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Panel "UNIDAS – A New Protagonist to Strengthen the Rights of Women"

Remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

28 May 2019


Today we have celebrated our cultural and historical heritage and the common values that have inspired achievements in all fields.

We have also discussed the serious challenges that we face globally, from climate change and environmental degradation; to growing inequalities; to new technologies; and to addressing terrorism, political extremism, and polarisation.

Throughout human history, in the face of great challenges, it is men and women of good will and great determination who, by working together, in solidarity, have pointed to solutions -- and harnessed the energy, will and support to bring about change.

I am confident that by uniting the efforts of numerous women’s leaders and movements in both regions, the UNIDAS network will strengthen both our resolve and our capacity to confront one of the greatest challenges of our world: gender-based discrimination.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, there is still a 32% average “gender gap” across the world and at the current pace of progress it will take 108 years to close this gap.

Women in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Europe face common challenges and continue to be held back from full participation in the economy, in politics, and in social and cultural life.

Brutal violence against women also remains extremely widespread. According to ECLAC, nearly 2800 women were victims of femicide, in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017. A survey across the European Union by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, in 2014, revealed that one in three women had experienced some form of physical or sexual assault since the age of 15. Another, in several South East and Eastern European countries, by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, also found this year that since the age of 15, three out of ten women had experienced physical or sexual violence.

We are at a moment in history where we see both encouraging and worrying signs. It is inspiring to see women-led movements rise up to fight femicide and gender-based violence and to demand equality. The ni una menos movement which began in Argentina has resonated across the world.

European initiatives have run parallel to those in the Americas. In Spain, for example, widespread popular demonstrations after the so-called Manada or “wolfpack” case, in 2016, led to the Government promising changes in the law on rape and sexual assault, and sparked national debate on what constitutes gender violence.

However, at the same time – and certainly partly in response to progress towards gender equality- we witness a global backlash against women’s human rights, driven by the growing power of political extremists and social conservatives.

In February this year, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, which noted that “the present decade is witnessing a visible and organised offensive, at global and European level, against gender equality and women’s rights, including in the EU and particularly manifested in a number of Member States”.  And this is also true in Latin American States.

Moreover, in both regions – but particularly in Latin America – legislation, policies and practices continue to limit women’s rights to make choices about their bodies and their lives, and restrict their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

At this crucial moment, we need to garner the positive energy for equality and the growing evidence of its benefits to continue to press forward. We need to unite around the fundamental value of dignity. We need to have the resolve to embrace the full gender equality agenda, including those elements that challenge the deeply held beliefs and stereotypes that continue to limit women’s choice and opportunities.

Unless women are able to make intimate choices about their bodies and their lives we will not be able to eliminate the profound and multi-faceted economic and political inequalities which run through all our societies.

Women’s solidarity -- their mutual support and networking -- are essential to move in this direction and continue to build on the advancements of the last 25 years and more. The establishment of the UNIDAS network is clearly a step in the right direction to bring together women from two continents to work with a communality of vision, to promote critical conversations and find creative solutions to strengthen the promotion of women’s human rights.

UNIDAS should also be a space to encourage each of its members, in their respective sphere of influence, to empower other women and girls and unlock their potential as agents of transformative change. Importantly The UNIDAS network can inspire more to engage in the work to promote gender equality and prosperity for all.

Because it is not just women who pay the price for this discrimination. We all suffer for failing to make the most of the talent and capacities of half the world's people. We undermine the quality of our governance, the strength of our economies, the health of our societies and the sustainability of peace and development.

UNIDAS – “United” – we shall stand up for dignity and rights.

Thank you.