Statement by Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 25 February 2020
I am honoured to open this panel discussion.
Twenty-five years ago, the rallying cry “women’s rights are human rights!” led to the transformational milestone we are here to commemorate.
The adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was a comprehensive expression of States’ commitments to the human rights of women and girls.
One hundred and eighty nine countries pledged to achieve gender equality, in practice and in law, so that all women and girls could fully enjoy their inalienable rights and freedoms as equal human beings.
A remarkable achievement, product of decades of advocacy and unwavering commitment of civil society groups, feminist movements and women’s rights activists.
Indeed, both the Beijing World Conference and preceding conferences on Human Rights in Vienna and on Population and Development in Cairo saw an extraordinary mobilization of women’s rights activists of all ages and backgrounds.
We pay tribute to them by standing in defence of the pledges and principles they envisioned.
“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” is more than a rallying cry.
It was a reminder that women were not requesting any special rights.
They were not asking for any concessions, privileges or entitlements.
What they wanted from the international community was the recognition that as fellow human beings, women have exactly the same rights as men.
They were calling for the end of pervasive and centuries-old gender-based discrimination that prevented them from enjoying these human rights on equal footing.
Twenty-five years ago, their clamour was heard and answered.
The rights of women and girls were recognized as inalienable, integral and indivisible from universal human rights.
It was a historic step forward.
Before the Beijing Declaration, discrimination against women was broadly tolerated.
Gender-based violence was seen as a private matter to be dealt within the family.
And on the presumption that as mothers and wives, girls would not require formal education, they were excluded from classrooms.
The Declaration was a strong and long-awaited rejection of these notions.
It recognized women’s diversity and the need to address multiple forms of discrimination.
It affirmed that their choice over their bodies was a matter of human rights and a cornerstone of development.
And it stressed the importance of upholding women’s human rights throughout their life cycle.
To put it simply: the Beijing Platform for Action was nothing short of revolutionary.
And there has been progress ever since.
Although we are still far from parity, the number of women national parliamentarians has nearly doubled.
Over 150 countries now have laws on sexual harassment.
Child marriage has declined globally.
Countries have significantly more data on violence against women.
The percentage of women in paid jobs has increased.
Over 140 countries guarantee gender equality in their constitutions.
Member States of the International Labour Organization have adopted conventions to eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace and to protect labour rights of domestic workers
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes women and girls’ human rights and gender equality as indispensable for building a better future for all.
And this Council regularly debates the continued – and quite daunting -- gaps that remain in all of the Beijing Platform for Action's key areas of concern -- from women's equality in political life and the economy, to harmful practises and gender-based violence.
As High Commissioner of Human Rights, a woman and a lifelong feminist, I am happy to be here with you today to cherish this progress.
We should always celebrate Beijing, but we must also remind ourselves that the Beijing agenda is unfinished.
This is no time for complacency.
The risks of setbacks are real – and growing.
If the Beijing conference is known as a moment of collective and strong commitment to human rights, twenty-five years later the scenario is quite different.
We are seeing these rights, especially women’s rights, under attack on many fronts.
We are seeing pushbacks and the resurgence of narratives against gender equality based on centuries-long discrimination.
But women’s rights are not negotiable.
They cannot be an optional policy subject to the changing winds of politics.
We cannot and we will not tear apart the women’s rights agenda, establishing a hierarchy of acceptable measures and those deemed “too sensitive”.
In other words, we must resist all challenges to the hard-won affirmation of what we know: that women’s rights are human rights – in their universality and indivisibility, and for all women, in their full and free diversity.
Human dignity cannot be dissected, compartmentalized, negotiated – nor can it be a privilege of few.
I welcome the Secretary-General’s powerful address yesterday in this room.
As part of his Call to Action for Human Rights, he called “on every country to support policies and legislation that promote gender equality, repeal discriminatory laws, end violence against women and girls, ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights, and strive for women’s equal representation and participation in all spheres.”
This must be our shared commitment.
The landmark agreement in Beijing was not a coincidence or an accident.
It was the result of deliberate action by Governments, civil society and other partners.
In these past 25 years, we have accumulated knowledge and good practices.
We have built alliances and strengthened capacities.
We are well equipped to accelerate even more progress.
What we need is to find within us the unity and vision, the purpose and the determination that prevailed in Beijing.
We must move forward towards equal and inclusive societies.
Societies that commit to leaving no one behind.
And we must do it now.
I thank you for your attention.