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World Population Day: Safeguarding health rights of women and girls during COVID-19

11 July 2020 (Dhaka, Bangladesh): The COVID-19 pandemic is having a staggering toll on people, communities and economies around the world. It is affecting the lives of women and girls by increasing their exposure to sexual and reproductive health related complications, financial insecurity, violence within households, and harmful practices such as child marriage. In this context, it is imperative to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls and the socio-economic aftereffects caused by the pandemic.

In observance of the World Population Day 2020, the Department of Population Sciences, University of Dhaka (DPSDU), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh jointly organized a DPSDU-UNFPA webinar. This year, the theme for World Population Day is ‘Putting the brakes on COVID-19: how to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls. During the webinar, UNFPA’s flagship annual publication – the State of World Population Report 2020 – was also highlighted.

The Chief Guest, Ms. Fazilatun Nessa Indira, MP, highlighted in her speech the necessity of upholding human rights of women and girls during these unprecedented times. She stated the importance of conducting comprehensive and cross-sectoral programming based on a proper assessment of preventive and protection needs of women and girls during COVID-19.

Professor Dr. Md. Akhtaruzzaman, Vice Chancellor of the University of Dhaka, outlined the greater risks caused by COVID-19, such as the deepening of pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems, where women and girls are at most risk. Professor Dr. Sadeka Halim, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Dhaka focused on the crucial importance of reflecting gender equity and following a rights-based approach while ensuring that the health care related needs, financial incentives and other socio-cultural aspects are met during COVID-19.

It is imperative for us to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls. Sexual and reproductive health and addressing gender-based violence, requires urgent and sustained attention and investment”, said Dr. Asa Torkelsson, UNFPA Representative in Bangladesh, emphasizing on UNFPA’s commitment to continue supporting Bangladesh to achieve the triple zeros of zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero incidents of gender-based violence and harmful practices, despite COVID-19.

Keynote presentations that provided further insight into the need to defy harmful practices against women and girls and on how to safeguard the rights of women and girls were also presented by Professor Dr. Mohammad Mainul Islam and Professor Dr. Mohammad Bellal, both from the Department of Population Sciences, University of Dhaka.  

In the panel discussion that followed the presentations, participants, including Members of Parliament, representatives from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, academia, civil society, development partners, NGOs, and media, reflected on the necessity and mechanisms of protecting and safeguarding health and rights of women and girls in the context of the COVID19 pandemic.