Women and girls are the first to be affected by poverty, conflict and climate change. Their place in society means they face difficulties and discrimination everywhere and in all fields, a reality further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences.
Sexual violence as a weapon of war
Peace and stability are not the norm around the world, and many war zones remain. Global warming, tensions over natural resources and socio-economic inequalities are the crucible of crises and conflicts of which women are often the primary victims. In certain countries, sexual violence may be used as a weapon of war with the aim of terrorizing populations.
The Global Survivors Fund, supporting victims of conflict-related sexual violence
The Global Survivors Fund builds on the work of Dr Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. It aims to enable survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to access compensation and reparations and to help them to reintegrate society. Dr Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad lead the initiative in close collaboration and liaison with other public, private and civil society stakeholders. France announced a contribution of €6.2 million to the Fund between 2020 and 2022.
Dr Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist specialized in treating women who are victims of rape and sexual violence committed by armed rebels.
Nadia Murad is a member of the Yezidi minority in Northern Iraq. In 2014, she survived the brutal attack by Daesh on her village.
In 2018, Dr Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”.
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the situation and rights of girls and women
Past public health crises (cholera, Ebola, etc.) have shown the consequences a pandemic can have on women and girls as regards health, increased domestic violence and socio-economic risks. The COVID-19 will have a dramatic impact on women and girls given its global scale.
Women are on the front line in the public health crisis, as they represent 67% of healthcare workers worldwide. This situation means they are particularly exposed to infection, while they do not always themselves have access to sufficient protective equipment. Moreover, women are more likely to suffer poor access to healthcare services, particularly for sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health.
The issue of domestic violence, which particularly affects women and children and which is proven by several studies to be correlated with public health crises, arose with the first infection control measures in March 2020. Population confinement, and restrictions on movement more generally, heighten the risk of worsening family violence.
Lastly, the pandemic’s consequences in terms of economic slowdown and job losses particularly affect women, who form the majority in the sectors hit hardest by the crisis (tourism, catering, services) and in informal and precarious work (89% of women work in the informal sector in sub-Saharan Africa and 95% in South Asia, according to UN Women). With no social protection, those who work in the informal sector are particularly vulnerable to diseases.
Attacks on sexual and reproductive health and rights
Sexual and reproductive health and rights are the rights of all persons to freely decide on all issues relating to their body and sexuality. They aim to guarantee that nobody suffers sexual discrimination, coercion or violence, notably combating early and forced marriage and genital mutilation. They also aim to foster access to reliable information and education and to quality sexual and reproductive health services (including contraceptive methods and abortion). Sexual and reproductive health and rights fuel a virtuous circle, fostering education, empowerment and reduced inequality, and are essential to guarantee women’s rights.
France’s external action on issues of population and sexual and reproductive health and rights has, since 2016, been based on its Strategy Report on “France’s external action on the issues of population and sexual and reproductive health and rights (2016-2020)”.
The international consensus on sexual and reproductive health and rights has weakened in the last decade because of rising conservative positions, illustrated recently by the signing by 32 States of the Geneva Consensus Declaration, resolutely opposed to abortion and these rights. In response to the profound undermining of these rights, France is advocating ambitiously and incorporating the subject into all aspects of its diplomatic action, particularly at the United Nations, at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the Commission on Population and Development (CPD), as well as in Europe.
The President of the Republic addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2020 during the “Beijing+25” event, celebrating a quarter-century of the Beijing Declaration (1995), highlighting the importance of guaranteeing sexual and reproductive rights and particularly access to abortion.
The Generation Equality Forum event in June 2021 will be a key moment in reaffirming the international community’s commitment to promoting the rights of women and girls and building more equal societies.
More information on France’s action to support sexual and reproductive health and rights
The five thrusts of France’s International Strategy on Gender Equality (2018-2022) aim to mainstream this theme in the political agenda of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, across policies including development cooperation, economic diplomacy, outreach and cultural and educational cooperation.
Lead by example
Everything starts with a good example and the Ministry has therefore decided to increase its work for gender equality and parity within its teams and those of its agencies. These include:
- Increasing the number of women in management and ambassador positions;
- Raising awareness and providing training on gender issues for all employees;
- Systematically including gender equality in the strategies and actions of the 12 agencies supervised or co-supervised by the Ministry.
Bolstering political support for gender issues
To step up political advocacy for gender equality, gender issues need to be addressed in all fields, regardless of whether they are development-related or not, and in all international forums. This is particularly the case for education, vocational training and economic inclusion, humanitarian strategy, and issues relating to the climate, the economy, demographics, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Strategy also advocates for gender equality issues to be tackled during bilateral political meetings and to be included in the work of diplomatic posts.
See also: Biarritz Partnership
Better finance equality actions
To ensure the resources are available to act effectively, the proportion of official development assistance for equality is rising. In particular, 50% of the financing provided by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD, French development agency) will be dedicated to projects which include an objective to reduce gender inequality.
The Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) initiative was launched under the French G7 Presidency in 2019. It is promoted by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in collaboration with the African Guarantee Fund (AFD) with the aim of fostering female entrepreneurs’ access to finance in Africa. Almost $1.5 billion in finance will be available between 2019 and 2024 under AFAWA, supporting the continent’s female entrepreneurs.
AFAWA’s goals are three-fold:
- guaranteeing female entrepreneurs’ access to finance in Africa;
- providing technical assistance to partner financial institutions to help them adapt their services to the needs of female entrepreneurs;
- creating a conducive environment for female entrepreneurship, particularly by breaking down structural and regulatory barriers that limit women’s access to finance.
France fully supports AFAWA through its technical assistance programmes and the provision of a guarantee fund to help female entrepreneurs access finance more easily.
Making action for equality more visible
Increasing visibility starts by communication without gender stereotypes. The Ministry and its agencies ensure they use feminine and masculine terminology in their messages, giving balanced social representations. And because indicators are the only way of knowing if assistance is effective, visibility also means establishing indicators to evaluate actions.
Report by the High Council for Gender Equality on feminist foreign policy
In November 2020, the High Council for Gender Equality produced a mid-term report on this priority of France’s foreign policy. The report includes 19 recommendations to strengthen the implementation of feminist foreign policy in various fields of France’s action.
Find out more
Supporting civil society and sharing results
Using various sharing platforms between development stakeholders, the Strategy aims to develop discussions and feedback between NGOs, the private sector under corporate social responsibility, research and public authorities. The expertise and visibility of French NGOs are strong drivers in gender equality. They will therefore be fostered in the fields of women’s rights and gender.
Support Fund for Feminist Organizations
Announced in 2019 by the President of the Republic, the Support Fund for Feminist Organizations supports civil society organizations operating in France’s development policy partner countries. Jointly steered by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the AFD, it will provide €120 million over three years (2020-2022) to finance the activities of feminist organizations worldwide. It is aimed at local organizations promoting gender equality, the rights of women and girls, and gender issues.
Learn more here.