of all women.

Why Paraguay Can Be a “Beacon State” for Forest Management

Credit: UNDP, Paraguay

By Achim Steiner, Inger Andersen and Qu Dongyu
ASUNCION, Paraguay, Feb 14 2020 – Imagine a forest that covered half of your entire country. A biodiverse forest which supports thousands of species from giant anteaters to armadillos to jaguars. A forest that is home to one the world’s last uncontacted tribes.1

That forest is in fact a reality in Paraguay, a South American country of seven million people, landlocked between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. It is home to much of the Gran Chaco forest that is considered the second largest forested landscape in South America — second only to the Amazon rainforest.

And like other countries which are home to the great forests of South America, Paraguay too battled raging wildfires in 2019.

But Paraguay’s portion of the Chaco forest is battling an even more existential challenge. This unique ecosystem, characterised by scrub forests, grassy plains, lagoons, marshes and jungles, is under threat from agricultural expansion, driven by cattle and soy production.2

The region has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. As NASA satellites have highlighted between 1987 and 2012, the forests in Paraguay lost nearly 44,000 square kilometres through conversion to farmland or grazing land. That’s an area roughly the size of Honduras.3

The scale of that destruction is both frightening and untenable.

Paraguay needed to support to reduce deforestation. And partly as a consequence of that destruction, the country was not able to fully realise the massive potential of its forests to support climate change mitigation.

Thus, Paraguay engaged in REDD+, a voluntary process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which encourages developing countries to contribute to climate change mitigation efforts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from deforestation and forest degradation. The process also helps to increase the removal of GHGs from the earth’s atmosphere through the conservation, management, and expansion of forests.

Credit: UNDP Paraguay

Since 2011, partners from across the UN System have collaborated closely to support Paraguay’s national REDD+ process through a range of tailor-made initiatives.

They include the UN-REDD Programme (2011-2016) where the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provided support to Paraguay to submit its first Forest Reference Emission Level of deforestation (FREL).

This collaboration also resulted in a new a National Forest Monitoring System for the country which allows for the reporting of forest carbon — reliable data on forest area and changes to forest area.4

Following this, and thanks to support from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility since 2016, Paraguay advanced the elements of the UNFCCC Warsaw Framework for REDD+ – institutional prerequisites that make a country’s emission reductions in the forest sector eligible to exchange for results-based payments.

UN agencies are now jointly collaborating to advise Paraguay on accessing and managing result-based payments from a range of public and private sources thus ensuring robust fiduciary management and compliance with UNFCCC social and environment safeguards.

The first example of this collaboration is Paraguay’s proposal to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) pilot programme for REDD+ result-based payments, which was approved at the GCF board meeting in November 2019.

UNEP will play the role of Accredited Entity for this US $72 million proposal and implementation will be undertaken by the three UN-REDD partner agencies: UNDP, FAO and UNEP. UNDP will build upon the support provided for the development of Paraguay’s National Strategy on Forest for Sustainable Growth and will assist in the implementation of the Strategy’s policies and measures, informed by UNDP’s experience on the ground.

FAO will support improvement of the national forest monitoring system. It will also assist in the application of rigorous methodologies to assess, quantify, monitor, report and verify emission reductions at the national-level.

UNEP will support the definition of incentives to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. It will also boost social and environmental safeguards; and engage in communications and awareness-raising efforts.

Working together for nearly a decade, UN agencies have demonstrated the power of working as one to open the door for Paraguay to access significant international resources to implement its National Strategy on Forest for Sustainable Growth and achieve the mitigation goals set out in the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – or its “promise” towards the Paris Agreement.

The results of these wide-ranging partnerships are producing dividends. In 2019, Paraguay reported 26.7 MtCO2 of emission reductions – or a reduction of nearly 50 per cent for the forest sector.

We hope that Paraguay can serve as a “beacon state” to thrust countries around the world into further positive action to when it comes to the management of its forests as a nature-based solution to climate change — while also helping them to propel forward a range of related Sustainable Development Goals.