High Commissioner: Make equal rights a daily reality for all women

We strive to ensure the implementation of appropriate laws to make equal rights a daily reality in the lives of all women, said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a landmark lecture on the promotion of women’s rights in the next decade.

:Navi Pillay with a section of the University of Western Cape’s law faculty © Nickay/ Alphonso“Equality before the law loses its meaning when laws are not given full effect.” Pillay underlined the importance of implementation when delivering an annual Dullah Omar Lecture at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, on 1 July.

The High Commissioner spoke of her “deep admiration and fond memories” of the late Dullah Omar, whose “leadership and commitment to democracy and human rights have greatly helped to sustain and realize the dreams of generations of South Africans.”

Entitled “Women’s Rights in Human Rights Systems: Past, Present and Future”, Pillay’s lecture focused on the ongoing efforts to ensure gender equality at the international, regional, and national levels, and the challenges ahead.

International human rights treaties prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and include guarantees to ensure that women and men enjoy their civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights on a basis of equality.

“Despite this prescription, global and national realities indicate that there is a wide gulf between international legal obligations and their implementation,” she said.

Pillay also shared her experience as a committed and long-time advocate for women’s rights in South Africa and beyond. She was the only female judge presiding over the groundbreaking case “Akayesu” at the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda, which for the first time established that rape during armed conflict is a war crime, a crime against humanity, and may constitute an element of genocide.

“I have learned that equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex are not only goals in their own right, but they are essential for the achievement of all human rights for all, the realization of sustainable human development, as well as the development of all societies.

“I have also learned that change comes not merely through individual endeavour, but through working collectively to achieve concrete progress,” she said.

The High Commissioner also underscored that “protecting women’s rights in law and policies is particularly crucial when the economic going gets rough, as is the case now.” 

Last month, the International Labour Organisation warned that the global financial crisis could add an increasing number of girls to the more than 100 million who are already involved in child labour. 

“Addressing the needs and critical vulnerabilities of women and girls caught in this recession is thus imperative,” she added.

Pillay concluded by pointing out that “for all our woes, there are, of course, highly visible benchmarks of progress”, with women as heads of government, in parliament, leading the highest courts, and at the helm of businesses.

She urged governments and international organisations to meet the expectations of girls and women and help them fulfil their goals.

“Empowering women and girls and creating an environment that is conducive to the realization of their full potential is a responsibility and a priority of the tallest order now and in the next decade,” she said.

2 July 2009