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Statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the occasion of the International Women's Day

8 March 2016

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a true honor to join you today in celebration of International Women’s Day for 2016 and in affirmation of its core message – a call across the globe – for more practical, concrete action for gender equality.

There is something so disarmingly alarming about discrimination.  Such a reckless, unfounded, unjust imputation to whole groups of people of narrowing, distorting characteristics and attributes that seeks the legitimation of human rights abuse and serves to hinder and stifle the talent, diversity, rich potential of each individual in that group.  Such reckless waste.  Such callous deprivation dignity, of human development and of opportunity to be the best that you can be.

Of course, our forging of toxic stratifications of the human condition is not confined to just one form of identity-based discrimination only. Race, disability, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, caste, religion?   No basis for identity based discrimination is acceptable - each is an insult against that for which human rights provides text and standards – an essential truth – that we all are born equal in dignity and rights. 

But what IWD in particular allows us to recall and consider together is the very specific cost that gender discrimination exacts wherever it lurks - in the boardroom, the courtroom and the bedroom.

Excellencies, friends, the intractable nature of any discrimination is not an inevitability.  But its persistence is a measure of the need for us to step up.  It is time for us to step up against gender discrimination - which is exacting costs that we can ill afford.  Depriving us of talent and contribution.  We cannot afford to tolerate gender being the basis for determining who should participate in public and cultural life; for determining who should be involved in decision-making.  Today only 20% of the world’s parliamentarians and 17% of Cabinet Ministers are women. Just one-third of management jobs are held by women including shamefully at the UN itself.  These are not the results of merit-based systems but of systems of cumulative disadvantage and multi-layer discrimination against women and girls: obstacles in their access to education, their bearing of the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work, the still glaring gender pay-gap, barriers to their participation in community decision making, violations of theirs rights to make decisions about the most intimate aspects of their lives, including if, when and with whom to have children.

This year’s theme of gender parity - a call on us for the equal representation of women and men – is a call to a simple measureable achievable step-up to the task of dismantling gender based discrimination. It is a rights-based, practical step towards which each and everyone of us can make concrete contribution. No speaking panel without a woman.  No cabinet of ministers without women at the table.  No board room without women directors.  No parliament without equal representation of women.  No committee without women members.  No sports field without access too for women’s sports. No profession without equal access and equal pay for women. 

This is not merely a matter of gender parity’s arithmetic. This is about concrete action for rights and about the necessary conditions for gender equality.  By making equality “visible” and “tangible” – gender parity approaches foster more diverse and authentic public gender role models that can also help dismantle the deep-rooted gender stereotypes underpinning discrimination against women and girls. And it opens doors to the talents and skills of the entire population – not just a mere fraction of it.

Rights are not a zero sum game.  My recognising the rights that another has does not diminish those that I have.  Anymore than your recognition of my rights takes away from the rights you have.  In fact, upholding rights for each of us to the exclusion of none of us is in the interests of all of us.  And, if any of us has a female colleague or friend, a mother or a daughter, a wife, a sister or an aunt …  then we do have a concrete reason, and practical opportunity, to advance gender parity - an opportunity to advance rights.