Amid growing concerns over the increase in incidents of gender-based violence in Bangladesh, United Nations Development Programme in partnership with the National Human Rights Commission launched a campaign titled Women’s Safety in Public Places.

UNDP will be collaborating with youth organisation Young Bangla and Centre for Research and Information (CRI) for this campaign, which was launched online on October 14 (Wednesday). The campaign will focus on raising mass awareness to stop violence against women and increase their safety and security in public places.

SDG Affairs Chief at Prime Minister’s Office, Zuena Aziz said, “Sexual violence has a lot to do with power practice. Stricter laws and implementation can really go a long way. At the same time, it’s important to raise boys better, so they grow up to be kind, compassionate and respectful towards women. Sports and culture can definitely play a great role at that. I think the police can have women police officers in disguise at public places to monitor the area and ensure women get help immediately if they are harassed. Monitoring will help to prevent these incidents to a great extent.”

UNDP Resident Representative Sudipto Mukerjee said, “This campaign comes at a time when shocking incidents of violence have shaken the public conscience. It is mentionable that the Covid-19 pandemic that we are still facing, has disproportionately affected women, leaving them particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse and violence. The increasing rate of violence against women is almost a pandemic within a pandemic.”

“When seeking to solve this crisis, our measures must also focus on prevention measures as well as counters. For this, it is necessary to sensitise law enforcement, and put emphasis on instilling good values in citizens,” said Sudipto Mukerjee.

“We need to redefine the metrics of masculinity. What makes a modern, successful man? Is it muscles and brute force, or is it their ability to respect everybody in society? Healthy masculinity is reflected in a man’s ability to rise above gender roles, in their ability to show empathy. Alongside this, public consultations with citizens during development and planning phases are necessary to hear the voices of women. Gender-responsive planning is key,” he said, “Religious leaders are not using their full influence to tackle this crisis. The media isn’t highlighting the government’s efforts to curb violence against women. It is high time we rise above politicisation and act in solidarity to end this violence.”

“Why wait for a crime to happen to take action? UNDP is committed to taking forward the cause behind this campaign. Keep public spaces safe, and more importantly, control intimate partner and household violence. It is time to act now,” he added.

CRI Trustee and Co-Chairperson Saima Wazed Hossain said, “At the core of the problem is lack of respect. From our very childhood, we view women and girls separately from men. People refuse to treat women as equals. Using religion and various other factors as excuses, women have been deprived of the respect they deserve as human beings. Women are blamed for exercising basic, personal liberties such as wearing their preferred clothes, travelling and commuting, playing sports etc. Women have to constantly be in fear, be uncomfortable, be subservient; yet they should be able to exercise their personal freedom without worry.”

“If you see a woman getting harassed on the street, you must speak up and stand beside her. This is something that must be taught to our children. We must recognise that women are worthy and equally deserving of respect,” added Saima Wazed Hossain.

State Minister for ICT, Zunaid Ahmed Palak began his remarks with a question, “I want to ask everyone who has connected with us through social media to watch this webinar, what are you doing to stop violence against women? Are you ready to respect women as humans, as equal individuals? As a man, if I truly respect women, I would not only refrain from acts of violence, but also try my best to raise awareness and stop these incidents.”

“Awareness at a personal level, education at a family and institutional level, technological capacity building and strict enforcement of law and order are four necessary steps to prevent violence against women. We must push back against the disrespect and harassment of women on the internet,” said State Minister Palak, also mentioning the government’s efforts to prevent violence against women during the pandemic.

NHRC Chairperson Nasima Begum; Members of Parliament Aroma Dutta and Fazilatun Nessa Indira, and Inspector General of Police Benazir Ahmed also gave their valuable insights at the webinar.

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