Header image for news printout

Ukrainian Women's Congress

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

15 September 2021

Greetings to all of you, and thank you for this opportunity to speak with you about gender equality, which has been a core issue for me since long before I entered politics.

Gender equality is about fairness. It is about justice. And it is about building more effective policies, in societies that are more resilient, because they are inclusive; and more successful and sustainable, because they can count on the full contributions of every person.

Gender equality drives more sustainable development.

It contributes to security and peace: when women are at the table, peace talks are more likely to be successful, and peace-building will be more sustainable.

Gender equality is essential to every individual. It is a central instrument for all human rights. And it should be an urgent priority for every society.

When women and girls are excluded, everyone pays the price. When they are fully and meaningfully empowered to contribute – everyone wins.

In recent years, Ukraine has made progress on gender equality.

Political representation has increased significantly. In the 2019 elections, the number of women members of Parliament increased from 12% in 2014 to 20.5%. And women now constitute over 28% of members of regional councils and roughly one-third of members of district and city councils.

Still, this is far from parity. Women are half the population of Ukraine: they have every right to half of its political representation. We should also be seeing evidence of far more empowerment of women's leadership and full contributions at every level of the economy, and in all professions.

The recently approved Action Plan for the new National Human Rights Strategy specifically focuses on advancing gender equality, and equal opportunities for women, in every aspect of life.

I encourage the authorities to provide adequate resources for implementation of the strategy – and I encourage Ukrainian businesses and institutions to comply with it. The gender pay gap is still wide, and women continue to be concentrated in low-paid jobs, including in informal sectors of the economy where they have little access to social protections – partly due to stereotypes about the role of women in the family and society.

I strongly encourage Ukraine to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which is known as the Istanbul Convention. This treaty aims to prevent violence against women; protect survivors; and prosecute those who commit these crimes. Its application leads to the creation of a safer environment for women and strengthens the legal protection of victims and their access to justice. Although Ukraine signed the Convention in 2011, it is still not in effect.

I also urge the authorities to ratify and implement the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention, in order to address sexual harassment in the workplace. This treaty recognises the right of everyone to work in an environment that is free from violence and harassment, including the gender-based violence and harassment that is a pervasive violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls.

I am disturbed by continued reports of attacks and threats against women human rights defenders by members of anti-rights groups. I note, for example, a number of physical attacks by extreme right-wing groups on participants of the International Women’s Day march in Kyiv in March. These are attacks on freedom, on human rights, and on us all. I encourage the authorities to continue to strengthen the protection of women human rights defenders, including by investigating and prosecuting such attacks.

In the context of the continuing conflict in Ukraine, civilians living in settlements along the contact line – the majority of whom are older women – disproportionately suffer from active hostilities and other conflict-related hardships, including the division of families across the contact line, and inadequate social protections and services It is important to consider their voices in the peace-building efforts.

During the conflict period, since April 2014, over 1,000 women and girls have been killed as a result of hostilities, and over 2,000 were injured. This year alone, one girl was killed and thirteen women and one girl were injured.

In this context, I commend the Government's adoption last year of a five-year National Action Plan on Implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This resolution emphasises the importance of women's participation in peace talks, peace-building, humanitarian responses to conflict and post-conflict reconstruction.

The new National Action Plan includes tools for monitoring progress towards these commitments, and I encourage the allocation of sufficient resources for its implementation, as well as local action plans backed by awareness campaigns.

All the issues I have outlined are made much more urgent – and more challenging – by the pandemic of COVID-19.

Across the world, the pandemic has created terrible setbacks to achieving gender equality. Women and girls have suffered disproportionately from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, and studies indicate those obstacles could be long-lasting. Domestic violence increased sharply during lockdowns and other restrictive measures. Unpaid care work has also risen very significantly. Worldwide, it seems very likely that women will be slower than men to regain employment.

And everywhere, women who experience intersectional discrimination have been hardest hit – including, for example, Roma women; women with disabilities; women and girls who are internally displaced; single mothers; older women; and rural women, especially those who work in the informal economy.

Ukraine can boost its chances for a sound and sustainable recovery by taking strong steps to advance gender equality. I encourage all of you to urge the authorities to adopt pandemic response and recovery policies that advance women's human rights, and to continue strengthening policies to advance gender equality in all spheres of life.