45th Session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 28 September 2020
Inequality and discrimination are two of the biggest challenges of our time, stretching across all spheres of life. If anyone had any doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought it home.
The pandemic did not create inequalities. It both exacerbated and fed from pre-existing ones. People whose voices have been systematically silenced suffer the worst from the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID 19.
Among them are women and girls, as this Council has discussed in June. Not due to any inherent vulnerability, but exactly because of longstanding discrimination and inequality.
And we do not have to look very deep to see that the most affected are women who suffer double, triple or multiple layers of discrimination, including because of their race, age, disability, migration and socio-economic status, sexual orientation and gender identity, nationality and religion.
Women living in poverty, often belonging to ethnic and racial minorities, were much less resilient to the crisis and were often left with no livelihood. Girls from poor, rural communities were the first to drop out of school, as they were called upon to look after siblings and other family members or had no means to follow on-line lessons. Women with disabilities faced greater obstacles in accessing healthcare and services put in place to address gender-based violence. Data from Brazil, the UK and the US show clear disparities in COVID-19 death rates by sex, race and ethnicity.
Earlier this month, UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme warned that the pandemic will dramatically increase the poverty rate for women, widening the gap between men and women who live in poverty.
Anti-racism protests and solidarity movements seen recently around the world have brought attention to how women and girls are heavily affected by institutional racism and other forms of intersectional discrimination.
This Council and its mechanisms have also expressed their concerns.
Again, the examples are, sadly, many.
The intersection of discrimination between race and gender increases the risk for women of African descent to be victims of police brutality, including sexual and gender-based violence as highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Highlighting multiple layers of discriminations, the Special Rapporteur has also observed that in some countries where women of African descent are the group in the most vulnerable situation, those who are also migrants are commonly denied access decent work.
The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has stressed the intersection between older age, gender and disability. As a result of these intersecting forms of discrimination, older women with disabilities are often pushed into economic dependency. They also likely to be subject to violence, abuse and neglect; have lower chances of meeting their basic needs and higher probability of suffering further human rights violations.
The Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls has recently expressed concern that women from racial minorities are more at risk of incarceration. Together with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, it also highlighted how African-American women are more at risk of maternal mortality and morbidity. Worldwide, indigenous women are also at particular risk.
On her mission to the UK and Northern Ireland, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women observed that “black and minority ethnic women were more likely to be living in a deprived area, more likely to be subject to poverty, to have experienced the State care system and to find it harder to access educational opportunities”.
This Council recognizes the importance of considering the intersection of gender-based and other forms of discrimination and its impact on human rights, as demonstrated by several of its latest resolutions.
I refer to the resolutions on Discrimination against Women and Girls; on recognizing the contribution of environmental human rights defenders to the enjoyment of human rights, environmental protection and sustainable development; on the rights of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies; on accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to violence against women and girls in the world of work.
Equality and non-discrimination are the foundations of the international human rights system.
This Council has a mandate to make these principles a reality and to ensure protection and promotion of human rights for all.
Accounting for people’s different experiences and needs is critical to fulfilling this mandate.
This will be particularly important as we build back after the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we work on gender-just responses, we must take into account the double, triple or multiple disadvantages and vulnerabilities certain women and girls face. If we do not, our measures will either not be successful or will benefit only some, further increasing inequalities.
And that we cannot accept.
Ensuring that the voices of women and girls in all their diversity are central in our discussions is critical for credible, legitimate and effective responses.
I call on the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms to continue to analyse the depth of intersectional discrimination.
You have a critical role in promoting prevention and response measures that tackle intricate systems of oppression, such as sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, among others.
Analysing how these systems intersect and support each other to the benefit of the already privileged in our societies, creates greater awareness and solidarity to those working to advance social justice, gender equality and human rights.
I wish you fruitful discussions and look forward to hearing its outcomes.