DOHA, Qatar - European Union Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Captain of the South African national rugby team Siya Kolisi appeared on Al Jazeera’s ‘Inside Story’ to discuss Spotlight Initiative’s strategy for addressing global violence against women and girls. The panel, hosted by Folly Bah Thibault, explored the recent signing of the the Initiative’s Africa Regional Programme in partnership with the African Union, as well as the spike in violence that has taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the special editon of Inside Story above.

“It is one of the most persistent and widespread human rights violations and it happens in every country around the world: the abuse and exploitation of women and girls,” said Ms. Thibault. “At least one third of all women worldwide has experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse at one point in their life.” She cited a 25 per cent increase in gender-based abuse during lockdowns to slow the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as higher rates of female genital mutilation and child marriage which threaten to undo years of progress, especially in Africa.

“Spotlight Initiative is the largest amount of resources, 500 million euros, that has ever come towards this issue. This hasn’t happened before – it's unprecedented” - UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed

African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs Amira Elfadil said that the Initiative's regional programme would strengthen the African Union’s efforts to prevent violence and harmful practices. “The Spotlight Initiative is building upon the ongoing African Union programme [work], such as the elimination of child marriage and the elimination of female genital mutilation in Africa,” said Ms. Elfadilin in a recorded message. “It is part of our work to create the Africa we want.”

Ms. Mohammed said that the UN recognized the global “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls that has occurred during pandemic and was ensuring that a gender-sensitive recovery to COVID-19 stayed on national agendas. “We must reinforce expenditure that puts women in a place of equality, that pushes back against gender-based violence and works a lot more on the prevention of it, as well as to address the existing exacerbation of violence because of COVID,” she said. “[Spotlight Initiative] is, in history, the largest amount of resources, 500 million euros, coming towards this [issue]. This hasn’t happened before – it's unprecedented.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the strengths but also the weaknesses of our societies... We need to bring this topic into the public sphere and discuss this more than ever before” -EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been like an X-ray – it has shown us the strengths but also the weaknesses of our societies,” said Ms. Urpilainen. “1.3 billion women experience violence globally, we need to bring this topic into the public sphere and discuss this more than ever before. We need to give more information and raise awareness. We need to tell young girls about their rights.”

Mr. Kolisi, a Global Advocate for Spotlight Initiative, touched on the need to educate boys and men – especially those who have grown up with violence as a part of everyday life. He recalled seeing his own mother and aunt experience physical abuse. “You see it so often that it starts to seem normal,” he said. He believes changing these damaging norms must become a priority in schools and sports programmes, “so that boys know when they go home and see this violence, that it is not normal. That it shouldn't be happening.”

The episode airs on 16 Sepetmber at 00:30, 7:30 and 11:30 GMT on Al Jazeera. You can stream the full episode above now.