UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo’s speech on the International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women

Full Text of Speech by UNRC Mia Seppo at the inauguration of the National Dialogue on Actions Against Sexual Violence on November 25, 2020, Dhaka


At this time last year, we signed up to a comprehensive set of ten actions to end rape and gender-based violence. 

Have we lived up to our commitment? What have we done and what has changed in the last year? And what more must we do?

COVID has laid bare the most brutal side of patriarchy: the complete failure to uphold the human rights of women and girls - as evidenced in the massive gaps around the world in the system to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

The pre-existing shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls intensified as countries locked down their citizens to stop the spread of the virus. And the barriers to accessing legal, health and social services became insurmountable.

The UN is requesting Member States to accelerate concrete policy responses to gender-based violence in the context of COVID-19 and to promote zero tolerance of gender-based violence across all spheres of society. 

In Bangladesh, the destructive impact of COVID-19 and increasing reports of heinous crimes against women and girls have re-energized the feminist movement. 

We have seen intergenerational movement building and activism across the country, and young activists claiming spaces from Rangpur to Dhaka and beyond. 

Thanks to the women’s movement, marital rape is finally being spoken of in public in Bangladesh. Marital rape is in the headlines thanks to civil society campaigning; and the Government’s draft 8th Five Year Plan includes reference to ‘marital rape’ for the first time. 

This is a critical step in the fight to eliminate gender-based violence because it exposes the core of the rape culture, that is, the normalization of sexual violence against women and girls. 

What has changed since last year is that action is even more urgent. We need to speed up the implementation of the ten actions. 

Women demand accountability; they do not want to be protected; they want to have their rights respected and to feel safe in their homes and in public spaces.

At the legislative level the government needs to accelerate the process of legal reform to outlaw marital rape and discriminatory laws once and for all; the women’s movement has provided a comprehensive agenda to realize this.    In secondary schools across the country we need to give young women and men access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education that is delivered in an environment of trust and empathy, and that teaches values of gender equality and consent.    At the kitchen tables across the country and around the world we must talk to our children about rights, equality and consent. Men and boys need to speak up against violence against women.

The Government of Bangladesh has a duty to address women’s and girls’ rights. But a populist response does not cut it; we need a feminist response, that is, comprehensive action that addresses the root causes of sexual violence, and implementation that puts women’s and girls’ rights at the center. 

We as development partners need to support better regular dialogue between the Government of Bangladesh and civil society, to translate the extensive national plans into the concrete actions that are needed, guided by the feminist movement. 

We must continue to fund the critical women’s rights organizations and initiatives that supply life changing services to survivors, and which have been put under incredible pressure due to COVID-19.

On Sunday, three groups of distinguished experts from the government, civil society and development partners gathered to discuss the challenges faced in implementing the ten actions to end rape and gender-based violence, and the way forward on ending rape and gender-based violence. 

We look forward to hearing the experts’ recommendations today. The UN stands ready to continue to support a comprehensive and feminist approach to tackling the shadow pandemic of our time.

Thank you.  

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