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)
  • Inter Press Service

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.

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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