Safe Living Environments for Girls and Women

Safe Living Environments for Girls and Women

The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy Calls us to Promote Girls’ and Women’s Rights: ‘How can we support the promotion of girls’ and women’s rights in accordance with the EU Action Plan?’

Remarks by EUSR for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

Online event, 3 February 2022




Mr. Hakola, Ms. Kronman, Dr. Mukwege, Dear Participants,

Good Afternoon,

I want to start by thanking Fida International, Plan International Finland, and the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for organising this event and for the invitation.

I also want to congratulate Finland on the beginning of its two-year term on the Human Rights Council.

I have been asked today to speak about how we can support the promotion of women’s and girls’ rights in accordance with the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020 – 2024.

The Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020 – 2024 sets out the promotion of women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a priority across all areas of action. It includes a number of specific objectives, such as fighting multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, advocating for the elimination, prevention and protection from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and social norms and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, female infanticides, child, early and forced marriages.

Our separate Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Action 2021– 2025 complements the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. It serves as an ambitious agenda guiding EU action in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide. Among other benchmarks, the EU Gender Action Plan envisages that by 2025, 85% of new EU actions will have gender equality either as a significant objective or as a main objective. These two Action Plans are our guide for promoting gender equality, equal opportunities and an inclusive post-pandemic recovery for everyone, everywhere in the world.

I wish to stress that the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy has been adopted unanimously by all 27 Member States. Advocating for gender equality and the rights of women and girls, as well as pursuing other lines of priority action, are our joint strategy and our joint commitment. As the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, I have a central role in guiding the implementation of this Action Plan, however, for both the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy and the Gender Action Plan, the role of the 143 EU Delegations and the hundreds of Member State embassies across the world is key.

They are our eyes and ears on the ground and are responsible for translating these Action Plans into individual country strategies that take into account the local context and bring the Action Plan to life. EU unity and joint ownership on gender equality are essential if our voice is to be effective and credible in multilateral fora.

However, we cannot implement this Action Plan alone. Many actions are based on cooperation and partnership and we need to listen and work closely with other stakeholders, the UN, regional organisations and especially civil society organisations, to improve and address our common problems, and Member States like Finland have an important role to play in this regard.

Of course, any foreign policy strategy is always only a first step and the beginning of hard work on the ground and in political arenas. Let me give you a few examples of the concrete EU efforts behind the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy and the Gender Action Plan.

Violence against women and girls is one of the major obstacles to women’s empowerment and a scourge often leaving a lasting mark on the victims. The Spotlight Initiative, which the EU launched in partnership with the United Nations with our initial contribution of 500 million euros, is an unprecedented global programme, investing in prevention and support to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. It covers physical, psychological, sexual, economic and other types of violence and discrimination, harmful practices and exclusion that women suffer in the different areas of their private and public lives: from making decisions freely and independently about their sexual and reproductive life, to participating effectively in the economic and political processes in their countries. There has been a particular focus on domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence, harmful practices, femicide, trafficking in human beings and sexual and economic (labour) exploitation.

The Spotlight Initiative is being implemented in five regions: Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Much of the effort made under the Spotlight programme is bearing fruit. In 2020, more than 650,000 women and girls were provided with gender-based violence services despite COVID-19 pandemic constraints and lockdowns. For instance, the legislation passed in Niger in 2019 with the support of Spotlight to increase women’s participation in government, especially the quota law, has led to an increase of women’s representation from 15% to 25% (of elected women representatives) and 25% to 30% (of nominated women representatives). In El Salvador, more than 20,000 young people and 284 teachers have received training on comprehensive sexual education.

In addition, the EU is co-leading the Action Coalition on Gender-based Violence within the Generation Equality Forum. Actions in the Coalition include objectives to ensure accountability for gender-based violence, to improve access to justice for women and girl survivors and to expand legal aid and rights awareness. I know that Finland and some other Member States has been very active in the Generation Equality Forum.

Women and girls are often the first victims of crises and conflicts. Much attention has been recently drawn to the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. Rightly so. The Taliban’s seizure of power last year has hit hard human rights defenders and women and girls at large, reversing years of incremental human rights progress. The protection of women’s and girls’ rights is among the key political criteria for the EU’s engagement with Afghanistan. The Council conclusions of 15 September 2021 state that EU support for Afghanistan will depend on the respect for the international legal framework and norms on human rights including on women’s and girls’ rights. By the end of 2021, several meetings were held between the EEAS and Afghan women, which led to the decision, on the initiative of my colleague the EU Advisor on Gender and Diversity, Stella Ronner, to establish from early 2022 an EU-initiated Forum with Afghan women leaders. It will be followed by a structured, continuing dialogue with women representing various sectors, both from the Afghan diaspora and within Afghanistan, in urban and rural settings including civil society.

In my own work as EU Special Representative for Human Rights, I continue to engage extensively on women’s rights and gender equality. I have addressed this issue during all my country visits as well as in all of the Human Rights Dialogues that I have chaired since the start of my mandate in 2019. For instance, at the multilateral level, I delivered two EU statements at high-level events of the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women last March, which addressed the situation of women environmental human rights defenders and violence against girl children in armed conflict. I have had a number of discussions on the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan, including with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in the context of the first Strategic Dialogue between the EU and the OHCHR. I am in regular contact with the Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Shahrazad Akbar, discussing the situation of Afghan women and girls and our support for them, and indeed met with her when she was in Brussels this week. I took part in a high-level event focused on Afghan women and girls, their rights and access to education held at the launch of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2021.

The treatment of women and girls is a litmus test and an indicator of the overall human rights protection in any given country. I congratulate Finland for progress achieved on gender equality and on women’s status and empowerment /as witnessed by scoring high in, for example, the Women Peace and Security Index 2021/22 or the Global Gender Gap Report 2021. I encourage Finland to use its good women’s rights story throughout its Human Rights Council membership and beyond in a “Team Europe” spirit.

It is only by continuing to collectively champion and support the various initiatives of the EU that we will succeed in promoting women’s and girls’ rights.

Thank you.