Geneva, 26 September 2016
Distinguished Chair and panellists,
Colleagues and friends,
It gives me great pleasure to contribute to this annual discussion on the importance of integrating gender across the spectrum of the Human Rights Council's work. I am particularly pleased that nine years after the adoption of resolution 6/30 – which called for the systematic integration of gender into all aspects of the work of the Council and its mechanisms – we are looking into the “directive” work of this Council: its resolutions and recommendations
The spirit of resolution 6/30 endures. Gender inequality is incompatible with the realisation of human rights while gender equality is a key underpinning for the promotion and protection of human rights.
Gender inequality imposes grave limits on women and girls’ freedoms. It impedes their access to information and movement, limits their participation in decision-making, unjustly restricts their ownership and inheritance rights, their enjoyment of educational opportunities, and their access to health and development.
It places women and girls at greater risk of early and forced marriage, unplanned pregnancies, gender-based and sexual violence including human trafficking among other human rights violations.
The impacts of climate instability on the one hand and of ultra urbanization have a differential impact on women and girls, thanks to gender-based inequality. Women’s work too is rendered less visible and is less valued – despite their vital roles in such as agricultural and water resource management and in their domestic labour, which taken for granted, is largely unseen.
While women and girls carry a disproportionate burden of the harms that gender inequality exacts, men and boys also pay a harsh price for the confines of narrow gender norms.
Narrow concepts of masculinity erode the exercise of human rights for both women and men. The category of “man” is made just too small, through gender inequality … rendered into a tiny, imprisoning box – such that if, as a man, you are the primary carer of your children, or if you are not in charge, or if you are subjected to sexual violence and seek help, even if you ever cry then somehow you are deemed no longer a man.
And gender inequality remains a caustic vector by which other forms of discrimination – race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual identity, caste and class - are enabled to have a particularly devastating impact on their victims.
Gender equality demands not only that we think out of the gender boxes, it means we must get out of the boxes. Any identity – gendered or not – that is walled in by the rigidities of bigotry confines too human possibility. It distorts human potential and undermines human diversity – for both the boxed-in, the boxed-out as well as the boxed about.
After all, human rights challenge us to understand that masculinity and femininity are not the primordial states – human-inity is. And thus at its root, gender equality is not about men and women or even boys and girls … It is about diversity, tolerance and it requires a more just distribution of power and of opportunity - in the polity of the intimate realm as much as in the public domain.
Gender integration – sometimes called mainstreaming – thus is essential to the advance of human rights – inclusive and sustainable – and in all aspects of peace, prosperity, planet and people – as essential to the sustainable development agenda as it is to the work of this Council – as resolution 6/30 affirms.
Although there has been progress in gender integration over recent years, there are still damaging gaps, even in the practices of this Council. Analysis of some 850 Human Rights Council resolutions on country and thematic policy areas adopted over the past 10 years, reveals a considerable improvement in the integration of a gender perspective.
In 2006, only 7% of the Council’s resolutions addressed gender as well. However, by 2015, this figure had risen to 59%, with some resolutions no focused on issues that only a gender-lens reveals such as maternal mortality or female genital mutilation while others bring a gender perspective into broader topics. For example, Resolution 28/10 on the right to food looked at the disproportionate effects that hunger, food insecurity and nutrition deficits have on women and girls. It highlighted too the need to guarantee fair and non-discriminatory land rights for women, in particular for those from local and indigenous communities.
That being said, it remains the case that the Council’s country resolutions are far less likely to integrate considerations of gender. Some resolutions do recall for example the importance of full, equal and effective participation of women in the prevention and resolution of armed conflict. However, most country-focused resolutions neglect the fact that women and men, due to gendered social roles and the compounded effects of multiple types of discrimination and conflict-related harm, experience conflict and crisis very differently.
When women are mentioned in country resolutions, they are identified principally as victims of conflict-related sexual violence – ignoring the many other violations to which they are subjected, and negating their importance as key agents of peace-building.
In its June 2016 session, this Council adopted resolutions on a range of country situations, including Belarus, Burundi, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Syria and Ukraine. And although many reports by OHCHR, Commissions of Inquiry, fact-finding missions and human rights mechanisms have pointed to significant gender issues in those countries – including impunity for sexual violence by State actors; obstacles to women’s political participation; accusation of witchcraft targeting women and girls; degrading treatment and ill-treatment of women in detention; and human trafficking of internally displaced women and girls – the adopted resolutions largely fail to address those issues.
Resolution 6/30 – although nine years have passed - is not a knee-jerk call for some out-dated political correctness. Its call for full integration of gender into all the work of this Council, with a full-scale annual discussion of that work, is both as relevant today and still a precondition for realization of the Council’s mandate to uphold human rights for all.
Nowhere is this clearer than in regards to young people. Investments in – and our willingness to support – adolescents and youth’s liberation from identities’ cruel imprisoning cells, now and throughout their life course, will determine peace and development’s global trajectories for years to come. With more adolescents and young people alive today than ever before in human history, we must flourish – with urgency – more open spaces for young women and men to gather, express and explore unimpeded by discrimination’s restrictions if we are to empower the global population of innovators whose help we so need if we are indeed to alleviate preventable human suffering, meet the challenges that confront this fragile, finite planet and do so in terms that will sustain our children, their children and the children that they too will want to choose to raise in dignity and rights.
It is not too late but it is most certainly overdue, for the world to convert condemnation of gender based violence, and the other toxic manifestations of gender inequality, into effective gender-integrated action - at scale - for the sake of gender justice and for the sake of human dignity unleashed from the small confining spaces that prejudice, bigotry and discrimination so wrongly impose.
We must remain faithful to the commitment of Resolution 6/30 – and that starts with questioning every action and each resolution of this Council, to ensure relevance and responsiveness to the experiences of all of us – to the exclusion of none of us. OHCHR is fully committed to supporting you in this task.