Abby Erikson
January 3, 2023
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

Abby Erikson

Changemaker: Abby Erikson, UN Women


An International Advocate For Women And Girls

From the American Southwest to the Fiji Islands, Abby Erikson has always been a fierce advocate for ending violence against women and girls. Today, she has a role that matches the size of her determination as the Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) Programme Specialist at the UN Women Fiji Multi Country Office.

“As a woman, I’ve experienced and witnessed the marginalization of women across all aspects of society, and it has driven me into a lifelong passion to fight for equal rights, bodily autonomy, and a life free from gender-based violence.”

Like many people who work with social justice issues, the personal is political, and Erikson is no different. As an undergraduate sociology and women’s studies student at Fort Lewis College in Durango, she studied abroad in Guatemala, connecting with activist and human rights groups and protested for access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls in her own community.  Post graduation, her interest in social justice issues were further strengthened while working for Planned Parenthood, at rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, and LGBTQ counselling centres.

At Planned Parenthood, she sat with young girls who became pregnant by rape, women who were abused by their spouses, and women who were looking for family planning options but didn’t want their abusers to know.

From Planned Parenthood To UN Women, And Everything In-Between

After growing frustrated at the lack of policy support for women’s issues on the frontlines, she moved into advocating for policy changes at the state level for Planned Parenthood. In 2000, she co-authored the first piece of legislation that would eventually mandate that Catholic hospitals had to give emergency contraceptive information to rape victims.

She took that experience with her as she pursued a master’s degree in social work at the University of Chicago, and returned to Thailand where she oversaw a comprehensive program to respond and prevent gender-based violence in the Burmese refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.

In 2010, Erikson then moved into senior technical roles on gender-based violence with the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) Women’s Protection and Empowerment Unit. As the Acting Senior Technical Director, she provided technical leadership and representation on women and girls’ empowerment, gender equality, and violence against women and girls’ response and prevention programming across 28 humanitarian contexts.

“I have been privileged to work alongside some of the fiercest women’s rights activists, and to bear witness to and learn from the leadership of the many diverse sisters globally who persist, day in and day out, to make this world a better place for women and girls,” Erikson said.

Over the years, she has earned the well-deserved reputation as a global technical expert on gender-based violence, especially on addressing the needs of children affected by sexual violence. She leads global trainings on best practices for caring for children and is the principle author of the joint IRC/UNICEF psychosocial guidelines Caring for Child Survivors of Sexual Abuse in Humanitarian Settings.

Five years ago, she received an offer to move to Fiji as the EVAW Programme Specialist at UN Women, and she is still in that role today. As the EVAW Programme Specialist, she provides technical representation and leadership to ensure global standards while working with the Pacific leaders and experts on addressing VAWG.  She oversees a team of 20 people, both in Fiji and throughout the region working on a regional programme, the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls. 

“The Pacific is a diverse region,” she said. “We’ve strengthened our working partnership with the local experts and women’s rights leaders, as well as local and regional governments, in order to advance prevention and response to gender-based violence across the region.”

A Future In Public Office

While her work in Fiji for the UN is her priority for now, she has her eyes on public office.

“Running for public office has always been part of my plan,” she said. “I distinctly remember lobbying for policy changes that benefit women and girls at the state and federal level and thinking, I want to be in the decision-making chair, not just in the lobbying arena arguing my case.”

She also wants to keep connecting with other women who desire to advance women’s humans rights, political leadership, and participation around the world.

“By getting more women into politics, we can make changes in the laws that impact us the most,” Erikson said.

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