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Africa making progress on tackling gender-based violence thanks to multi-sectoral approach but shortfalls remain, finds new report

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 23, 2022 – A new report has found countries in Africa are making progress in addressing and preventing gender-based violence (GBV), including female genital mutilation (FGM), thanks to the adoption of the multi-sectoral approach (MSA) involving all stakeholders in the development and implementation of programs to protect and promote women’s and girls’ rights. However, challenges such as lack of strong political commitment and limited resources are significantly impacting MSA’s effective implementation, finds research commissioned by Equality Now, an international women’s rights organization, in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Spotlight Initiative.

Released on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, Use of the Multi-Sectoral Approach to Ending Gender-Based Violence and Female Genital Mutilation in Africa, looks at 11 African countries where the Spotlight Initiative has been implemented, namely: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda. The Spotlight Initiative is a UN program aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, carried out in collaboration with the African Union and the European Union. 

The report analyzed the diverse experiences of countries and identified good practices and strategies adopted to prevent, address, and eliminate FGM and other forms of GBV. It found countries that have instigated multi-sectoral coordination have encountered similar challenges hindering its full potential. This includes glaring gaps in countries’ implementation of the MSA, made even more apparent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbated and exposed the extent of GBV.

Although there is evidence of positive changes in social norms, a stronger synergy of actions is needed from different sectors over the long term. This requires the holistic application of MSA, bringing together relevant state and non-state actors alongside providing a platform to coordinate the development and implementation of national programs and actions and allocate resources.

All the countries examined have integrated GBV and FGM within their national development plans. However, the most effective way to cement the protection of women and girls is to have legislation in place against FGM because this helps accelerate efforts towards eradication, provides recourse and access to justice, and ensures the allocation of adequate funding. 

Of the eleven focus countries, only seven have criminalized FGM within their national laws and have therefore allocated budgets for end-FGM programs. These are Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.  

All the focus countries have identified each of the key departments responsible for GBV and FGM, and have nominated gender focal persons to participate in the national coordination mechanisms, which are constituted to bring together state and non-state actors. However, these gender focal persons did not receive capacity building to enable them to assume their roles effectively, and the coordination mechanisms fell short of fulfilling their mandates due to insufficient funds, a lack of strong leadership and commitment, and weak monitoring.

Ms. Asenath Mwithigah, the Global Lead on Equality Now’s End Harmful Practices program, stated that many African countries have made efforts to strengthen their legislation by integrating specific provisions prohibiting GBV and FGM. However, countries with especially high prevalence rates of FGM such as Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Somalia, have still not enacted specific laws prohibiting this harmful practice. “If we can have the requisite strong political commitment needed to ensure that anti-GBV structures are reflected in laws, policies, budgets, and national development plans, then we can truly eliminate FGM,” she said. 

Ms. Mireille Tushiminina, Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, acknowledged the seven countries with national legislation on FGM but added that there was a need to breathe life into these legislations by infusing nationally representative data on FGM, establishing a national coordination body for FGM programs, and integrating an annual implementation review system for programs to end FGM.  

“There are many challenges related to coordination and these are mainly on the functionality. Similarly, the lack of centralized information management systems is a challenge that fails to facilitate the availability of a comprehensive set of data in most of the countries studied. The need for strong political will and commitment as key drivers for the effective use of the MSA towards ending GBV and FGM can therefore not be overemphasized,” said Ms. Tushiminina.

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Editor’s notes: 

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About Equality Now: 

Equality Now is an international non-governmental human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional, and national legal advocacy. Our international network of lawyers, activists and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sex trafficking, online sexual exploitation, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage. 

About UNFPA:

UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Our mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

About the Spotlight Initiative: 

This is a global multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. Building on the MSA, it directly covers 10 out of the 11 eleven target African countries of this analysis (not Tanzania) and engages with the African Union as well as the regional economic communities (RECs) for regional actions.