By Verka Jovanovic, UNA-NCA Fellow
In a world where child marriages are still a popular practice, where gender-based violence targeting predominantly women is too frequent and obvious to remain hidden behind closed doors, where women are still far from enjoying equality and equity in any sphere of public life, in that world, every woman, and man, who believes in the principles of gender equality and equity, can, and must find time for an additional duty: the duty of advocacy for equality of all human beings regardless of how the society defines them by gender. We owe it to all the remarkable women in our lives.
● 700 million women alive today were married as children.
● 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.
● 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting in 30 countries.
● 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.
● Women who have been physically or sexually abused by their partners are twice as likely to have an abortion, depression, HIV …
…and the list goes on. Some of us, have chosen to shape our professions precisely to address these issues. As part of the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows Program, we had the pleasure to discuss the dynamics of professional engagement of Ms. Lyric Thompson in combating the gravest issues affecting women and girls worldwide. Ms. Thompson is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). She is a passionate advocate for women’s rights both with the US Government and internationally.
March 31st, 2017 was a busy day for Ms. Thompson. She had just returned from the Capitol Hill, where she conducted one of her routine responsibilities - advocacy for continued funding for programs that pursue greater gender equality by combating various issues that largely affect women and girls. Namely, as the Trump administration announced plans to reduce federal spending, funding for domestic violence programs such as Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), are under serious threat to be significantly reduced. If implemented, this funding reduction will be at the expense of providing vital resources to the victims of domestic violence, including safe shelter, legal services, transportation assistance, and child care.
Moreover, the new U.S. government leadership has planned not only to cut federal spending on internal structures and mechanisms for combating gender-based violence in the U.S., but also to reduce the funds that the U.S. has been devoting to the United Nations. Part of the U.N. funds is used to pursue global battles against gender inequality, against female genital mutilation, child marriages, and other discriminatory practices that violate basic human rights of women. The decision to cut funds normally allocated to the U.N., if implemented, would seriously affect gender equality programs and, consequently, impede achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which is aimed at “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.” The U.N. would, consequently, have to perform under significantly lower capacities than planned in 2015, when the SDGs were set, making it harder for the goals to be achieved by 2030.
Nevertheless, despite active engagement of President Trump and his administration in proposing the budget cuts, the decision is not the President’s to make, argues Ms. Thompson. Any decision on reduction of funding of this type needs approval, or rejection by Congress. Voting on this matter is expected to take place in May 2017, when Congress will vote on the proposed budget for the upcoming year 2018. Consequently, advocacy is a tool that Ms. Thompson has been using to raise awareness on the Hill about the importance of continuous funding for global efforts pursuing the protection of girls’ and women’s well-being. Similarly, every U.S. citizen should put individual effort into fighting for the preservation of programs that keep women safer and healthier, thus contributing to a safer, healthier, and happier society as a whole.
If you are an American citizen, please take a minute and use the opportunity to tell the U.S. leadership that defunding U.N. would leave millions of women and girls without jobs and without protection from domestic and gender-based violence. Raise your voice for women and girls by contacting your Members of Congress, or by tweeting to them directly. Call the White House! Say out loud that you support women in their daily struggles for dignified life, free of violence and discrimination. Share with your friends on social networks how you have contributed to the protection of women’s rights and encourage them to do the same!