UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo’s Remarks on the International Women’s Day 2021

Speech by UNRC Mia Seppo on the International Women’s Day 2021 highlights the transformative power of women & girls in Bangladesh and around the world.


On behalf of the United Nations Country Team, it is an honor to be here today to commemorate International Women’s Day, and to celebrate our jointly achieved global progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” and it highlights the transformative power of women’s equal participation.

It is a true privilege to be part of this celebration in Bangladesh, with its many outstanding women leaders, not least, the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The UN Secretary General quotes the evidence in saying that: When women lead in government, we see bigger investments in social protection and greater inroads against poverty. When women are in parliament, countries adopt more stringent climate change policies. (And) when women are at the peace table, agreements are more enduring.

The Secretary General states that women are among the leaders who have kept COVID-19 prevalence rates lower, and countries on track for recovery.

Under the leadership of the Honorable Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has emerged as a global model for economic growth and development. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed her transformative leadership in navigating a complex virus and its devastating health and socio-economic impacts, while at the same time battling the effects of climate change such as Cyclone Amphan and severe floods. The Honorable PM has also joined global advocacy efforts to ensure vaccine equity and making the vaccine a global public good.

Women in Bangladesh are a large part of the workforce and are increasingly taking their seat at the table, be it the parliament, judiciary, diplomacy, administration, civil society, private businesses, media or labor unions. By overcoming socio-cultural and economic barriers, they are establishing themselves as new role models.

Let us also remember the women who do not hold visible positions and who we do not see in virtual events. At the grass-roots level, we have witnessed remarkable acts of resilience, heroism and leadership. Bangladeshi women have been at the frontlines in fighting COVID-19 as health care workers and caregivers.

Together with you we celebrate the inspiring examples of leadership from the grassroots level to the top and the transformative power of women and girls in Bangladesh.  

Across countries, there is a real concern that the COVID-19 pandemic is rolling back the progress made toward the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on women and girls; we have witnessed a global spike in reporting of domestic violence, and the effects of the pandemic have created further obstacles to women’s participation and decision-making in public life.

In Bangladesh, the impact of COVID-19 on women’s economic empowerment has been disproportionate. About 92% of women in the labour force work in the informal economy, without any job security, and a significant gendered digital divide disadvantages many women when it comes to accessing information and markets.

The COVID-19 recovery offers a window of opportunity to fast-track the 2030 Agenda and the Bangladesh Vision 2041.

Women and girls need to have a seat at the table where decisions are taken regarding the design and implementation of COVID-19 economic recovery programmes.

In this regard, the UN commends the Government of Bangladesh’s 8th 5-Year Plan, which has significantly stepped up the ambition to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Plan comprehensively identifies and seeks to address the prevailing gender gaps.

The Plan identifies harmful practices such as child marriage and son preference; men’s control and influence over women’s lives and mobility outside the home; and lack of equal entitlement to inheritance, an issue that the Honorable Prime Minister also highlighted almost two year ago, and access to financial means as critical barriers to women enjoying their full rights.

Importantly, the 8th Five Year Plan outlines appropriate responses to address these barriers including: removing discriminatory laws, working with men and adolescents to change stereotypical gender norms and prevent violence against women; promoting sharing of household responsibilities and investing in social infrastructure and services that will reduce women’s burden of care work, creating opportunities for higher-value employment for women; improving women’s participation in decision making at all levels; strengthening the institutional mechanism for women’s advancement to have greater capacity, authority and accountability.

This ambition is truly commendable and inspiring.

The UN is aligning its new Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework to reflect the Government of Bangladesh’s goals as outlined in the 8 FYP. We are very hopeful that this will provide ample scope for collaboration with the Government over the next five years.

From politicians to grass-roots activists, the ambition and potential of women leaders in Bangladesh to drive progress and change for a gender equal and inclusive COVID-19 recovery, the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and Bangladesh Vision 2041, is unparalleled.

On behalf of the UN: thank you all for the work that you do, and the global standard setting and inspiration that you provide.

The evidence is clear: women’s full and effective participation and leadership, in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations, drives progress for everyone.

Allow me to end with a quote from Begum Rokaya:

A lion is stronger than man but it doesn’t allow him to dominate the human race!

Happy IWD 2021!

UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office