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UN and EU launch ambitious initiative for gender equality in Eastern Partnership

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Friday, July 24
With support from the European Union (EU), the two UN sister agencies will work with government bodies and civil society partners in 6 countries to challenge deeply ingrained gender stereotypes, increase men’s involvement in domestic work and childcare, and engage with potential perpetrators to prevent gender-based violence.

UN Women and UNFPA, together with the EU, have launched a 3-year regional programme to tackle gender stereotypes and gender-based violence in six countries of the Eastern Partnership: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The programme, entitled “EU 4 Gender Equality: Together Against Gender Stereotypes and Gender-Based Violence,” ultimately seeks to strengthen equal rights and opportunities for women and men by challenging perceptions about men’s and women’s roles in the family and in society and working to eliminate gender-based violence.

“This is our first regional programme covering gender equality in the Eastern Partnership region and we are intensely proud of it,” said Lawrence Meredith, Director for Neighbourhood East in the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission.

“We can and we will do more to develop this underused economic and social potential with our Eastern neighbours. As we emerge from the pandemic, we will propose that the future Eastern Partnership be more inclusive.” she added.

A first of its kind, the programme has been informed by an in-depth situation analysis and intergovernmental consultations with the 6 countries. It is designed to engage a wide range of government bodies, civil society organizations, and individuals.

Alia El-Yassir, UN Women Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia informed, that it’s planned to work closely with governments and civil society organisations in the 6 countries to ensure the success of the programme: “This work is even more crucial now as the COVID-19 crisis has put into stark relief the imbalanced distribution of responsibilities based on traditional gender stereotypes.”

The programme aims at achieving real behavioural change. It relies on strategies designed to challenge structural gender barriers and norms, with particular emphasis on transforming gender-stereotyped behaviour, strengthening men’s involvement in parenting and domestic responsibilities, increasing men’s access to parental leave, and reducing the number of people affected by gender-based violence through prevention interventions with potential perpetrators.

The programme has a budget of Euro7,875,000 and is anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, launched by the UN in 2015, and the EU Action Plan 2016-2020 on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women Through EU External Relations. It provides a unique opportunity for the EU and the participating countries to affect social discourse, perceptions, and practices related to gender equality with the ultimate goal of achieving gender equality and related SDGs.

A new Europol-led project, funded by the European Commission will focus on strengthening the capacity of the above mentioned 6 countries’ to fight organised crime more effectively. The project will contribute to reducing crime and creating a safer living space for citizens in the region.

Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol, highlighted that this initiative is an important step in developing strong operational cooperation and trust between the law enforcement authorities of the EU Member States and our Eastern partners. “Our aligned efforts will bring a stronger response to the common challenges and cross-border threats we face. Working together is crucial to connect the dots between criminal networks in the EU and the neighbourhood region,” she said.

Lawrence Meredith stated that organised crime networks operate across national borders and destabilise the entire region and Tackling serious and organised crime is a shared challenge by the EU and its partner countries. “By strengthening the strategic and operational cooperation between Europol and partner countries, we are proud to contribute to joint investigation successes,” she added.

Through this 4 year-long initiative, Europol will support the cooperation between involved law enforcement authorities both on a strategic and operational level. Special funding will enable the Eastern Partnership countries to participate in operational activities against some of the ten most significant threats to the EU security listed under the EU Policy Cycle. Eastern Partnership countries will potentially be able to take part in operations in the framework of the annually updated EMPACT action plans, which target criminal groups active in the ten priority crime areas for the EU. Existing networks for information sharing and operational cooperation may be further extended into joint investigations to improve the effectiveness in fighting transnational organised crime.

“Located along the Black Sea and forming part of the ‘heroin route’ from the Middle East to Europe, all Eastern Partner countries are threatened by organised criminal groups active in the area,” says the Europol press release. These groups are involved in migrant smuggling, organised property crime, trafficking in human beings, firearms and drug trafficking, money laundering, and other related crimes such as document fraud. These criminal syndicates threaten not only the safety and security of people but also the stability of the Eastern Partnership region and the whole EU. More cooperation between law enforcement authorities of the EU Member States and the Eastern Neighbourhood countries is crucial to improving the effectiveness of the common response to organised crime across borders.

As part of a larger Euro10 million EU cooperation initiative, the EU has dedicated Euro2.5 million to support the project that will run for the next four years. Two other components are focused on law enforcement training and threat assessment (a project led by Cepol with the participation of Europol) and on criminal asset recovery (managed by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute - UNICRI).