Message by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
10 December 2020
Greetings, and thank you to the organizers of this important event.
The focus of your discussions today could not be more timely. While the reality of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination has always been a reality, our current circumstances demand that more serious efforts are deployed to understand and address these human rights concerns.
In many places around the world, sexual and reproductive health and rights are in constant jeopardy. But for women from marginalized groups, the impact is worse. Across regions, we see adverse maternal health outcomes for indigenous and minority women, including women of African descent – in both developed and developing countries. We know that those at higher risk of forced sterilisation are women experiencing intersecting forms of discrimination – HIV positive women, women and girls with disabilities, trans people, and Roma women for instance.
Where States place barriers to safe abortion services, whether all-out bans or other obstacles such as mandatory waiting periods, it is women living in poverty and adolescent girls, for example, who are most likely to seek to terminate their pregnancy in unsafe circumstances. If it wasn’t already clear before, the COVID pandemic has forced us all to bear witness to the glaringly disparate impacts on women from disadvantaged and marginalized groups.
When we gloss over these differential impacts, when we pretend that health and other policies inevitably benefits all equally, we are failing in our human rights obligations, and we are failing in our commitment under the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind.
As activists within the reproductive justice movement have taught us, this is not just about health. Understanding the countless ways that discriminatory forces intersect is central also to securing economic and climate justice, resisting ethno-nationalism, and building societies which genuinely embrace the basic principle that all individuals are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
We can and we must do better. Ensuring that the voices of women and girls in all their diversity are central in our discussions is critical for credible, legitimate and effective responses. Recognizing and addressing the ways in which these multiple forms of oppression are baked into our systems and structures is critical groundwork for putting in place more inclusive policies.