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3rd Eurasian Women’s Forum: “Women: a Global Mission in a New Reality

Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

St Petersburg, 13-15 October

Dear participants,

The peace, security and well-being of our societies is intrinsically interconnected to the human rights of women and girls.

In his landmark report “Our Common Agenda”, the Secretary-General presented renewed proposals to address today’s challenges – all anchored in human rights and placing women and girls at the centre of the new agenda for peace.

Our collective efforts - at the UN, States and all of society - require significant investments in new pathways to ensure women and girls participation, removing barriers and obstacles,  including the digital divide. It requires expanding our partnerships with diverse women’s networks and movements; and further including the voices of younger women and girls. Strengthening and modernizing the timely collection of public data on women’s participation in peace processes is also central to establish evidence-based policies and effective monitoring of results.

Unfortunately, the percentage of peace agreements with gender provisions remains low, only increasing from 14 to 22 per cent between 1995 and 2019.

And in peace processes, between 1992 and 2019, women constituted an average of only 13 per cent of negotiators, six per cent of mediators and six per cent of signatories in major peace processes worldwide.

Women must be in peace negotiation tables. Decisions on peace that do not reflect their realities and demands, are not sustainable.

And above all, it should be quite obvious that we will not be able to face any of 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!

So, every society needs to ensure the equal and meaningful participation of women and girls – at all levels and in all areas of society.

Evidence shows that women’s participation in governments leads to greater investments in social protection, the environment and climate justice. In peace-negotiations, it is linked to more durable solutions. And in the private sector, to better business performance.  

At the same time, women in leadership positions still face discrimination, resistance, suspicion and at times hostility, based on hard-to-die stereotypes about their capabilities and their place in society.

But over history, women have repeatedly showcased the stamina and characteristics that make them good leaders.  

COVID-19 has once again shown us clear examples. Women are Heads of State and Government in only 21 countries worldwide, but their leadership has been lauded for its effectiveness in managing the COVID-19 health crisis. Their leadership style during the response has been described as collective and collaborative -- listening to expert advice, taking decisive action, and being compassionate in communicating with their people.

At the same time, survey of 30 countries with COVID-19 task forces and committees showed that on average only 24 per cent of the members were women. In conflict-affected countries, the representation is even lower, at 18 per cent.

This discrepancy is reflected in the interventions that are prioritised – and, critically – in the ones that are not.  

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening decades-long, hard-won gains in gender equality.

Longstanding exclusion means that women, particularly those who were already facing intersectional layers of discrimination, have both been disproportionately affected by the crisis and left out of the decision-making in response efforts.

This must urgently be addressed.

Gender equality is an urgent imperative.

It is at the heart of recovering better from the pandemic and is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The right of all women and girls to meaningful participation – including and especially in conflict and insecurity contexts - is essential. As is the end to all gender-based and intersectional discrimination.  

Each and every one of us can do a lot in this regard. From all our respective spheres of influence.

We do so by calling out sexist attitudes and by cherishing sisterhood and solidarity; by celebrating the success of women in power; by mentoring younger women; and by demanding action from States and other relevant stakeholders – and acting ourselves. 

We must support women’s leadership and feminist movements -- political, public and financial -- especially in the face of the impacts of COVID-19.

Thank you.