Distinguished Women Speakers of Parliament from around the world, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the Inter-Parliamentary Union for inviting me to this Summit to discuss the critical role national parliaments can play in preserving the hard-won gains achieved on the Women, Peace and Security agenda in the post-pandemic recovery, and to discuss how the IPU and my Office are coming together to support these efforts through the signature and implementation of a Framework of Cooperation to address conflict-related sexual violence.

Conflict-related sexual violence does not occur in a vacuum. It is linked with wider security factors – such as the resurgence of hostilities, the rise of violent extremism, arms proliferation, and the collapse of the of the rule of law- many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic and its ensuing consequences. COVID-19 has revealed that the risks of falling victim of sexual and gender-based violence have not diminished, but the possibility to seek assistance and redress has.

My Office continues to monitor with concern the trends and patterns of conflict-related sexual violence through the annual Secretary-General reports and the compounding effects of the pandemic. For instance, despite the Secretary General’s call for a Global Ceasefire after the COVID-19 outbreak, many parties to armed conflict continue to use sexual violence as a cruel tactic of war, terror, torture and political repression to advance their strategic objectives, including to propel population flight and control contested territory and natural resources.

We have also observed that women and girls in overcrowded refugee and displacement settings are among those hardest hit by the intersecting crises of conflict, forced displacement, and the pandemic, and are exposed to heightened risks of sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking. This situation has been exacerbated by an overall decline in humanitarian reach, due to the imposition of measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, and, a climate of constrained financial resources for the provision of life-saving services for survivors.

Economic desperation and collapsed community protection mechanisms have also increased the use of negative coping mechanisms, such as child marriage and ‘survival sex’. COVID-19 has also given rise to new gender-specific protection concerns linked with militarization, checkpoints and border closures. For instance, cases of sexual harassment of women healthcare workers; and sexual violence against women detained for alleged curfew violations have been documented.

The imposition of quarantines, curfews, lockdowns and other restrictions on movement has hampered the possibility for survivors to access justice and comprehensive services, further heightening the existing structural, institutional and sociocultural barriers to seeking redress for such crimes. Already a dramatically underreported crime, conflict-related sexual violence has been further obscured by the pandemic.

Despite these challenges, we must ensure that gains made in terms of political commitments, prevention and response are not rolled-back or reversed. In a post-pandemic era, we must redouble our efforts to tackle the root causes of discrimination and widespread inequalities which are an invisible driver of violence against women, including conflict-related sexual violence. And women must play a central role in that response.

In discharging my mandate, I am guided by a firm belief and conviction that the earlier and the deeper the seeds to prevent conflict-related sexual violence are sowed, the better and more sustainable their fruits will be. My Office is currently developing a comprehensive Prevention of conflict-related sexual violence Framework to serve as a roadmap to foster prevention efforts at the global, regional, and national levels. It is my hope that this Framework will guide world leaders, such as yourselves, in translating the concept of preventing conflict-related sexual violence into a practical reality.

As women parliamentarians, you have the influence and the power to drive change. You represent different constituencies, constitutional and legal systems, geographies and cultures in which sexual and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, has manifested.

Allow me to suggest three concrete recommendations that will enhance the protection of women and girls during the pandemic recovery:

First and foremost, as parliamentarians, you can enact comprehensive legislation that criminalizes all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, in line with international standards and due process of law. Currently, in many countries covered by my mandate, the legislative framework remains inadequate. This includes, for instance, lack of comprehensive definitions of sexual violence; absence of victim and witness protection laws and provisions for reparations to survivors; or legal frameworks to protect children born of wartime rape.

Secondly, you can ensure that these laws are survivor-centered and recognize survivors as rights holders that require dignity and respect, physical and legal protection, holistic medical and psychosocial support, reintegration and rehabilitation services by the State, as well as restitution by perpetrators. In addition, they must provide for accessible and quality services for families of survivors, including children born of rape, and the survivors’ communities. Witnesses, human rights defenders, judicial officials and parliamentarians must also be protected by law.

Lastly, it is also critical to ratify and implement international human rights instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which guarantees women and girls to be free from all forms of violence and discrimination, in conflict or in peacetime, and therefore the rights of women and girls to justice and services on the same basis as men and boys.

With these roles in mind, in June this year, my Office and the Inter-Parliamentary Union signed a Framework of Cooperation to assist you, as parliamentarians, in your efforts to combat the scourge of sexual violence. We are also coordinating the rollout of Model Legislative Provisions and associated Guidance on the Investigation and Prosecution of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, developed by my Office, to assist legislators in implementing laws deterring sexual violence from occurring and provide justice and redress, even while this pandemic is ongoing.

In partnership with IPU, I look forward to working with all of you in the implementation of this critical Framework, which includes areas such as: raising awareness amongst parliamentarians to address conflict-related sexual violence and its root causes; advocating for the implementation of national laws to promote and protect the rights of all individuals affected by or at risk of this crime; providing concrete technical assistance to member parliaments on the drafting of such laws; and empowering survivors and those impacted by conflict-related sexual violence in their countries’ legislative processes.

There have been many commitments made about addressing conflict-related sexual violence, but we must translate commitments into concrete actions and results, by tackling the root causes of gender inequality and converting cultures of impunity for these crimes into cultures of deterrence and prevention. My mandate stands ready to cooperate with the IPU in hearing and heeding the voices of survivors in the design of a gender-responsive pandemic recovery and breaking the silence in our Parliaments to resolutely combat conflict-related sexual violence.