UN Women Executive Director on her first official visit to Bangladesh


UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, begins today her first official visit to Bangladesh. During her visit, the Executive Director will be meeting with key government and civil society partners as well as international development actors both in Dhaka, and in Cox’s Bazar, where the Rohingya Refugee response is taking place.

Women in Bangladesh have made important strides in development in recent decades. The country has made impressive gains on a number of development indicators, including gender parity in primary education, and the female labour force participation rate has risen dramatically from 24 per cent to 36 per cent between 2002 and 2016. However, gender inequality remains a serious impediment to progress across many sectors. In the 2016 global Gender Inequality Index (GII), Bangladesh ranked 119th out of 159 countries. Women still earn only 57 per cent of what men do, and more than 70 per cent of unpaid family workers are women. More than 50 per cent of girls are married before 18, and half of women have experienced physical violence from their spouse.

UN Women Executive Director will be meeting with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, H.E. Sheikh Hasina, to discuss opportunities for collaboration to address violence against women and girls, including child marriage.

The Executive Director’s visit will also coincide with the National Women Peace and Security Symposium jointly organized by the Government of Bangladesh and UN Women from 29-30 January, which aims to further the development of a National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). The NAP will be a blueprint for the country’s efforts to ensure women’s meaningful participation in the prevention of conflict and violent extremism, and the protection and advancement of women’s rights to promote resilience during crises. The Executive Director will provide the closing address at the Symposium focusing on the effectiveness of the NAP, where the civil society actors are able to continue to play an integral role going forward, sharing their invaluable expertise and vision for a more peaceful and equal society.

As part of the visit to Bangladesh, the Executive Director will also be traveling to Balukhali Camp in Cox’s Bazaar, where she will meet with Rohingya refugee women and girls at a Multi-Purpose Women’s Centre set up by UN Women, which provides a space for the most vulnerable, neglected and marginalized Rohingya women, especially female-headed households and adolescent girls.

Bangladesh has hosted Rohingya refugees for almost three decades now, but since August 2017, the country has seen a surge of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. By mid-January 2018, more than 688,800 refugees had arrived, approximately 52 per cent of them women and girls, 16 per cent estimated to be single mothers, 21 per cent pregnant and lactating women.

The Rohingya refugee crisis has a particularly gendered nature due to the level and severity of sexual and gender-based violence that women and girls have experienced and are continuously exposed to, and the restrictive socio-cultural norms that Rohingya women and girls live under. This has necessitated urgent intervention by UN Women in the humanitarian response. Today, UN Women in Bangladesh leads the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group for the Rohingya refugee crisis response.

Through her visit, the Executive Director intends to highlight the importance of women’s empowerment and participation in determining the humanitarian support that they receive, and the extra measures needed by humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable Rohingya women and girls.

A number of bilateral meetings with government officials will also take place, including H.E. Mr. Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Ms. Meher Afroze Chumki, State Minister for Ministry of Women and Children Affairs; Mr. Mohammed Abul Kalam, Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner; and Mr. Kazi Reazul hoque, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. Discussions will focus on the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Executive Director will also have a dialogue with women leaders from civil society organizations, private sector and students.