Video statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
7 June 2019
Greetings, and thank you for this opportunity to address this meeting, which comes at a vital time.
I particularly want to salute the young women leaders among you. Today, more than ever, we are seeing young women leading action against daunting challenges – from climate change to gender-based violence, the struggle against repressive régimes, or the fight for sexual and reproductive rights. They are stepping up to these leadership roles with passion and determination, using new organising strategies and tools, and harnessing the energy of your generation to demand a better world.
To build a world grounded in principles of equality, inclusion and tolerance, we must address the issue of power.
Who wields power, and in whose interests? The world has changed a great deal in the past 100 years, and even in this short century. Much of that change has been tremendously beneficial. But we still cannot say that women have full access to power, or that the people who hold power are consistently putting it to use in the interest of women and girls.
If anything, the achievements that we have made over the past decades towards gender equality are under severe threat of pushbacks.
We must harness the power of women and girls to resist this trend and protect the human rights of all people.
Plan International works a great deal with girls in vulnerable situations, to help them thrive, make choices and seize opportunities for leadership and growth. I thoroughly support these goals.
When I was a physician working with children whose families had been tortured or killed by a military dictatorship, I became determined to do everything I could to promote the rights of all children.
I know that the journey to powerful positions is not always a smooth road. It starts early, with mentors and community members instilling in us the conviction that we can achieve great things.
But beyond that enabling support, we also need practical measures to empower girls to reach their full potential – particularly in cases where they come from generations of women whose lives have been restricted by harmful ideas about women's proper roles.
We need laws and concrete steps to address systemic and structural barriers to women’s equality – from access to university studies, to workplace organisation, health services and the ways that political systems often discourage women from participating in public life.
A critical element of addressing these challenges is the need to be more serious about listening to the voices of young people. So I urge you to speak up. It is your creativity, imagination, and energy which will bring you power: the power to light the path for us all.