Fifth High-level UfM Women for Mediterranean Conference "Accelerating gender equality in the context of COVID-19 pandemic”.


16 November 2020

Video message by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

16-20 November 2020

I am pleased to address this conference and I welcome your focus on accelerating gender equality in the context of COVID-19.

As of early November, the World Health Organization has reported over 46 million confirmed cases worldwide, with 1.2 million deaths.

Although the virus is a threat to all, we know that people who were already in vulnerable situations have been hit hardest by both the health and the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.

Around the world, the access of women and girls to sexual and reproductive health services, including maternal health care, have been disrupted, as in many places these services were not deemed "essential."

The consequences could be disastrous.

The UN has predicted 56,700 additional maternal deaths; 47 million women without access to family planning; around 7 million unintended pregnancies.

There is also clear evidence that the pandemic has been accompanied by an alarming surge in gender-based violence, especially in places with restrictive measures such us lockdowns.

While some countries have indeed implemented 24-hour hotlines, lack of access to specialized services and support systems, including shelters, have often meant that women who faced violence at home had few options to seek safety.

Moreover, before the pandemic, women already shouldered a disproportionate share of unpaid work at home compared to men. With teleworking and children at home from school, this work has only intensified.

This reality has substantial consequences for women's lives. Globally, with unemployment on the rise, the International Labour Organization, ILO, has predicted that women are 19 percent more at risk of losing their jobs than men.

On top of this, the majority of health workers on the front lines of this crisis are women. They are often paid less than their male counterparts while risking their lives for the sake of us all.

Despite their central role in responding to this emergency, women are absent from the task forces and other government bodies mandated to implement response plans.

Dear participants,

The evidence is there for all of us to see.

The question is: how will we respond? How will we recover better from this crisis and build more equal and resilient post-COVID societies?

An unapologetic feminist response would embrace the vision of a more equal world with clear measures in place to recognize and value women's perspectives and realities.

In that regard, there some concrete steps we should take.

One: Invest in universal and gender sensitive social protection, universal health care and public care services.

Two: Protect labour rights of those working in precarious jobs, including in informal sectors, and support smaller enterprises.

Three: Recognize and redistribute unpaid domestic and care work.

Four: Prioritize services to respond to gender-based violence and make sure women and girls have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Five: Ensure women and girls' access to education and eliminate the gender stereotyping.

Six: Bridge the digital divide, including gender digital divide, and ensuring safe and equal access to digital technology for all.

Seven: Support the transition to a healthier, resource efficient green and circular economy.

Eight: Ensure women's full and equal participation in decision making and policy design.


From the human tragedy brought by COVID-19, we have the extraordinary opportunity to recover better than we were before, building societies centred in human rights and gender equality.

This is not only possible; it is indispensable.

With that in mind, I wish you fruitful deliberations.

Thank you.