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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Creating an enabling environment for women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life

16 March 2021

65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
16 March 2020

It has been a privilege to listen to this discussion.

As several people have pointed out, empowering women and girls to participate fully in public life is the right thing to do, and it is the smart thing to do.

Speaking up, and contributing to decision-making, is the right of every human being – women, just as much as men.

It is also a powerful lever for better policy – for everyone. Evidence demonstrates conclusively that where women are well represented in government, there is more investment in social protection, and more focus on climate justice. Women’s participation in peace talks is also linked to more durable solutions. In the private sector, more women in leadership leads to better business performance on many parameters.

During the pandemic, we've seen countries led by women leaders adopting sound policies based on scientific expertise and the good of the people – not soundbites based on noisy drama and the interest of elites. I'm not in favour of generalisations that demonise or glorify people based on stereotypes. Men can be good leaders too. But it's never a good idea to exclude half your talent from contributing to your goals. Every society needs to be able to count on the full and effective participation of women and girls.

We cannot airbrush reality: women's equal representation in political life is advancing very slowly. At the current rate, gender parity will not be reached in national legislatures before 2063; we will not have equal numbers of women and men Heads of Government before 2150. And which women are managing to get ahead? It's the same story everywhere. Women who face multiple forms of discrimination are still far behind, as are young women: in 2018, women under 30 made up just over 1% of the world’s members of parliament.

But it is their views, energy, commitment and investment in the future that we so badly need.

I encourage all leaders to appoint 50% women to their Cabinets, and to ensure broader diversity and inclusion.

We also need to make greater use of temporary special measures in politics and government: from recruiting, financially assisting and training women candidates, to amending electoral procedures; campaigns directed at equal participation; setting specific and ambitious quotas – accompanied by penalties for non-fulfillment;  and targeting women for appointment to other public positions, such as in the judiciary.

We need to work with the women who fight for equality and social justice, in every society – many of them young activists operating in civic spaces that are restricted by the authorities and patrolled by thugs and trolls.

They need increased and more flexible funding; better support and recognition; and an enabling environment where they can advocate, monitor, report and engage without undue restriction or fear of retaliation. My Office is fully committed to supporting the work of the Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership, which over the next 5 years aims to catalyse action in these areas.

We also need greater investment to prevent violence against women in public life. As a woman who has held a position of power, I am also aware of the taxing impact of toxic misogyny and sexism. It is vital to keep speaking out against it, and that we work with the education sector, media, entertainment industry, and society at large to promote accurate and positive narratives about women in power.

I look forward to working with all of you, to fast-track the full and equal participation of women, in all their diversity, in public life – for everyone's benefit.

Thank you.