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Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, commemorating International Women’s Day

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46th session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 8 March 2021.

Distinguished delegates,
Dear friends,

I am pleased to join you in commemorating this year’s International Women’s Day under the theme “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”
As the Secretary-General reminded us at the opening of this Council session, this “crisis has a woman’s face.”

Women, especially those belonging to marginalized and discriminated groups, have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. This is not due to an inherent vulnerability. It is the result of social, politicaland economic models and institutionsthat have been excluding them for generations – and continue to do so.

It’s about time we changed course. And that is for the benefit of all.

Evidence shows that women’s representation in politics results into greater investments in social protection and greater focus on the environment and climate justice. Women’s participation in peace-negotiations is linked to more durable solutions. And there is evidence that in the private sector, more women in leadership lead to better business performance.

Above all, it should be quite obvious that we will not be able to face today’s challenges if we continue to exclude large portions of the population from leadership and decision-making. Nobody would advise a coach to play with only half their team.

And, yet, this is what we often continue to do.

During this session’s High-Level Segment, only around 22 per cent of speakers were women. That is a reflection of the global situation. Women hold only 25% of seats in National Parliaments and 29% of senior management roles. At the end of 2020, only 21 countries had a female head of State or Government and women are largely missing in COVID recovery task forces and efforts.

Let us be clear. It is not lack of interest or capacity that is holding women back -- it is discrimination.

Discrimination leading to laws that prevent them from controlling their bodies, owning land or asking for credit. That leads to the disproportionate share of caregiving responsibilities; to social norms preventing equal access to quality education or steering girls away from certain educational fields; to violence, harassment and harmful practices. That professes it is “natural” for women to have a caregiver role in society and “unnatural” or “inappropriate” for them to have attributes often considered necessary for leadership, such as being assertive, decisive and outspoken.

We need to take specific action to address these issues, otherwise they tend to perpetuate themselves. Temporary special measures, including quotas, are critical to break the cycle of exclusion and create new role models. And we must celebrate the work and successes of women and girl leaders in all their diversity and in all spheres.

Colleagues,

We are at a pivotal moment.

The responsibility of our lifetimes is upon us: to create more equitable, inclusive, just, and sustainable post-pandemic societies.

Women and girls represent an incredible force for this change. In fact, they have been leading it.

Worldwide, women and girls are taking climate action, advocating for social protection and health care for all, supporting survivors of domestic and sexual violence. They are expanding democratic and civic space and continuing the ongoing battle against systemic racial discrimination.

My Office is proud to spotlight their work through our “I Stand With Her” campaign. As one young woman profiled in the campaign said “Women are powerful. Women are amazing. Women can do anything”.

Happy International Women’s Rights Day!