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Supporting women human rights defenders, preventing female genital mutilation, training business skills – civil society organisations promote the rights of women and girls in many ways

Ministry for Foreign Affairs 9.6.2020 13.55 | Published in English on 9.6.2020 at 14.50
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Civil society organisations (CSOs) that are supported by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs play a significant role in and bring added value to the promotion of the rights and status of women and girls. Their activities help to ensure that progress reaches persons, groups and communities that live in vulnerable settings.

Midwifery students in Mogadishu, Somalia 2017. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu

One of the four key priorities of Finland’s development policy is strengthening of the rights and status of women and girls.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly important to address this theme because the crisis affects especially the rights and status of women and girls.

Due to healthcare resources being harnessed to meet the challenges posed by a pandemic, and existing power structures that discriminate against women, the availability of and access to sexual and reproductive health services is at risk, including health checks during pregnancy, safe childbirths, and modern contraception.

The global and other social repercussions of the pandemic will affect especially women and girls, and groups in the most vulnerable settings. At the earlier phase of the pandemic, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned about violence against women and gender-based violence, which have increased globally due to quarantines, lockdowns and social isolation. The service and food production sectors employ mainly women who are now at risk of losing their jobs. Women form the majority also when it comes to the undeclared labour in agricultural and care sectors in developing countries. Many Finnish CSOs have directed their efforts to responding to the COVID-19 situation in these areas.

CSOs engaged in development cooperation that receive funding by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs play a significant role in the promotion of women’s rights. Of the 19 CSOs receiving programme-based support, five organisations focus, in the light of Finland’s development policy priorities,  on strengthening the rights of women and girls. Most other CSOs receiving programme-based support have also the strengthening of women's position at the heart of their activities. CSOs receiving project support and support for communications and global education also focus on this development policy priority.

Civil society organisations work at grassroots level

CSOs bring clear added value to Finland's development policy through their own special areas of expertise. As an example, the International Solidarity Foundation (ISF) provides training on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), especially female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) for people in communities in Kenya and Somaliland. Fida and Operation a Day’s Work Finland (Taksvärkki) concentrate on menstrual hygiene in communities and schools and in this way contribute to girls’ access to education.

Since CSOs operate in many least developed countries where Finland is not otherwise active, they can influence the position of women more widely than is possible via Finland’s other development policy. CSOs are also working at grassroots level in local communities.

Plan International Finland, for example, works in indigenous peoples’ communities in Laos to prevent teenage pregnancies. The Finland-Somalia Association, African Care and the Finnish Somalia Network promote children’s health and maternal health in remote areas in Somalia.

Addressing multiple and aggravated forms of discrimination

In many developing countries, civil society promotes the rights of the poorest and easily marginalised population groups and supports and mobilises them. Through their presence and partnerships, organisations can tackle multiple and aggravated forms of discrimination efficiently, and in this way advance the 2030 Agenda’s ”leave no one behind” principle

In developing countries, women’s opportunities of participation in society differ based on, for instance whether they live in urban or rural areas and whether they face discrimination due to their ethnic background, disability or sexual orientation.

Many organisations work with people who experience multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination. For example, the Abilis Foundation’s one objective in a programme carried out in Tajikistan is to support women with disabilities to receive vocational education and to advice teachers in how to prevent violence against women. The Finnish Red Cross, for its part, has drafted guidelines on the inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people in emergencies.

In the COVID-19 crisis, organisations concentrate on supporting women and girls who are in the most vulnerable settings, including women and girls with disabilities, illiterate women or women and girls living in refugee camps, who are easily excluded from access to information and services.

Support for women entrepreneurs, human rights defenders and peace work

Many organisations contribute to the implementation of Finland's second development policy priority: strengthening developing countries' own economies and capacity to create jobs, also from the perspective of women's rights. Among others, Finn Church Aid and Fairtrade Finland support women's employment and business activities. The training provided by Finland's Refugee Council to refugees in Myanmar has strengthened women's employment and entrepreneurship. In Ethiopia, 90 per cent of the women who participated in the livelihood development projects organised by the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (Felm) reported an increase in their income in 2018.

In the work of these organisations, the support for women who focus on defending human rights, the environment or civic space, is becoming increasingly important. For example, a project in Nepal, which is supported by the Siemenpuu Foundation, aims to empower poor women and communities so that they can make their voices heard in decision-making relating to community forests. In Uganda, the KIOS Foundation supports efforts to ensure the security and participation of women human rights defenders (WHRDs), for example in business projects in the extractive industry.

During the COVID-19 crisis, many organisations emphasise the need to support women's organisations, WHRDs and the wider gender equality movement as part of the COVID-19 response in order to guarantee equal and safe opportunities of participation for women.

Finnish civil society organisations have actively and in various ways participated in the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), for example, supports and facilitates women's meaningful participation in peace and transition processes and strengthens mediators’ and peace brokers’ capacity in relation to gender-sensitive conflict resolution processes.

At the beginning of the year, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs granted EUR 22.5 million in additional funding to civil society organisations receiving programme support for the period 2020–2021 in order to expand their activities, especially in Africa. With the help of the additional funding, CSOs will be able to work more effectively and engage in more diversified and wide-ranging efforts to promote the rights of women and girls. 

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