Remarks by the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Ola Almgren

Event - Launch of the Intimate Partner Violence Source Book for UN Staff
Date and time - Wednesday, 2 December 2020, 2-3pm YGN time

Dear Colleagues,

It is good to see you all at this launch of the Intimate Partner Violence Resource Book for United Nations Personnel in Myanmar, and I am particularly grateful to Ramanathan Balakrishnan and Nicolas Burniat and their respective staff in UNFPA and UN Women for the work that has gone into the resource book and for organizing this event.

We are doing this as part of the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence campaign, that kicked off on 25 November and is commemorated both globally and nationally.

As I am sure you know very well, the fight against violence against women and girls remains an important priority of our Secretary-General also, and not least, during the COVID-19 pandemic.  On April 6 this year, he urged all governments and the international community to work towards ending the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence once and for all and to make it a key component of their national response to COVID-19.  146 Member States and Observers responded by expressing their strong support to his appeal.  On 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, he reiterated and relaunched this appeal in his message to the global community and called again for action to stop violence against women and girls.

On the same day, we kicked-off the 16 Days of Activism campaign in Myanmar with a virtual conference organised by the Union Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.  In my keynote at the event, I emphasised the importance of raising public awareness for gender-based violence and of further strengthening the protection of survivors and of support services at their disposal. 

Dear colleagues,

Gender based violence is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world, and yet it is one of the most silent.  Survivors of violence often do not report or seek assistance due to fear of reprisal or stigmatization.  Globally, one in three women experiences violence at some point in their lives, be it physical, sexual or emotional violence, often at the hands of someone close to her in the family or workplace.

Myanmar is no exception, and gender-based violence is unfortunately pervasive across the country.  Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Myanmar Demographic and Health Survey data showed that 21 per cent of ever-married women age 15-49 have experienced at least one form of intimate partner violence in their timeline.  However, only a small fraction of the women and girls who experienced physical or sexual violence had sought help[1]

Global evidence shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated key risk factors for violence against women and girls, such as food shortages, unemployment, economic insecurity, school closures, massive migration flows and the threat of civil unrest.  There are alarming signs of an increase in multiple forms of violence against women and girls, especially physical, psychological, sexual and economic, fuelled by household economic and food insecurity and confined living conditions due to lockdown and social isolation measures.  There are also reports of increased sexual abuse and harassment, both online and offline[2].  For example, the numbers of emergency calls from intimate partner violence survivors increased by 25% in Singapore and 30% in Cyprus since the lockdown in March. 

While there are no precise numbers on intimate partner violence incidents for Myanmar since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the administrative data from the Department of Social Welfare and Women Organizations shows that there have been more emergency calls from domestic violence survivors to their hotlines and shelters. 

Lockdown restrictions and working from home arrangements are intended to protect us from the pandemic but they have unfortunately left many survivors of gender-based violence trapped behind closed doors with their abusers.

The survivors of gender-based violence also find it more difficult to access police-, justice-, health care- and social protection services in a timely manner because of the lockdown measures. They are often cut off from support system they used to have, such as families and friends. This imposed isolation further exacerbate bottlenecks associated with disclosure and help-seeking behaviours.

Dear colleagues, just like Myanmar is not spared by the scourge of domestic violence, neither are United Nations staff members and their families. Some of us might have encountered at some point of our career, a colleague who had suffered from domestic violence.  And some of us might also encountered colleagues who regrettably were the abusers. 

As you all know, and as the Secretary-General has made clear on multiple occasions, the United Nations has a zero tolerance for abuse of authority, sexual abuse and harassment.  It is essential for us to be very clear about the fact that gender-based violence is not acceptable and that there is no excuse nor tolerance for it in our UN system.  But having zero tolerance for violence and abuse is not enough.   As an organization, we must also make sure that our staff members are informed about intimate partner violence and that survivors receive the support they need.

The Intimate Partner Violence Resource book for United Nations Staff in Myanmar, which we are launching today, aims at providing staff members and their families with the essential knowledge and tools to understand what intimate partner violence is and how to recognize it.  It provides advice to survivors on where to seek help and support when needed.  And it guides staff members and managers on what to do and how to support colleagues who may be survivors of violence.

I would also like to note that while the vast majority of survivors of intimate partner violence are women and the perpetrators men, we must also acknowledge that sometimes, men can be victims of gender-based violence too.  Thus, this resource book has been created for each and everyone of us.

I want to be clear that this resource book does not replace existing UN guidelines for staff welfare policies and procedures but aims to complement them.  It constitutes an important step towards making our homes, workplaces, and communities into safer spaces for all.

Colleagues,

While it is essential that our workspace and homes are free of violence, let me also say that as UN staff members, it is our duty, whatever our line of work, to be strong advocates for the rights of women and girls in Myanmar, to say no to violence against women and to speak out when we see it.  We must do so not only because it is the right thing to do but also because stopping violence against women and girls is key to the prosperity of families and communities and contributes to a more peaceful and inclusive society.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge and again thank UNFPA and UN Women for creating and producing this Resource book on behalf of the UN Country Team.

It is my hope that going forward, all Myanmar based agencies will use this useful guidance to engage their staff in frank dialogue about this very serious social issue, to organise workshops or training on intimate partner violence and to support an environment where survivors feel safe to reach out and ask for help.  You can count on my commitment as Resident Coordinator to ensure that together with the UN Country Team in Myanmar, we do our utmost to prevent and respond to Intimate Partner Violence in our work and our daily lives and to support survivors.

Thank you for your attention and for the opportunity to support this important work.

 

[1] Myanmar’s Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2015-2016.

[2] UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, A Bottom-up View of the Shadow Pandemic: Impact of COVID-19 on Violence Against Women Through the Lens of Civil Society and Women’s Rights Organizations, (2020)

UN entities involved in this initiative
RCO
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office