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The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that starts on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Although the movement to end gender-based violence requires full-time focus 365 days a year, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is a very important part of the strive to ensure the safety and security of everyone in society.

The two-week and two-day observance was started by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, based at Rutgers University, at its inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991 and continues to be conducted each year worldwide. Individuals and organizations around the world use the 16 Days Campaign to call for an end to gender-based violence – violence against a person because of their gender.

Rooted in power inequalities between women and men, gender-based violence disproportionally affects women and girls, but men and boys can also be targeted. It is one of the most widespread, persistent, and devastating human rights violations in our world today. Even worse, it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma, and shame surrounding it. This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated by anyone, anywhere. Although most voices calling for the end of this scourge are women, men are increasingly joining the chorus and taking action to stop it. Their participation is critical and must be encouraged at all levels.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is further exacerbated by the COVID-19 emergency around the world. The crisis has disrupted vital support services and worsened risk factors for violence against women and girls, such as economic stress, job loss and social isolation because of lockdowns and other pandemic measures. Even before the crisis hit, globally one in three women experienced physical or sexual violence.

Stopping this unacceptable crime against half of the world’s population will require concerted and collective efforts and the full attention and readiness of the entire population to act swiftly and uproot GBV through whole-of-society approach. No one can turn a blind eye to such disrespect towards our mothers, daughters, and sisters. If we see or hear of something, we should report it – immediately. And remember – the violence is not always physical or sexual, it could be also psychological or economic, encompassing intimate partner violence, sexual violence, hate speech, harassment, cyberbullying, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, femicide, and child marriage. To be clear, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

There have been increasing demands made of institutions and organizations for services and support following the wave of gender-based violence in the wake the COVID-19 crisis. The UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker was recently expanded and now includes over 4,900 policy measures across 226 countries and territories, and more than half of its gender-sensitive global policy measures address violence against women during the pandemic. Most of these measures strengthen services for survivors, but the tracker also indicates more effort is needed to support survivors facing intersecting forms of discrimination. The surge of online violence that has accompanied the pandemic must also be addressed, and more data must be gathered and analysed to inform policies to end gender-based violence.

Ranking number 74 in 2021, Ukraine sits right about in the middle of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, with Iceland at first place and Afghanistan last at 156. One could say the glass is half full, or half empty, depending on one’s perspective – and for most women in Ukraine I am sure that view is half empty, especially considering the country was ranked 48 in 2006. In other words, Ukraine dropped 26 places in the gender gap index in 15 years. According to a study from OSCE since the age of 15, two-thirds (67 percent) of Ukrainian women have experienced psychological, physical, or sexual violence and nearly half (49 percent) of women have experienced sexual harassment.

When we look at just the ability of women to participate in the economy, the picture in Ukraine is a bit better – ranking 44 out of 156. With education it is even better, ranking number 27. In women’s political empowerment, the country begins to drop, currently sitting at number 103 out of 156.

Unequal participation of women and men in the economy, society, and politics is caused by gender inequalities, including unequal power relations between women and men, rigid gender roles, norms and hierarchies, and ascribing women lower status in society. Thus, promoting and achieving gender equality is a critical element to prevent gender-based violence, and requires a whole-of-society approach to overcome it.

UNDP is actively working with national and international partners in Ukraine to address gender inequalities by integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment across our work in the democratic governance, energy and environment, and inclusive development, recovery and peacebuilding portfolios. In the crisis-affected areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, UNDP, together with UN sister agencies and development partners, established a network of shelters and day centers for survivors of domestic violence. These facilities are providing psychological and advisory support to the survivors of GBV, and are raising awareness of their rights. We also produced comics for children about domestic violence. We are working with law enforcement entities and the justice sector to raise awareness of and develop their capacity for dealing effectively with domestic violence.

Although its ranking has been dropping, Ukraine is moving in the right direction. It has adopted important legislation on preventing and combating domestic violence and approved its first State Programme on prevention and elimination of domestic violence and gender-based violence 2021-2025. In addition, the country has joined the global Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality that focuses on ending gender-based violence among other targets. I would encourage all policy makers and public officials to continue efforts to put this problem into the past. Ukraine has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and has signed but not yet ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (so-called Istanbul Convention). Ratifying this important document would be the right thing to do.

UNDP joins the UN-wide 16 Days Campaign in Ukraine and around the world under the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign. It is calling for global and local actions to increase awareness, galvanize advocacy efforts, and share knowledge and innovations with one another. The theme for this year’s campaign is “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”

We will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals without eradicating gender-based violence. We call on all partners to urgently work together to prevent and stop this violence now. I hope that all men and women will join us in this effort and be a part of the solution.

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