Opening statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
6 July 2021
I am pleased to address you today on a topic so close to my heart.
Last year, this Council discussed the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on women's rights.
One year and half after the outbreak, we are still struggling with a devastating public health and socio-economic crisis.
The pandemic has hit the world in a context of rising economic inequalities.
For the past decades, economic models of many countries have been increasingly relying on precarious forms of employment. Public investments in social protection and public services has been reduced. Tax cuts for the rich and for big companies have been favoured over progressive taxation. Moreover, foreign debt has been a heavy burden, depriving many countries of the fiscal space necessary for investing in health, social protection, education and protection of livelihood.
COVID-19 has made matters worse. Social and economic inequalities have been exacerbated, undermining women's economic security and resilience against shocks. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, the pandemic has prompted a setback of more than 18 years in women's labour participation.
As I have emphasized many times, advancing gender equality is imperative to overcoming crises. And, yet, the majority of socioeconomic COVID-19 responses adopted by States are surprisingly gender-blind, often failing to address the specific needs of women. For example, among the State policies surveyed by UNDP and UN Women across the world, only about 13 per cent have addressed women's economic security.
The pandemic has hit hardest in economic sectors where women are over represented, including hotel and food services, among others. Women are also the majority of the millions of workers in the informal economy who have lost their jobs and livelihoods and were left with little access to social protection.
In addition, contrary to common perception, many women are breadwinners for their families and essential workers to societies, caring for people, producing food, managing waste.
On the other hand, women's participation in the labour force continues to decline, more rapidly than that of men. Young women between 15 and 29 years old are three times more likely to be out of the labour market and the classrooms than young men. Women and girls absorbed most of the care needs during the pandemic, sacrificing their retention and return to employment, livelihood and education.
When women's contribution to all types of care is considered, its economic value equates to US$11 trillion or 9 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product. Nonetheless, response measures addressing unpaid care work have been scarce.
"Society is stronger and more resilient when women and men can play a meaningful role in political, economic and social life, contributing to policy-making that affects their lives," the Secretary-General stressed in his Call to Action for Human Rights.
And, yet again, women are largely absent from decision-making. They represent only 24 per cent of the members of national public institutions created to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We must shift the recovery efforts now to stop setbacks in gender equality and to build more inclusive, just and prosperous societies.
In that regard, I join the Secretary-General's call for a New Social Contract and a New Global Deal that create equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all.
From a human rights point of view, that means taking concrete steps. Here are some of them.
Ensure that the maximum of available resources is allocated to quality public services necessary for the enjoyment of minimum essential levels of economic and social rights. That includes health care, social protection and education;
Recognize the economic value of both paid and unpaid care work;
Ensure women's equal rights and responsibilities in the family and eliminate stereotypes and practices that reinforce gender inequalities;
Prioritize recovery efforts that protect and advance economic security of women facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination;
Adopt progressive tax policies that are fair for those left furthest behind;
Through international cooperation, support States with high debt burden to free up fiscal space to invest in gender-responsive public services and economic recovery. Furthermore, assess the human rights impact of proposed austerity measures and debt management proposals;
Protect civic space and the participation of women, girls and people with diverse genders in decisions relevant to recovery measures; and
Ensure they have access to justice and an effective remedy in case of violation of their human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.
There are promising initiatives in this direction. Around the world, we see countries adopting a feminist foreign policy and Parliamentarians joining forces to bring women and girls at the centre of recovery plans.
I trust this panel will provide an opportunity for us all – the United Nations, Member States, civil society and other stakeholders -- to deliberate together on how to recover better with gender-equality. That includes constructing a human rights economy that can deliver a sound and sustainable future for people and planet.