Paris — At a high-level event on the final day of the landmark Generation Equality Forum in Paris, UN leaders, feminist and youth activists, policy makers, and influencers called on men everywhere to step up and take accountability in the fight to end violence against women.

The urgency of this call is set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has triggered escalations in gender-based violence against women and girls. Across the globe, physical and sexual violence, domestic abuse, femicide, trafficking, child marriage and female genital mutilation have risen exponentially, exceeding already alarming levels. For instance, in 2020, calls to helplines increased up to five-fold in some countries during the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, while in others, women were unable to seek help, sheltered in place with their abusers.

“Gender-based violence in all its complexities is an expression of the existing power structures based on age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and culture”, explained Diipa Khosla, Model and Co-founder of Post for Change, an organization that is committing to building a coalition of social media influencers to point out injustices, emphasize concepts of mutual respect, and push forward notions of equality.

Speakers at the event highlighted the important role that men and boys have to play in ending gender inequalities. “I am going to make sure that I set a great example for my son and for my brother. I will not only tell them how to live but also show them how to live, so that that my daughter doesn’t have to be protected. So that my daughter can feel safe”, explained Siya Kolisi, South African Rugby Captain and UN Global Advocate for the Spotlight Initiative.

By taking on responsibility and accountability, men and boys can challenge male privilege and harmful masculinities, and the violent ways that these norms manifest in society. “My call to men around the world is they should know that ending violence against women is not a woman’s issue, it’s a global issue. It’s everyone’s problem and men should hold themselves accountable,” said UN Women Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Africa, Jaha Dukureh.

The discussion explored efforts required from men, organizations, and political leaders to achieve change, urging these actors to redouble their efforts. Referring to gender-based violence as “the national emergency” for all countries, UN Secretary General António Guterres urged UN Member States to join him in support of proven solutions and ongoing efforts to end violence against women and girls, such as the Spotlight Initiative, which is “showing that it is possible to deliver high-quality results for women and girls even during the constraints of the pandemic.”

The Generation Equality Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence is leading a major effort to secure commitments to end violence against women. “Iceland has taken on a leading role in the Action Coalition on Gender Based Violence”, said Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, President of Iceland, highlighting the catalytic of the work of the Action Coalitions. “We have seen first-hand how society progresses when the power imbalance between women and men is reduced, and we wish to see the same progress achieved globally.” Iceland has committed USD 1 Million to enhance work on prevention and response to gender-based violence through engaging men and boys and transforming harmful masculinities.