UNAIDS, chair of the H6 partnership (six United Nations bodies working on health-related issues) and the African Union have pledged to enhance their collaboration to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence, prevent HIV, and protect women’s health and rights in humanitarian settings.
A new programme of work on this common agenda was announced at a special high-level event held in New York, United States of America, on the margins of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
“We are gathered here to coordinate our efforts among the African Union and the United Nations to plan and intervene so that people’s rights are protected, HIV is prevented, and the right to health is promoted,” said HE Faustin-Archange Touadéra, President, Central African Republic who chaired the meeting.
The rise in the frequency and scale of humanitarian crises is having a devastating impact, particularly on women and children. In 2017, around 68 million people were forcibly displaced globally as a result of persecution, conflict or generalized violence—an increase of 2.9 million from 2016 and a new record high.
“We know that it is time to act. More than 2 billion people live in countries affected by fragility, violence and conflict—most are women and girls. This is unacceptable. We need political visibility and intensified international cooperation to eliminate gender-based violence and protect the health of women and children in humanitarian settings,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS and H6 Chair.
UNAIDS will support the African Union in developing a joint African Union-United Nations plan of action. The plan will include developing training and awareness tools for uniformed personnel in peacekeeping operations and ensuring better reporting rates on sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls.
“The partnership between the United Nations and the African Union provides an opportunity to reinforce each other’s work and employ joint and comprehensive responses to the needs of vulnerable populations in crisis situations,” said Smail Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security.
Protecting the health and rights of women and young people will be critical to mitigating fragility, conflict and disaster. It is estimated that 60% of all preventable maternal deaths occur in humanitarian and conflict settings, which equates to nearly 500 deaths each day.
“In South Sudan 52% of our young sisters are married before their 18th birthday. I urge leaders not to remain loudly quiet. We call for the inclusion of women in political processes. It is our bodies, our lives and our futures at stake. We have the right to the highest attainable standard of health, whether in conflict or not,” said Riya William Yuyada, Executive Director, Crown the Woman, South Sudan.
There are currently too few successful interventions to prevent gender-based violence during conflict and against refugee populations. Studies have shown that violence against women and girls increases during periods of conflict, with rape and other forms of sexual violence often being a common practice of war.
“It’s not about silencing the guns, we must recognize that women and children have a right to life and a right to health and a right to peace. This is where we should put our energies and time to make sure women and girls are protected,” Ms Bience Gawanas, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Africa, Under-Secretary-General, United Nations.
The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 have created an important political window. The new commitments provide a timely opportunity to enhance collaboration on human security and humanitarian health, in the context of the recently adopted Joint United nations-African Union Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security.
“We must not explain why we are partnering, but why we are not partnering to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence and protect the health and rights of women and children in humanitarian settings. If we care about addressing root causes of deprivation and poverty and abuse, women and girls are the heart of the matter,” Sigrid Kaag, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, The Netherlands.
Among the commitments made by UNAIDS and the African Union is to work to ensure that there is adequate funding to strengthen coordinated programme implementation for the responses to sexual exploitation and abuse and HIV in humanitarian settings. This enhanced cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations will be paramount to ensuring sustainable people-centred peace, security and development.
Image source: unaids.org