Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and the United Nations in Bangladesh, jointly commenced the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence by holding a national dialogue on 25 November at a city hotel, under the theme of “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape.”

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is a global campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic, widespread human rights violations worldwide. In Bangladesh, despite the progress made so far in the normative and policy framework, the incidence of violence against women and girls is still very high. More than two out of three (72.6 per cent) ever-married women in Bangladesh have experienced some form of partner violence in their lifetime, and more than half (54.7 per cent) have experienced it in the last 12 months.

The national dialogue was devised to promote a deeper understanding of the root causes of rape and sexual violence and framing it as a national pandemic that requires an urgent and systematic response.

Addressing the dialogue as the chief guest, Begum Fazilatunnesa Indira, MP, State Minister, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA) said, “Over the last few decades, Bangladesh has adopted laws and policies meant to promote gender equality and address violence against women and girls, such as the Women's Development Policy, followed by the National Action Plan in 2011, the 2009 High Court's Directive on sexual harassment, the Women and Child Repression Suppression Act, and Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act. Furthermore, the National Action Plan on violence against women and children (2018-2030) was revised and launched in November 2018. But women and children are still the victims of different forms of violence.” She urged all to stand against any violence targeting women and children.

Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator emphasized on holistic approach to reduce the number of rape cases or any other violence against women. While addressing the dialogue as a special guest, she said, “UN’s unwavering commitment to eradicate rape and sexual and gender-based violence is manifested in its support of the 16 Days civil society initiative.” As a way forward, Mia added, “We must change the narrative of rape, from blaming victims to holding the perpetrators accountable for using rape as a means to exert power and dominance over women. We must raise awareness about the key issue of consent, that only ‘yes means yes’, and that consent must be given freely without manipulation or coercion.”

Secretary of MoWCA, Kamrun Nahar, chaired the discussion. In her remarks she said, “The Government, being the duty bearer, is responsible and accountable for ensuring a safe environment for all on its territory. But unless organisations and individuals play their own roles in ending the rape or any kind of violence against women, government alone can’t do that. The national dialogue on preventing and responding to sexual violence will create a platform for discourse, which will lead to a more coordinated efforts in addressing sexual violence. “

Earlier Dr Abul Hossain, Project Director MoWCA, Taslima Yasmin, Associate Professor, University of Dhaka, Farah Kabir, Executive Director, Action Aid Bangladesh, Sheikh Rafiqul Islam, Additional Secretary MoWCA, Shoko Ishikawa, Country Representative, UN Women, Sayed Saikh Imtiaz, Associate Professor, University of Dhaka, Jayasri Shamaddar, Judge, Sm Nahida Nazmin, Additional District Judge, Farida Yeasmin, Deputy Police Commissioner, Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, Ain o Salish Kendra, Asa Torkelsson, Country Representative, UNFPA, Ramendu Majumdar, Media personality, Barrister Shameem Haider Patwary, MP took part at different panel discussions to understand drivers of sexual violence from a gender perspective and to identify solutions to address and eliminate the culture of rape. Umama Zillur, Founder and Director of KOTHA shared the call for action.

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