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Statement by Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Good Human Rights Stories Initiative on Women’s empowerments and gender equality

Geneva, 24 February 2020

Dear friends,

It is my pleasure to once again share good human rights stories.

There are inspiring accounts, showing us that the respect for human rights is not only a matter of principle; it also leads to practical benefits in the daily lives of all.

And, as we just have just seen in the video, there are stories to remember – and celebrate.

The adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was the world’s recognition that women’s rights are human rights.

While this message may seem obvious to us now, twenty-five years ago, it was revolutionary.

A powerful step forward, with much progress ever since.

Before the Declaration, there was broad tolerance for discrimination against women.

Gender-based violence was often considered a private matter.

Preventable maternal deaths were accepted as inevitable.

Women’s empowerment was seen as a political choice not a legal obligation under human rights law.

But twenty-five years later, we are nearly achieving gender parity in health and education globally.

Between 2000 and 2017, the maternal mortality ratio dropped by about 38% worldwide.

More women have joined the work force, including in professions once exclusive to men.

Over 140 countries have passed laws on domestic violence and more than 150 have laws on sexual harassment.

And the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world’s action plan for people, planet and prosperity, recognizes gender equality as indispensable to a better future for all.

These are important advances.

While we must cherish them, as the video pointed out, we must also remember: we are still not where we set out to be… where we must be.

And more: we are facing a pushback against women’s rights and gender equality.

Centuries-long discriminatory narratives are challenging the advances achieved -- and the very affirmation that women’s agency over their bodies is a matter of rights and dignity.

We must push back on the pushbacks.

And continue to push forward.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the landmark Beijing Declaration, it is my honour to continue supporting its pledges – and to pay tribute to the efforts of remarkable women human rights activists.

From defenders in civil society and the media to those in parliament and government, it is heartening to hear their inspirational stories of courage, solidarity and vision --- some of which, it is my pleasure to share with you now.

In 2019, under the motto “Our silence is their protection”, 23-year-old Toufah Jallow was instrumental in organizing the first women’s march against rape in The Gambia, with women and men taking to the streets to say no to sexual violence.

She inspired many, leading to the start of the #IamToufah movement, similar to the #MeToo campaign. 

My office is working with Toufah to amplify her message against sexual violence; to ensure that victims have their voices heard; and to fight against impunity.

In Tanzania, we saw the creation of a Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders, a newly registered NGO supported by my office.

There are other inspiring examples from 2019:

We have seen advances on sexual and reproductive health and rights in countries as diverse as Ireland and South Korea.  

Iranian women were allowed to watch football in stadiums for the first time in decades. A little but significant step to address the still pervasive gender-based discrimination

Women in Kerala, India, joined hands to form a symbolic wall against discrimination.

Stretching 385 miles, this human chain protested a pushback to stop women and girls from entering the Sabarimala temple – and defended women’s rights and religious freedoms in India.

The World Health Assembly officially declassified being transgender as a mental or behavioral disorder; an important step to combat stigma and discrimination and to accelerate progress towards true universal health coverage for trans and gender diverse people worldwide.

Botswana and Angola decriminalized same-sex relations.

And a powerful chant has crossed the borders of Chile into countries around the globe.

From Mexico to Greece to Kenya, “El violador eres tú”, or “The rapist is you”, became a global anthem of feminist protest against sexual violence.
It is also a reminder of both the challenges women still face worldwide and the power of collective mobilization.

Dear friends,

I am pleased this event focuses on women’s empowerment.

The journey towards gender equality is long.

And in times such as ours, we know how trying is the path.

In fact, it may often feel overwhelming.

Good stories give us hope.

They give us courage and they give us strength.

They reassure us that the shared vision of Beijing is still alive -- and driving many around the world.

Showing us what is possible, good stories renew our resolve – and point us to a path forward.

It is our duty to keep sharing them.

Clearly and widely.

Online and offline.

We must make it clear to people that the international human rights framework works for them.

And we need to be clear that every violation of someone’s human rights threatens the rights of all. 

Human Rights is what bond us together.

Defending them is about leaving no one behind.

I look forward to continue working with you to support good human rights stories everywhere. 

Thank you.