NEW YORK/BRUSSELS - On 5 May, the principal decision-making body of the Spotlight Initiative met to review the Initiative’s progress and plot its future. 

The meeting was attended by UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed, European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen, UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous, Secretariat-General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Stefano Sannino and Executive Director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership and a member of the Spotlight Initiative Civil Society Global Reference Group Krishanti Dharmaraj.

Ms. Mohammed began the meeting by acknowledging the difficult climate in which the Initiative operates. “We are two years into the Covid pandemic and we’re seeing the increase in violence against women and girls has accompanied it. We’re also seeing a proliferation of emergencies, from climate, to new conflict and greater displacement – all this has impacted women’s security and safety.”

She thanked the EU for their partnership, calling their investment in ending violence against women and girls “historic” and “unprecedented”.

Ms. Mohammed said that now the Initiative has proof of concept and a model for the sustainable elimination of gender-based violence against women and girls, it was well positioned to scale up with a sense of urgency.

Ms. Urpilainen responded that the EU also valued the partnership and reiterated that while ending war in Ukraine was their current focus, the EU continues to engage with the rest of the world.

“We have seen the crucial impacts that conflicts have on women and girls, we have seen this in Ukraine,” she said. “Ukraine is the priority right now but we have not turned our back on the world… We are engaging with the rest of the world and see our partnership as valuable.”

Ms. Bahous spoke about the Initiative’s ability to bring together the UN system and partners, as well as its importance in bringing the work of civil society to the fore.  “We are at a critical moment now,” she said. “There has been a backlash against gender equality worldwide. We need to push back against this and I believe that Spotlight is one of these very effective tools we have.”

She said that the agencies delivering the Spotlight Initiative believed the results were transformative and that they would continue working to bring more donors into the fold.

Mr.Sannino echoed Ms. Bahous’s concerns about backlash against gender equality, emphasizing the need for deep rooted change at community level. “We need a change in social behaviour. It needs to come from inside society rather than an external position.” He also spoke about the need to ensure that those facing intersectional forms of discrimination were included.

Ms. Dharmaraj spoke to the inextricable link between discrimination and violence and thanked the UN and EU for their partnership. “Spotlight is an exception, unfortunately, and not the rule, but it is a beautiful practice of how civil society, government and international agencies are coming together,” she said. “We appreciate it and we are ecstatic about the results.”

Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of UN Women, Nahla Valji, presented some of the Initiative’s early 2021 results which will be published the 2021 Global Annual Report.

Following the presentation, the Governing Body discussed how to ensure that violence against women and girls is integrated into national agendas globally and what coordination mechanisms might look like for the Initiative in the future.