Swedish cooperation with UN Women: promoting gender equality around the world

Published 20 December 2018 in:

Ethiopia. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Sweden and UN Women have a longstanding partnership dating back to the establishment of UN Women in 2010. They unite around the goal of ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights for women and girls worldwide. Swedish core support to UN Women has resulted in, among other things, nine countries adopting policy frameworks for women’s economic empowerment and the adoption of 72 laws to strengthen women’s rights in 61 countries.

“With the accumulated funding from Sida and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden is UN Women’s top financer, last year contributing approximately SEK 388 million. Sweden has positioned itself as a staunch supporter of all aspects of gender equality and women’s empowerment,” says Susan Beer at Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Swedish contributions have helped several national and local efforts promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

An example can be found in Moldova, where one focus of Swedish development cooperation is to reduce and prevent gender-based violence, with the ultimate aim of strengthening democracy and human rights. Other areas of cooperation regard increased political representation and participation of women and women’s economic empowerment. One measure to combat gender-based violence in the country was the introduction of a national hotline. Involving legal and psychosocial services helps to break the cycle of violence. This means women are more likely to break away from a violent environment. Use of the national hotline increased by 50 per cent in 2016–2017.

UN Women has also successfully implemented a new approach called ‘positive deviance’ in Moldova. In it, women who have survived violent relationships learn to talk openly and confidently about overcoming violence, so other women can feel empowered to do the same. Positive results have been achieved in a short time, and the model is now being replicated in other countries where UN Women is active. Nevertheless, the problem of gender-based violence in Moldova remains widespread, and a national survey found that 63 per cent of women have experienced violence from their partner. UN Women is prioritising the work to combat violence against women and girls in Moldova and is a strong advocate for policy changes and state funding to tackle the issue.

Another vital component in combating gender-based violence is access to data. “Comprehensive and reliable data is central to assessing appropriate action and advocating policy changes,” says Susan Beer. In Ethiopia, UN Women, together with the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, has worked to include gender-based violence in the national health survey. The results of the survey challenge common misconceptions about the prevalence of gender-based violence and show higher rates than expected among married women.

In efforts to promote climate-resilient agriculture, women working on farming cooperatives can now use a digital platform endorsed by UN Women called ‘Buy from Women’. In Rwanda, UN Women has helped launch the platform which links women to larger markets and has led to contracts from distinguished firms in the country. Consequently, women in Rwanda’s most rural areas can become active agents in their economic empowerment and benefit from the potential of digital literacy.

“Sweden’s strategy for development cooperation with Rwanda states that Sweden should contribute to structural change of the economy and enable women in particular to earn a living and take part in entrepreneurial work. The innovative ‘Buy from Women’ platform shows the strategy in action,” says Susan Beer.

Another issue tackled by UN Women and Sweden relates to women’s property rights. In Albania, women have the legal right to own land and property, but only 8 per cent of them do so. Discriminatory social structures and norms, in combination with women being unaware of their rights, are the main reasons behind the disproportionate distribution of property ownership.

“With funding from Sweden, UN Women has addressed this issue by establishing centres in 10 rural and urban municipalities where women can get free legal advice and help to claim their rightful ownership of property,” Susan Beer continues.

Sweden considers a legal system free from discrimination, in which everyone is entitled to a fair trial, to be a prerequisite for successful reformation in the Western Balkans. Securing women’s property rights is a stepping stone in such a development.

In efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, Sweden aims to strengthen the meaningful participation and influence of women and girls in peace processes, and simultaneously ensure that women and girls get protection in humanitarian crises, based on their needs.

Susan Beer again:

“Studies have shown that if women take an active part in decision-making, the sustainability of peace will increase.”

With the help of Sweden, UN Women has established itself as a hub of knowledge on women, peace and security, and has been able to influence a total of 75 countries to formulate a National Action Plan (NAP) in support of Resolution 1325. Seven new countries adopted an NAP in 2017, including Burundi, Cameroon and Guatemala.

In Colombia, UN Women was able to influence the new Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which is composed of 55 per cent women. Sweden’s support also enabled the participation of women from civil society groups in a newly formed mechanism to oversee the implementation of the Colombian peace agreement.

With the technical support of UN Women Mali, the Commission on Truth, Justice and Reconciliation (CVJR), has mainstreamed gender in its work unlike any other commission of the peace agreement. The Commission is the only commission composed of 20 per cent women, while the other commissions established by the peace agreement have much less female representation. This was achieved through the work of UN Women, with Swedish contributions, providing gender expertise to the Commission.

Through capacity-building, sensitisation and mobilisation of commissioners, staff in central and regional offices, women victim’s associations and human rights groups, the awareness and ownership of gender integration in the transitional justice process has been strengthened. UN Women has also been instrumental in encouraging Malian women to take part in the peace process, and has assisted them in voicing their concerns about the peace agreement. In July 2018, a meeting of 40 women from civil society, armed groups and the Government discussed possible ways to increase women’s participation in the peace process. UN Women, with Swedish contributions, also supports the National Action Plan on 1325 with the main objective to increase women’s participation in the implementation of the peace agreement.