Development minister calls for more focus on women and girls

Belgium's Development Cooperation minister, Caroline Gennez, has called for foreign policy to focus more on women and girls, during a visit to a refuge for victims of sexual violence in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

The safe house can accommodate 50 girls, who are very often rape victims, but due to high demand there are currently 61 girls staying there. “They have terrible stories of sexual abuse, neglect, kidnapping, rejection,” Gennez said. “Moreover, it is systemic. Sexual violence is a huge problem here in Africa.”

There are six other refuges in Ethiopia, not enough "but a real lifeline for many girls”, Gennez said. “We are trying to focus on the most vulnerable people and very often these are women and girls. There is such a thing as feminist foreign policy, and I personally support it. If we focus on women and girls in Africa in particular, we realise the most impact.”

Belgium is not a direct donor to the refuge but contributes via the UN. “We are one of the biggest donors to the United Nations Women’s Organisation and they support the project,” Gennez said. “Sometimes it is not immediately necessary for a country to support a project bilaterally.”

Founder Maria Yusuf, Belgian minister for Development Cooperation Caroline Gennez and European Commissioner Stella Kyriakides visit the Fingerprint safe house in Addis Ababa, part of a working visit to Ethiopia, 6 February 2024 © BELGA PHOTO / VIDEO MAARTEN WEYNANTS

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