UN Blog

Justice via Empowerment


By Kelsea Wallman 

Despite its widespread use as a tactic of war and terrorism, sexual violence is often an overlooked component of conflict. It was not until last year that International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence was adopted by the United Nations in order to raise awareness, honor victims and survivors, and pay tribute to those who work towards the eradication of these crimes.

On June 21, 2016, I attended a panel discussion at United Nations Headquarters entitled “The Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.” The broad range of panelists discussed the stigma that surrounds sexual violence, and how it contributes to these crimes, as well as how it affects survivors.

Not only is sexual violence a violation of human rights, but it also takes an enormous mental and physical toll on its the victims. Conflict-related sexual violence is often perpetrated by members of armed forces and other political leaders. In the eyes of many victims the idea of justice remains unattainable. The stigma surrounding these crimes makes it hard for victims to reintegrate into their societies and families. This stigma is also one of the largest contributing factors as to ...

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The Challenges and Interconnectedness of Sanitation and Gender Equality


By Lyra Cooper

In 2012, sanitation was on the General Assembly’s agenda for the very first time – a reality that is surprising, but not more so than the statistics on sanitation that have come to the forefront of these discussions in recent years.

Today, 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities, which is a major cause of high child mortality, the spread of disease, deficient public health, and many other issues, all of which disproportionately impact women and girls.[1] Poor or absent sanitation facilities in schools, for example, can interfere with girls’ learning, especially when they are menstruating. Lacking private facilities and options for changing or disposing of feminine hygiene products, many girls miss a week of school per month, quickly falling behind their male peers. Insufficient sanitation in the public sector can impact adult women’s ability to work outside the home. It can be extremely difficult for women and girls to focus on education, economic activities, leadership opportunities, and other pursuits when addressing their bodies’ most basic needs. This is a pervasive challenge, and one that is usually considered unacceptable for public discussion; however, it is critical to women’s and ...

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What will the future of FGM look like? Eradication or Perpetuation.


By Helana Reyad

As a woman of Egyptian descent, the topic of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM or FGC) is of particular importance to me. According to UNICEF, FGM in Egypt is widespread, occurring among 70% of girls between the ages of 15 to 19.[1] However, in most countries where this practice is prevalent, a majority of girls undergo FGM before the age of 5.[2] While the exact number of women and girls who have undergone FGM is not known, it is estimated that the practice has impacted 200 million; 44 million of whom are under the age of 15.[3] These statistics do not begin to describe the suffering and loss experienced on account of FGM. Each one of these 200 million individuals has her own story of trauma and pain, but also coping and healing.

This year, to observe the annual International Day for Zero Tolerance for FGM, UNFPA and UNICEF held a high level event at the United Nations. The event celebrated the inclusion of the eradication of FGM in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly through target 5.3 to eliminate all harmful practices against women and girls. The panel was made up of ...

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Toilets for WASH


by Lyra Cooper

One out of every fourth person in the world lacks access to a clean water source.[1] In an era of electric cars and flying drones, the fact that 25% of our world’s population does not have a source of clean drinking water is astounding.

Largely due to the lack of infrastructure and education around sanitation, communities around the world face urgent threats to their local environment and public health. According to the UN, “2.4 billion people do not have adequate sanitation,”[2] and according to Lazette Bergers, Senior Water and Sanitation Adviser at UNICEF NY, “1 billion people still practice open defecation.” This global sanitation problem conjures up an alarming image.

In a meeting at the UN on November 7th regarding water and sanitation issues globally, Ms. Bergers explained that because of persistent inequalities, women and girls, in particular, face tremendous hardship in lieu of such immediate and tangible challenges to their daily lives. Women and girls pay the highest price for poor WASH (Water and Sanitation for Health) because of a lack of separate and safe facilities, such as bathrooms in schools, workplaces, and in homes. Due to this absence, a third of ...

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Will We Be Central, or Will We Be Sidelined?


By Helana Reyad

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have enthusiastically followed the General Assembly (GA)’s 70th session. I also attended an event hosted by the Joint Advocacy Group for the Girl Declaration (JAG), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Advocates for Youth, and Let Girls Lead at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) headquarters called “Central or Sidelined, Examining How Girls Fared in the 2030 Agenda.” As I listened to the member states speak at the Sustainable Development Summit and the General Debate, the question posed at the UNFPA headquarters event kept replaying in my mind: Will we be central or will we be sidelined?

The comments of Member States overall were not very encouraging. Member States focused primarily on issues they had the big stakes in, like topics related to the economy and financing. It was more encouraging, however, when Member States did take time out of their address to talk about issues that often receive less attention because they are not considered imminent threats or are controversial, like climate change or women’s rights. Some Member States tackled such issues head on, reminding world leaders that although the actions we take ...

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