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Remarks of SRSG Patten “A Woman Even Here” Women's Right to Safety and Dignity in Humanitarian Response – UNFPA event at EXPO 2020, Dubai, 30 November 2021 – World – ReliefWeb

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I am delighted to be here in Dubai reflecting on our global goals, including the promotion of tolerance and inclusivity – and how we can ensure that no one is left behind as we build the collective future we want. I wish to sincerely thank Dubai Cares and UNFPA for bringing us together and also Dr. Kanem, a close friend, for shining a spotlight on the need to prioritize women’s right to dignity, safety, and wellbeing as a core value for this inclusive and prosperous future.
‘A Woman Even Here’ is an important campaign, which reflects the most critical part of my mandate – the voices and needs of survivors of sexual violence. As we just saw in the short documentary, survivors like Sahar inspire us to redefine the way we think about and design policies and programmes which are truly survivor-centred. Over the years, since I took Office, I have met with many dedicated people, who have found healing to support other survivors with access to critical and lifesaving services, as Sahar is actually doing through her work by running a UNFPA–supported midwifery clinic.
As we are continually challenged by rapidly evolving emergencies and intersecting conflict dynamics, as we have seen recently in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Myanmar, you can count on me as I will continue to use my platform to advocate for humanitarians and service providers to have the necessary space and resources they needed to deliver comprehensive and essential services, such as dignity kits, post-rape kits, treatment to prevent HIV and STI prevention and psychosocial support. In the 18 conflict and post-conflict countries currently covered by my mandate, where widespread sexual violence is still a devastating reality, women’s civil society organizations and service providers work tirelessly in partnership with the United Nations to respond to these needs and I would also like to take this opportunity to commend them for their dedication and courage.
As we see in the escalating crises in Ethiopia and Yemen, secure and unconditional access for humanitarian workers must be accompanied by protection measures if we are to address the ongoing risks of sexual violence and ensure the availability of lifesaving assistance. And unfortunately, this is not always the case. In the Central African Republic alone, there have been over 300 attacks against humanitarian workers in 2021, making it one of the most dangerous countries for them to work. This violence also prevents survivors from accessing the holistic care that they so desperately need in time.
During the pandemic, as these important voices were often muted by competing and urgent headlines, my Office produced a unique anthology entitled, “In Their Own Words”, which spans a dozen countries and includes more than 150 testimonies from survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. And this Digital Book also includes stories from service providers and women human rights defenders on the risks that they face on a daily basis to deliver health, psychosocial, legal services, and much more to those who need it most.
In addition, my Office is working on a special report of the UN Secretary-General on women and girls who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence in conflict and children born of sexual violence. This report, which will be launched next month, will contain a series of critical recommendations, which will be presented to the Security Council and other decision makers on the range of services and support that these mothers and their children require to rebuild their lives and thrive in their societies and communities.
This special report will complement the recommendations found within the Secretary-General’s 13th annual report on conflict-related sexual violence, which is a critical advocacy tool to address the increasingly complex and intersecting trends and patterns of sexual violence in conflict. For example, in Yemen, we see how women are targeted and silenced using sexual violence as a punishment for their social activism and political engagement. In Iraq, Libya, and Somalia, and other places, violent extremists use sexual violence as a tactic of terror to control women, as well as their communities. My Office has worked alongside the Government of Iraq and their partners to develop and enact the Yazidi Female Survivors Law, which provides assistance, reparations, and redress for survivors of atrocities committed by ISIL.
The survivor-centred approach, which isarticulated in Security Council 2467 adopted in April 2019, demands that survivors are heard and that their requests are reflected in all policies and programmatic decisions. This approach was exemplified in a UN Action funded project in Somalia that supported women formerly associated with Al-Shabaab to become economically empowered as farmers and entrepreneurs as they used art to help them heal from their trauma. Some of the women pooled their money to start a cooperative in goat keeping and livestock trade, while others created their own food production and catering companies. What has become clear throughout this programme is that these survivors are the architects of their own futures.
The United Nations’ response to conflict-related sexual violence is coordinated through one of the operational arms of my mandate, known as the UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict Network – UN Action shortly, which is the primary platform from which the United Nations optimises its resources and collaboratively develops prevention strategies to address the root causes of sexual violence to stop this crime from happening in the first place.
Comprising of 20 UN organisations, UN Action provides survivors of conflict-related sexual violence with life-saving, physical and mental health, and legal services; it has worked in 22 countries and serves as the bridge between survivors, service providers, policy-makers, and duty-bearers.
Despite its ability to be nimble and adapt to the growing and changing needs of survivors, including during the wake of the COVID pandemic, UN Action, for all its reach and expertise, faces chronic under-funding. It is my sincere hope that more Member States, private sector companies, and individuals will become allies of the Network and help us take forward the conflict-related sexual violence mandate.
In conclusion, I would like to make three key recommendations:
First, as clearly demonstrated by the ‘A Woman Even Here’ campaign, let us ensure that survivors voices are heard, not just as vulnerable individuals who require protection and the subject of international peace and security, but as agents of change.
Secondly, I urge governments, companies, and philanthropists to fund CRSV work and to commensurate with the scale of the needs expressed by survivors and service providers. The response required to eradicate war’s oldest crime requires sustained and predictable funding.
And lastly, I address myself to each one of your present in the room and those of you following virtually: I ask that you are inspired by the powerful stories of survivors, to take impactful action so we can finally end the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence. Let each of us tackle the root causes that allow this kind of violence to continue and fight for gender equality together.
What survivors need is the encouragement and opportunity to use their voice and a world that is ready to listen. Very little in human history is inevitable; it is often said that history repeats itself, but the truth is that people repeat history or they make the choice to take a stand and say never again.
Thank you.
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