Header image for news printout

Human rights council holds annual panel discussion on the integration of a gender perspective in its work

28 September 2020

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its annual panel discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout its work and that of its mechanisms, with a focus on gender and diversity : strengthening the intersectional perspective in the work of the Human Rights Council.

Speaking in the discussion were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, Chile on behalf of a group of countries, Luxembourg on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, United Kingdom, Austria on behalf of group of countries, Viet Nam on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, UN Women, Germany, Fiji, Haiti, Republic of Korea on behalf of a group of countries, Greece, Nepal, Armenia, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Maldives, South Africa, Botswana, Gabon, Angola, Switzerland and the United Nations Population Fund.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, Plan International, Inc., Rutgers,
Action Canada for Population and Development, International Institute for Rights and Development Geneva, and Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-fifth regular session can be found here.

The Council will meet on Tuesday, 29 September, at 9 a.m. to consider the Universal Periodic Review outcomes of Sweden, Grenada, Turkey and Kiribati. It will then hear a presentation by the President of the Council on resolution A/HRC/43/117 on the methods of work of its consultative group, followed by a general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms.

Annual Panel Discussion on the Integration of a Gender Perspective throughout the Council’s Work and that of its Mechanisms

Opening Statement

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said inequality and discrimination were two of the biggest challenges of our time, stretching across all spheres of life. If anyone had any doubts, the COVID-19 pandemic had brought this home. Women living in poverty, often belonging to ethnic and racial minorities, were much less resilient to the crisis and were often left with no livelihood. Girls from poor and rural communities were the first to drop out of school, as they were called upon to look after siblings and other family members or had no means to follow on-line lessons. Women with disabilities faced greater obstacles in accessing healthcare and services put in place to address gender-based violence. Anti-racism protests and solidarity movements seen recently around the world had brought attention to how women and girls were heavily affected by institutional racism and other forms of intersectional discrimination. Equality and non-discrimination were the foundations of the international human rights system. Accounting for people’s different experiences and needs was critical to fulfilling the Council’s mandate. Noting that this would be particularly important as the international community built back after the COVID-19 pandemic, she called on the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms to continue to analyse the depth of intersectional discrimination.

Statements by the Panellists

FELIPE GONZÁLES MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, stressing that gender affected migration significantly, pointed out that women and girls represented 48 per cent of migration flows. To highlight the forms of discrimination faced by migrant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender women and girls, he said that during their migration detention transgender women were held with men. The Council’s mechanisms must improve the exchange of information and create synergies, by issuing joint statements, for example. A gender perspective must be taken into account by mechanisms like his own when conducting their work. They should actively seek to raise the voice of migrant women and girls. He was committed to meeting with them to better understand their needs and specific vulnerabilities. The Compact on Migration aimed to promote equality amongst genders, he noted.

JOIA CREAR-PERRY, President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, said that in the United States, black women were deeply in mourning. For many of them, 2020 had been a rough year. They had buried their family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lost their jobs which they had often been paid less than others for the same amount of work, and they were reeling from the murders of unarmed black people by police that catalysed a global movement for black lives. The same systems that did not value black women’s lives in policing, did not value their lives in education, in housing or even in health care. In nearly every country that had benefitted from the transatlantic slave trade and tabulated data by race, black women were more likely to experience poor maternal health. In the United States, black women continued to bear the burden of a maternal health crisis, despite the country’s advanced economy and unmatched healthcare spending. But anti-blackness and gender oppression were not confined by borders ; they were global phenomena.

WINNIE BYANYIMA, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said policies and programmes for women had to address women in all their diversity ; women were young and old, were also sex workers, and were transgender and they may use drugs. Emphasising that the fight for gender equality must include other forms of oppression that impacted those most marginalised, overuse of criminal laws being a critical one, she said laws criminalising sex work, gender identity or drug use could have a devastating impact on women. Ms. Byanyima underscored the imperative of protecting and fulfilling the rights of adolescent girls and young women, who represented a quarter of all new cases of HIV in 2019 in sub-Saharan Africa. The fate of the younger generations, and the risks of rolling back years of hard-fought gains in women’s and girls’ rights and gender equality in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, hung in the balance.

PRAGNA PATEL, Founding member and current director of Southall Black Sister, said black and minority women made up one the most marginalised groups in the United Kingdom. From its inception, Southall Black Sister had understood the necessity of an intersectional approach to human rights. An intersectional approach was not about overlapping identities, but rather about deconstructing women’s social position in order to deconstruct interlocking and mutually reinforcing forms of oppression. There was no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because women did not live single-issue lives. To fulfil the promise of women’s human rights, all States must mainstream an intersectional perspective within laws and policies along a range of issues. One obvious example was to introduce migrant status as a risk factor in dealing with anti-discrimination work. Urging action on these matters, she said that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, time was of the essence.

Discussion

Speakers said that all had a responsibility to address the intersecting forms of discrimination and violence faced by women and girls, with only 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Twenty-five years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and 20 years after the adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, it remained ever more important to engage for a strong international women’s rights framework and to promote concrete action. According to a World Bank report, it was in sub-Saharan Africa that the reforms in favour of gender equality in working life had been the most numerous over the past 10 years. Speakers urged the Council to institutionalise the participation of women and girls in the Council. Intersectional analysis required grappling with power to examine how it was redistributed in different contexts ; however, at the Council, intersectional analysis had translated into stockpiling categories of analysis or identities, leaving the configuration of power untouched, allowing patriarchy, heteronormativity and racism to minimise and homogenise the experiences of women into palatable and respectable discourses that challenged no one and nothing.

Concluding Remarks

WINNIE BYANYIMA, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), urged the modification of laws that put at risk vulnerable segments, and the decriminalization of practices such as personal drug use and sex work.

FELIPE GONZÁLES MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, stressed the need to address the multiple intersecting forms of discrimination, such as the ones faced by indigenous migrant women. States must address the challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic in a manner that upheld international human rights law.

JOIA CREAR-PERRY, President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, noting that when the organization was created, it was legal for people like her not to vote in the United States, urged those present to think not only in terms of rights, in terms of whether something was legal or not, but rather in terms of justice and fairness.

PRAGNA PATEL, Founding member and current director of Southall Black Sister, said that in many areas, an in-depth analysis of the combined effect of the multiple forms of discrimination had yet to take place. While there was growing awareness about intersectionality, there was still a huge gap between rhetoric and reality.

For use of the information media; not an official record