The collective voices of 120 experts and activists called for action to end sexual violence, at the inaugural event of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence.
The UN in Bangladesh, in partnership with the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs (MoWCA) and civil society organisations, held a virtual dialogue on the 25 November to mark the International Day on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, according to a press release.
Fazilatun Nessa Indira, MP, Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWCA) officially inaugurated this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence with her speech as the chief guest. The United Nations Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo and Development Director, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Bangladesh Judith Herbertson were present as special guests, and Kazi Rowshan Akhter, Secretary, MoWCA as chairperson. Dr Abul Hossain, Project Director, Multi-sectoral program on Violence against Women (MSPVAW), MoWCA, moderated the inaugural session.
Under this year’s theme “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect”, the dialogue provided a platform to further discuss strategies for coordinated efforts to address sexual violence and strengthen accountability.
In light of recent public outcry, the UN family continued its efforts to dismantle misunderstanding around rape, changing its narrative and advocate for concrete actions to tackle it. Three expert meetings on actions against sexual violence were held on 22 November to further gain expert recommendations on how to accelerate efforts to end sexual violence. This discussion was informed by last year’s 10 Actions against Rape endorsed by the GoB, UN, development partners and civil society, the press release said.
The analysis and recommendations were then presented by Nahim Razzak, MP in the virtual dialogue held on 25 November. The panel discussion covered what different ministries including Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and MoWCA have done to accelerate actions and advice on strategic interventions to end GBV.
The overarching outcome emerging from the dialogue was that society must work together to change the narrative of rape and shift from blaming victims to holding perpetrators accountable. As highlighted by UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo, “Women demand accountability, they do not want to be protected, they want to have their rights, respecting it, they want to feel safe in their homes and in public spaces. Women require safety at homes and in public spaces. Bangladesh government needs to accelerate the process of legal reform to outlaw marital rape and discriminatory laws once and for all.”
Throughout the dialogue, panelists and participants discussed possible action steps to achieve this, including major legislative reforms, an overhaul of the justice response and essential services, improved data collection and monitoring, comprehensive sexuality education in our schools, and the strengthening and expanding of institutional partnerships to prevent impunity.
An open discussion was moderated by Farah Kabir, Executive Director, Action Aid, Bangladesh focused mostly on the pervasive culture of rape in Bangladesh. Umama Zillur, founder of KOTHA, urged the audience “to connect the dots” between the prevailing culture of rape and the high prevalence rates of sexual violence: a culture that “breeds incidents” of sexual violence. Participants also discussed how this culture was leading to a protectionist response, in which women and girls are being withdrawn from public spaces to ensure their safety, instead of placing emphasis on making public spaces safe for all.
Present as special guest Judith Therbertson, Development Director, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Bangladesh said, “We need to work together to change the social norms that condone such violence through victim blaming and the normalization of what we hear, and to identify the most effective ways to prevent the violence even before it starts.”
In response to the different recommendations and call for actions, Dr Abul Hossain, Project Director, Multi-Sectoral Program on Violence against Women (MSPVAW), MoWCA, said, ““We have developed the National Plan of Action to End Violence against Women, which is being implemented, as a form of multi-sectoral approach to work together with various stakeholders to end violence against women across the country, and the world ”
The virtual dialogue was wrapped up with a consensus gathering together the voices of experts, activists and duty bearers as well as with recommendations for ensuring safety and security of the women and girls in Bangladesh.