Header image for news printout

Latin America and Caribbean Conference, Berlin Eminent Personalities Panel

Remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

28 May 2019

Minister Maas,
Maestro Daniel Barenboim
Distinguished panellists,
Excellencies,
Colleagues, Friends

Es ist eine große Freude, hier zu sein. Ich habe von einem jahrelangen Studium in Deutschland profitiert und begrüße den Start der Beziehung, die heute zwischen deutschen und lateinamerikanischen Frauen aufgenommen wird.

I look forward to a discussion of Latin America’s achievements, and the bonds which cultural exchange can inspire between people, including from diverse horizons and different regions.

Rosa Luxemburg, whose legacy spans all continents, told us that “Women's freedom is the sign of social freedom.”

Allow me to take that a little further. Women’s freedom is more than a sign – it is a builder of greater freedom and social progress. For more than a hundred years, across every region of the world, women activists have been powerful catalysts and builders of social progress.

Women have fought to dismantle barriers to women’s equality. And in doing so, they have also struggled to achieve labour rights, and the rights of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and LGBTI people -- among many others.

Women have pushed back against social and economic inequalities, and against authoritarian regimes – and they continue to do so.

Women have helped build more effective and more inclusive systems for the delivery of fundamental rights. They fought for access to health-care, education, water and housing.

They created new spaces for expression and participation. They fought for better systems for justice; for sound policing; for the respectful operations of security forces; and for land rights management of natural resources.

As the Mexican author Elena Poniatowska writes in her history of the Mexican revolution, Las Soldaderas, women have kept every kind of struggle for justice “alive and fertile, like the earth.”

In overcoming so many barriers, and freeing millions of women – and men – from oppressive discrimination, the advancement of women's rights over the past century can lay claim to be one of the most profound and far-reaching social revolutions the world has seen.

No society is free when half its people are reduced to dependence, and limited to tightly restricted roles. Every society is different, of course with its own characteristics and approaches. But every society is better governed, and quite simply better to live in, when all its members can contribute according to their full capacities.

Today, with a multi-faceted environmental emergency threatening the future of our planet, women can help drive better, more inclusive solutions to preserve the well-being and human rights of us all.

Indigenous women and rural women, who are disproportionally impacted by climate change, can play a very important role in climate change adaptation efforts. And all women, everywhere, can stand up for the rights of future generations to enjoy a planet that is healthy and sustainable. The example of Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish human rights defender who has inspired so many young people – and older people – is a fine example of that. And there are many others. We are a better and more hopeful world, with such people in it.

Our world badly needs women to help create solutions to the challenges of new digital tools, to make sure that privacy is respected, and push back against online hatred and violence. Women-led social enterprises like Laboratoria – which gives women from low-income backgrounds in Chile, Peru, Mexico and Brazil access to a five-month fast-track course in coding -- are addressing important gaps in the basic structure of the digital landscape.

We need women to contribute to devising and implementing solutions to the growing inequalities being faced by virtually all societies today, in every region. We need them to come from the world of business, law, architecture, engineering and government.

And we need women to help combat the splintering and polarisation of our societies, as well as the rise of divisive political extremism and terrorism.

Because women activists have forged great resilience in the fight against structural sexism and racism. I have been privileged to see many examples of the determination, pragmatism, generosity and creativity of women activists. And I have seen the kind of progress which can be built on their success. We need that vision and drive to keep pushing forward – not only for our daughters, but for our sons.

Gender equality, and genuine respect for women’s human rights, are not only about justice for billions of women and girls. They will be essential to ensure resilient and sustainable societies, and effective responses to every one of the grave challenges, which face our world.

I think back to many women I have known, and what they achieved, even in the toughest circumstances, for their societies and their families. Women's strength, wisdom and ingenuity must be counted among humanity's greatest untapped resources. And we simply cannot afford to wait another 100 years to unlock this potential.

So I view the network which will be launched today, between German and Latin American women's movements, as a way to build flexible and constructive connections which can accelerate and for this progress.

We need to accelerate and join up our efforts towards gender equality. We need to strengthen support for initiatives promoting the much-needed work that is yet to be done, and create an environment where they can thrive.

The agenda to secure gender equality and women's rights is a global agenda – a challenge for every country, rich and poor, north and south. And bringing people from every walk of life together can create powerful synergies.

I look forward to seeing the UNIDAS network create many kinds of links between Latin American and German women, so that they each side can benefit from the determination and example of the other, and together build a force for active advancement on many levels.

Thank you