26th Sep 2023

EU’s €500m gender violence plan falls short, say auditors

  • Over 50,000 women were victims of gender-based killings in 2019 alone. (Photo: Unsplash)
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The EU's flagship programme with the UN to end violence against women worldwide has had "little impact" so far, says a European Court of Auditors (ECA) report published on Monday (11 September).

The so-called 'Spotlight Initiative' was launched in 2017 with an allocated budget of almost €500m to end all forms of violence or harmful practices against women and girls, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised in partner countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

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The auditors examined whether the programme is well-designed, has been well implemented so far and will make an effective overall contribution. And the conclusions are far from positive.

"Through the spotlight initiative, the EU has put more money than ever into ending such abuse, but more should reach final beneficiaries, and we still need to see more impact," said Bettina Jakobsen, who was in charge of the ECA's report.

Of this €497 million, almost a third goes to cover the UN's administrative costs. A decision by the EU executive that the ECA underlines as "political" in support of multilateralism.

(Photo: ECA based on UN data)

"When making this decision, the commission did not undertake a thorough comparison of alternative implementation set-ups or their related costs to justify the choice made," reads the report.

The EU's executive attempt to end gender-based violence was ambitious, but the initially-planned four-year programme is a "short window" to achieve lasting change.

Several studies have calculated that to achieve transformational change in development cooperation, projects lasted between ten and 20 years.

"It [The programme] might still be described as a drop in the ocean if compared to the widespread global problem is set out to address," ECA's audit team told reporters this Monday.

According to the World Health Organization, one in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence at least once since the age of fifteen. And in 2019 alone, 50,000 women were victims of gender-related killings.

Violence against women is a human rights violation that persists today, and its eradication requires long-term changes in social norms and comprehensive institutional reforms — as well as additional sources of funding.

There are no new donors to ensure the sustainability of these activities after the end of the EU programme. A goal that has not yet been achieved, either at country level or at global level, despite the fact that seed funding was also one of the initiative's targets.

Institutional complexity, little cost-effectiveness

Depending on the geographical area, the programme has targeted specific actions. In Latin American countries, the focus has been on femicide, in Asia on trafficking and child marriage, and in Africa on sexual and gender-based violence.

While it is difficult to assess the extent to which the initiative has achieved the expected results, positive outcomes have been very limited and of varying degrees.

In Latin America, there was no evidence of a reduction in femicide as a result of the initiative, and in Africa and Asia, there was a lack of data to determine the extent of the programmes.

"There is no evidence of violence against women and girls having decreased in the various countries covered by the spotlight initiative," says the report.

For new or continuing projects, the ECA team recommends limiting the number of UN agencies involved in each country and improving the framework for measuring the impact of initiatives.

Half of the programmes in Africa and Latin America involved five or more organisations when the recommendation was for a maximum of five to avoid complicating the groundwork.

In addition, the EU auditors say, the commission did not look at the costs and outputs of activities and its evaluation framework did not take cost-effectiveness into account.

"Due to the characteristics of the results framework, the short implementation timeframe, and incomplete data, it has not yet been possible to measure impact of activities, i.e. the resulting improvement in the beneficiaries' situations".

After a series of delays, the programme will continue its implementation until the end of 2023 at the local level and until the end of 2024 at the global level.


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