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UNFPA Nairobi Summit on ICPD 25: Accelerating the Promise
Equity for People of African descent
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
12 November 2019

Vice President Campbell Barr,

Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director

Distinguished panellists


Colleagues, Friends,       

Let me begin by honouring our forebears: women who stood up and pushed back against the oppression and discrimination, which have held back people of African descent for so many generations.

I think of Queen Nzinga Mbandi, the 17th century ruler of the nation now known as Angola, a symbol of African resistance to enslavement. Albertine Sisulu, whose fortitude, and dedication helped to free all South Africans from apartheid. Toni Morrison, whose insight and powerful writing shifted minds.  And in this country, the great and fearless Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, for her struggle for environmental justice and gender equality.

I also honor the courage and determination of many of the women in this room, from all generations, who carry forward this struggle to promote human rights.

I see our discussion today as an opportunity to pin down practical and actionable strategies to promote equality and justice for all people of African Descent around the world.  

All of us have a right to be free from discrimination of any kind. We have the right to equality before the law, to a fair share of the benefits of development, and to the resources and services necessary to a life of human dignity, in the broadest possible freedom.

But in many regions, people of African descent continue to be deprived of fair and equal access to opportunities, resources and power.

Rooted in the era of slavery and colonialism, prejudice -- and deeply discriminatory social and economic structures -- continue to hamper people's rights in every aspect of life, from access to land, education and health, to the justice system, the economy and political participation.

Discrimination against women is also deeply entrenched. When these two powerful forces intersect, they reinforce each other, in a dynamic that sharply affects women and girls of African descent -- perpetuating inequalities from generation to generation.

In Colombia, data from 2010-2013 indicate that the maternal mortality of women of African descent was 2.3 times higher than the national average – and in Ecuador, almost 4 times higher. In the US, more than two-thirds of households headed by African-American women live below the poverty line. In France, one study found that women with African names had only an 8.4 per cent chance of being alled for an interview when applying for a job – compared to 22.6 per cent of women with French names. In Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay, women of African descent with secondary education earn only two thirds as much as similarly educated white men.

Resolving inequalities is among the core goals of the 2030 Agenda, the African Union's Agenda 2063 and the International Decade for People of African Descent – with its triple theme of recognition, justice and development.

To generate greater urgency, ambition and concrete action in pursuit of these goals, we need to forge partnerships across the UN, Member States, national human rights institutions and civil society.

We need States to deliver change by truly implementing equality and non-discrimination laws; by adopting fairer fiscal policies; and by upholding equal rights to economic resources, including ownership and control over land. We need them to take leadership roles in negotiating a UN Declaration on the rights of people of African descent.

We need to build strong networks between Africans and members of the diaspora, to strengthen capacity and knowledge.  

We need to see policies that promote full and effective participation at all levels of decision-making, particularly for women of African descent.

We need campaigns to eradicate racial and gender stereotyping, policies to end abusive policing, and the promotion of decent work for a fair wage.

I also encourage States to establish stronger social care and protection systems, because during times of economic crisis, people who face racial discrimination – especially women and young people – are often the most severely affected.

Leaving no one behind may call for affirmative action for women of African descent, to promote access to higher education and the labor market. And it will require targeted health programmes, including for sexual and reproductive health and rights, to address specific needs of women of African descent.

I hope today's discussion will inspire us to come together and act as generations of women have done: take a powerful stand to end discrimination and uphold human rights.

Thank you.