Video message by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
3-6 June 2019 - Vancouver
Thank you for this opportunity to honour women’s skills; our energy and experience; our strength, our spirit, and our on-going struggle for full human rights for everyone.
Thank you for coming together as activists, to mobilise and build coalitions, to broaden the scope and impact of the work we are doing.
Women’s equality and rights are guaranteed under international law. Over 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed equal dignity and rights for all human beings, without discrimination.
Since then, States have re-affirmed equality between women and men and agreed, by treaty, to prohibit discrimination based on sex. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which turns 40 this year, clearly articulated the need to eliminate discrimination against women in every field, from education, to health, to the political arena and the workplace.
But the struggle to achieve this elementary justice – this very basic fairness of equal opportunities – has been an arduous one. And it is far from over.
For decades, human rights violations and abuses inflicted on women and girls were overlooked – even among the human rights community: dismissed as family matters, or viewed as unchangeable, cultural issues. To many, it was not clear that "women's rights are human rights", until that was proclaimed by movements from around the globe at the Vienna World Conference in 1993.
Subsequent world conferences in the 1990s – in particular the Cairo Conference on population and development, and the Beijing Conference on Women – continued to translate commitments into solid action points for sexual and reproductive rights, and gender equality.
This year and next we will mark the quarter-century of these important historic agreements. Enormous progress has been made in the course of those 25 years, in terms of dismantling discriminatory laws and practices, and picking apart the demeaning stereotypes, which are the glue that keeps discrimination in place.
Millions of individuals have been freed to make their own decisions. My own path has been built upon the gains made by activists, who insisted on women’s rights in the workplace and in politics. When I was a girl, it was unimaginable that one day I would run for – let alone become – President of Chile. For that matter, I never expected to become my country's Minister for Health – or Minister of Defense, or the head of a UN body.
Empowered women and girls contribute to better outcomes for their families and communities, and to positive social change across their countries.
It is troubling to see push backs in some countries. There seems to be a renewed obsession with controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their bodies and lives, and also by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family.
Women are still much poorer than men. They have less property, fewer opportunities, less access to basic services such as education, and a lot less freedom to raise their voices and make their own choices.
We need to come together, women and men, to protect the important gains of the past; and we need to push forward, to advance the rights of women – and better solutions for the world.
Because this planet belongs to all of us.
Because ending dicrimination against women and girls will bring us closer to achieving sustainable development,
Because, to end inequalities and poverty, we need to free girls to make their own choices.
To improve governance, and boost stability, we need to tear down the obstacles that hold back women's participation.
To address climate change effectively – by influencing how we eat, how we produce, how we build, how we move, how we manage waste –we need to uphold women's rights.
To shape peaceful and secure societies, we have to empower girls and women to participate fairly, and fully, in society.
Gender equality is the precondition for meeting the challenges of promoting resilient and sustainable development, and building better policy.
Today, women are mobilising again – as we always have -- not only for our own rights but in every kind of movement for human dignity and equality.
I am inspired daily by the women and girl activists who defend human rights around the world.
I wish I could be with you to share your discussions, and I count on you to carry forward our shared ideas.