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UN Women Peer to Peer Dialogue - Sexual Harassment and Intersectionality

Making Zero Tolerance a Reality: Understanding and tackling the intersectional nature of sexual harassment in cross-cultural contexts


Jointly organized by the CEB Task Force on Addressing Sexual Harassment, the UN Secretariat and UN Women


Jörundur Valtýsson, Permanent Representative of Iceland to the UN: Opening Remarks


  • Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia, colleagues.


  • While it is my distinct honor to open this peer-to-peer dialogue on the intersectional nature of sexual harassment, I would be remiss if I did not start by referencing the terrible turn of events this past week.


  • It was exactly one week ago that we woke up here in New York to the horrible news that the Russian Federation had invaded Ukraine – an aggression my country has condemned in strongest possible terms.


  • Yesterday, Iceland was honoured to cosponsor and pleased to see the overwhelming vote and adoption of the important “Aggression Against Ukraine” resolution in the Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly.


  • The UN has also demonstrated its value through its humanitarian response, and we would like to praise UN Women for keeping us updated and highlighting the plight of women and girls in Ukraine. Here, women representation in all key decision-making platforms on de-escalation and other processes in pursuit of peace and security is of key importance.


  • Colleagues, I do look forward to listening and learning from the panelists and all participants today.


  • I could focus my remarks on the advances Iceland has made in gender equality. For the past 11 years Iceland has, indeed, led the World Economic Forum´s Gender Gap Index so we do have some success stories to share. However, the worrying fact is that even Iceland has a long way to go to achieve SDG5.


  • The important MeToo movement continues to painfully remind us of how far off track we currently are. It has also brought to light the importance of focusing on intersectionality to address institutional discrimination, unequal power relations, gender stereotypes, and norms that in turn perpetuate sexual harassment and violence.


  • My government commissioned a survey in 2019 on harassment within the Icelandic labor market. The results paint a worrying picture. Survey participants with a foreign citizenship were found to be far less likely to report sexual harassment than others. Also, people with disabilities were far more likely to have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace than other participants.


  • These results also point to the fact that power imbalances are, indeed, at the root of sexual harassment.


  • Recently, the Government of Iceland has taken some decisive actions to address the issue of sexual violence and harassment. These include Iceland’s first comprehensive plan for preventive action against sexual and gender-based violence and harassment for the period 2021-2025, with full budget appropriations.


  • Through this plan, the government will promote education and awareness of sexual and gender-based violence and harassment. This will be directed towards professionals, volunteers and others working with children and young people with disabilities. This is an important step in terms of preventive measures against the intersectional nature of sexual harassment.


  • Iceland also recently adopted an updated law on equal status and gender equality. With this legislation, some important advancements were made. These include a definition, for the first time, of intersectional discrimination.


  • Perhaps as a slight sidenote, another important step for Iceland is the fact that our current gender law no longer has the binary definition of male and female, but now aligns with the recently adopted act on sexual autonomy that allows individuals to define their own gender. This addresses the too-often overlooked legal discrimination people face for their non-binary gender identity.


  • While we applaud the recently updated gender law with a provision on intersectional discrimination, we still do not have much evidence on how it fares in practice. The jury is still out there – so to speak.


  • And as a contributor to the UN Development System, Iceland requires its partner institutions to follow best practices, including all guidelines from the CEB Task Force and OECD-DAC recommendations.


  • All agreements we enter with our UN partners must include a clause on the responsibility of the respective organization when it comes to sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment.


  • In the Icelandic context, we must continue to implement intersectional considerations that reflect the specific needs and circumstances of different individuals and groups. This includes people with disabilities, LGBTI persons and those who have limited knowledge of or do not speak Icelandic.


  • The least we can do, as governments, as private sector employers, as responsible citizens, is to empower vulnerable populations through knowledge, enlightenment and information sharing, and by ensuring decisive and prompt action when these issues do come up.


  • I am confident that our discussions today will provide me and my colleagues back in capital with valuable information to improve our approach towards preventing and responding to sexual harassment with a focus on those most vulnerable.


  • Thank you.





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