Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
17 November 2021
Greetings to all of you, and my apologies for not being able to be present for a real dialogue between us.
I heartily endorse this event, with its emphasis on bringing young women's voices, experiences, opinions and needs to the forefront of discussions in the African Union, European Union and United Nations.
We badly need to make more spaces for this kind of powerful dialogue. We need all leaders – global and national – to grasp the importance of full, free participation by everyone.
Many societies traditionally dismiss the voices of girls and women – and other groups. I am here to tell you, and all leaders, that decision-making is not only better informed, but also more legitimate and more sustainable, when everyone, including young people, can contribute their views.
I'm not just talking about discussion circles where young women can speak up freely. I'm talking about leaders ensuring that they change important decisions and policies based on the needs and views of young women and all others.
Real participation is meaningful participation, which leads to action.
Today's discussions focus on your views about how to prevent and protect against gender-based violence. The need for universal access to inclusive quality education for every girl. Actions that can ensure that every girl and woman has access to measures that uphold our sexual and reproductive rights. And the imperative of increasing the empowerment of women everywhere, to continue pushing forward with their political participation and leadership.
Advancing all these topics is profoundly beneficial, both to billions of individuals but also to every society on this planet. As the United Nations Secretary General recently pointed out, "Ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and girls is the single most effective measure we can take to create more stable, peaceful, resilient and prosperous communities and societies."
Discrimination holds back all of society. And the need for action to end discrimination has never been stronger.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a profound setback in many areas of women's lives, and it has been a blow to young people, particularly girls, at a critical time of their lives.
We need transformative action to advance the rights of women and girls as we build back from the damage done by the pandemic. That action needs to be national, but it also needs to be global.
Multilateral action led by the United Nations has achieved a lot since 1945 – from preventing a third world war to eradicating smallpox and mending the hole in the ozone layer. To strengthen that positive action, and make sure that it focuses on the real needs of people, there needs to be greater space for civil society to contribute meaningfully to decisions ¬– not just at the UN, but also within countries and regional bodies.
This brings me to you.
I commend you for speaking your truth and making your voices heard. This is a brave and good thing that you are doing, and I encourage you to keep speaking out and demanding change.
Many traditional norms weigh heavily on girls and young women, giving them less freedom to speak out and make their own choices.
Nothing should be decided about you without you.
Listening to young people is not just the only way to forge good policy: it is an obligation under international human rights law.
I thank you very deeply for standing up for our universal human rights.