International Women’s Day
Celebrating women leaders working to end violence against women and girls
Date: Monday, March 8, 2021
Today, International Women’s Day, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) is celebrating the women leaders of civil society and women’s rights organizations that are on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis and the silent pandemic of violence against women and girls. Their efforts are making a crucial difference to the lives of women and girls worldwide.
Here we share the thoughts of five of these exemplary women who lead the work in ending violence against women and girls in organizations that have run projects funded by the UN Trust Fund.
Dr. Isatou Touray
Dr. Isatou Touray, Vice-President of the Gambia and former Executive Director of the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), believes that women have to take the lead because abuses such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) are about women:
“We are dealing with human rights. We are dealing with issues of inequality, economic empowerment and addressing the patriarchal control over the body, over women.”
GAMCOTRAP’s UN Trust Fund-supported project made important progress in the struggle to ban FGM/C in the Gambia. Dr. Touray said that empowering communities and local leaders was key to breaking the culture of silence about FGM/C.
In August 2014, Islamic State forces attacked Yezidi civilians in Sinjar, northern Iraq, leading to the capture and displacement of thousands of people. Yezidi women and girls who were captured were sold as sex slaves in markets in Iraq and Syria.
Pari Ibrahim, Founder and Director of the Free Yezidi Foundation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, said:
“These women suffered enormous trauma. They have been raped many times a day by different men. That’s why I started the Free Yezidi Foundation – to try to get women and girls trauma care so that they can start living their life again as they used to.”
With the support of the UN Trust Fund, the Free Yezidi Foundation opened a women’s centre to provide psychological and trauma support to women and girls who had experienced violence and its associated stigma.
“All of our staff are [internally displaced persons] themselves who have training in psychological first aid. Many of the women look up to me because I am a woman. They look up to the staff because they are women.”
“We know that isolation, especially with family and caregivers who may not always understand girls’ rights, women’s rights or disability rights, tends to increase violence.”
These thoughts were shared by Emanuela Paul, Rethinking Power Program Coordinator with Beyond Borders/Depase Fwontyè yo in Haiti, in a conversation with UN Women.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Trust Fund grantee Beyond Borders has been adapting its work to prevent and raise awareness about violence against women and girls, particularly those with disabilities who are at heightened risk.
Since 2014, the UN Trust Fund has partnered with Soko, a Kenyan-based social enterprise jewelry company, to raise funds and awareness to prevent and end violence against women and girls through an exclusively designed line of bracelets and necklaces.
Esther and Petronilla (Petro), Soko’s in-house artisan experts, shared their wishes from this work:
“I hope that the work will expand to create employment for others and that I will do something that I will be remembered for,” said Esther.
Besides contributing to preventing and ending violence against women and girls, the sales from the Soko and UN Trust Fund products, with the support and activism from UN Women Germany, are also directly contributing to the economic empowerment of under-privileged artisan communities in Kenya.
“I hadn’t initially planned to work on violence against women. In a way, it chose me.”
Ani Jilozian, Research and Data Specialist at the Women’s Support Center in Armenia’s capital Yerevan, saw how “the trauma of war, poverty and socio-economic inequalities” increased violence against women in post-Soviet Armenia. For her, patriarchal ideals had normalized violence against women and made it “acceptable”.
With support from the UN Trust Fund, the Women’s Support Center offers comprehensive services to women and children survivors of domestic violence, including facilitating educational opportunities to help survivors of violence achieve financial independence.
“I have learned so much from the survivors. Their resilience to overcome trauma and to rebuild their lives is inspiring.”