One in three women faces violence from a partner or sexual violence in her lifetime, regardless of her background, culture, class, age or religion. Despite many efforts, no country has yet succeeded in ending it. On the contrary, in the context of crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we are witnessing an exponential increase in domestic violence.
Belgium takes a holistic and long-term approach. Since 2001, our country has been developing its policy against gender-based violence through national action plans coordinated by the Institute for Equality between Women and Men. The FPS Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation implements the international dimension of this Action Plan. For example, FPS Foreign Affairs is working on the broad ratification and implementation of international conventions such as the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention against gender-based violence. This is a legally binding instrument aimed at preventing violence, protecting victims, prosecuting perpetrators and developing integrated, comprehensive and coordinated policies. Our country is also actively contributing to the implementation and strengthening of the EU policy in this field, which has, among others, developed guidelines on violence against women. In addition, our country also pays special attention to violence against women and girls in conflict and crisis situations, for which a fourth National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security was adopted last March, under the coordination of FPS Foreign Affairs. To this end, coordinated actions are carried out in an interdepartmental working group, in collaboration with the Institute for Equality between Women and Men, the FPS Interior, the Ministry of Defence and the FPS Justice.
A priority for Belgium’s external action
Despite numerous initiatives in recent decades, sexual and gender-based violence is still widespread. “One in five European women has been physically and/or sexually abused by her partner at least once in her life. And every day, 7 women still die as a result of their partner’s violence. We cannot accept this. We must urgently reverse this trend”, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib. “Belgium is firmly committed in its foreign policy to the fight against impunity, but tackling the root causes is at least as important,” the minister stressed. “More cooperation is needed to achieve gender equality, to ensure that men and women can participate in decision-making processes, to eradicate poverty and marginalisation, and to recognise and support women’s organisations and women human rights defenders. Our country is very active internationally on these issues. This week, for example, I pledged financial support to promote women’s rights and the fight against gender-based violence in Afghanistan. In this regard, €400,000 will be provided through UN Women for a project to strengthen civil society, in particular women’s rights organisations. But it is also important to support individual women human rights defenders, which we are doing through a €350,000 contribution to the Women, Peace and Humanitarian Trust Fund. We support similar actions elsewhere, including in Ukraine.”
16 Days against Violence campaign
As every year, the Belgian diplomatic network is mobilising to support the UN WOMEN campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence”. This year, the focus will be on activism, an important theme for our diplomats abroad, who put a strong emphasis on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders and women’s organisations. You can follow the work of our embassies and diplomatic posts through their social networks, which will colour orange for the occasion.