I am pleased to welcome you to the High-Level Roundtable on the DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation Abuse and Harassment.
In 2020, the world witnessed what happens when risks become reality. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide have surpassed 100 million, with more than 2 million deaths. As the human toll multiplies and the economic costs mount, it is clear how this pandemic revealed the fragilities in our economies and societies. The OECD’s latest economic projections highlight that the global GDP will not go back to the pre-crisis levels before year-end. According to the ILO, the equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs were lost globally in 2020.
One of the most important issues that the COVID-19 crisis has brought to light is the incomparable importance of women in tackling this crisis head on. Women today make up the majority of our essential workers – at home, in hospitals, in care facilities, in communities and in schools.
Yet, women have suffered disproportionately from the crisis, both economically and socially. All of us witnessed the expansion of a parallel epidemic of gender-based violence, from violence at home and online, to increased sexual exploitation and abuse, including child marriage.
Even before the pandemic, one in three women experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. Today, emerging data and reports show that all types of violence against women and girls has intensified.
Among others, this includes a spike in rapes in Nigeria and South Africa, increased numbers of women missing in Peru, higher rates of femicide in Brazil and Mexico, and an overwhelming surge of calls to helplines in Europe.
Recent allegations of continuing abuse in the field are a stark reminder that sexual exploitation abuse and harassment is a systemic issue in the international community as well. Just like the Ebola response highlighted the risk of staff and beneficiaries being sexually abused, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to worsen the power dynamic.
Looking ahead, learning lessons from the past is not enough. We must focus on strengthening our coordination at the international and national levels to better protect all women and girls.
It is therefore critical that more countries and institutions join forces to adopt and implement the DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment. It is the first international standard of this kind that applies to national aid agencies and the wider international community, when working with civil society, charities, and other bodies running development programs or delivering humanitarian aid.
Since its adoption, governments and institutions have made noticeable progress. For example, since the adoption of the Recommendation, over half of DAC governments updated relevant policies, ethics, or codes of conduct. Many have also invested in capacity building and have improved procedures.
Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go in order to protect victims, to protect survivors and crucially, to hold each other accountable so that sexual abuse could be prevented and women safeguarded.
The role of development co-operation in this area remains paramount. In the past, development co-operation has helped to overcome international crises; and we know it can contribute significantly to building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, DAC members contributed USD 152.8 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA). On their side of the fight, donors should ensure that scarce ODA resources are not diverted from where they work best. We must scale up targeted aid to gender equality, where currently only 4% of bilateral aid is dedicated as a principal objective.
The OECD will continue to ramp up its support for cross-government efforts and a broader multi-stakeholder community, to promote the necessary reforms and implement the DAC Recommendation. For example, we need to look at members who are already ahead of the game on this, to learn from them to improve capacity – indeed, the great strength of this recommendation lies in peer-learning.
Moving forward, the OECD will also publish a policy reform toolkit and launch the official monitoring process for this Recommendation.
Whenever and wherever power is unbalanced, exploitation and abuse find their growing potential. We cannot stand silent. Together, we can build more robust systems and greater coherence to end harassment, exploitation and abuse. You can count on us. We count on you.