Header image for news printout

35th session of the Human Rights Council
Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women
Panel 2: Women's rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  health and gender equality

Address by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 13 June 2016, 3 - 6 p.m.
Salle XX, Palais des Nations

President, Excellencies,

Last year, the occasion of this particular panel, the Council discussed best to operationalize the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development while upholding all human rights, particularly gender equality.  This year, this panel also addresses implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals with a particular emphasis on Goal 3 on “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages” and Goal 5 on “achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

Human rights cannot be fully enjoyed without health and well-being.  Likewise, health cannot be fully enjoyed without the personal dignity that is upheld by realization of all human rights. Yet, the realization of rights to and through health for women, children and adolescents, particularly of sexual and reproductive health and rights, remain uneven – even unattainable at country level, with increasing risks of reversal of hard-won advances in preventable maternal and child mortality, denying also the rights to autonomous decision making of women and girls in particular, over their own body and for their physical and mental integrity.

Persistent discrimination, abuse and violence against women and girls – the most widespread of human rights violations – erode their physical and mental health and wellbeing, stealing the personal destinies of millions of women and girls, and robbing the world of precious, needed talent, potential and contribution.

Health outcomes for girls dramatically worsen with the onset of puberty, bringing to them in many settings an onslaught of attacks against their physical and mental integrity – child, early and forced marriage; gender based violence, children bearing children – these abuses and violations rob girls, in particular, of their right to safe, unimpeded passage from childhood to adulthood.  Women too are denied life-saving health care due to discriminatory laws, policies and practices, including laws which criminalize services only required by women, or which impose requirements for third party authorization of their access to care.

Those defending and championing health related human rights are also at risk.  For those working on gender equality, sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, the risks are heightened.  Subjected to intimidation and public attack, renounced by officials, their organizations de-funded: some defenders of rights to and through health have paid the highest price under force of assassination.

Meanwhile, conflict, unprecedented rates of unplanned urbanization, climate instability, environmental degradation and pollution are introducing new health risks, and intensifying known hazards.  Yet, positive change is also within our grasp. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development opens up a unique - unprecedented - opportunity to advance human rights for all, to counter forces seeking to undermine rights and to achieve the conditions in which rights to health and through health can be realized, leaving no one behind.

In response to these issues and the opportunity of the Sustainable Development agenda, just a fortnight ago, the High Commissioner and the WHO Director-General were delighted to be presented jointly with the ground-breaking report of a High Level Working Group on Health and Human Rights – which was launched at the World Health Assembly and the product of work co-chaired by President Halonen of Finland and Hina Jilani of Pakistan, with leadership provided too by Dr Denis Mukegwe of the DRC, among others.   Their report calls for more enabling environments for rights to and through health, the report advocates for the right to health to be enshrined in national law; for health financing to be rights based, for human rights including equality to be understood as key determinants of health, and for social, gender and cultural norms that erode health to be removed. 

Urging partnership with people themselves as agents of their own health, their reports calls for people to be supported to claim theirs rights; for health workers and advocates to be protected as they defend rights, and for health and related policy to be accountable directly to those who depend on it: i.e.  evidence based accountability to rights holders.  Advocating stronger rooting of public accountability in evidence, their report also calls for States to invest in more comprehensive and inclusive data collection and for States to report regularly on their work to realise rights through and to health to both the World Health Assembly and the Human Rights Council – two bodies that - with greater cooperation - could provide States greater underpinnings in support of realization of the interdependence between the right to health and other human rights.

These recommendations were discussed during the recent World Health Assembly, when many States from across the world’s regions took the floor, individually and collectively, to affirm the importance of human rights to health and through health. However, the High Level Task Force – itself comprised of global leaders in and for health and supported by eminent experts, concluded in its report, that the gravest most persistent gap between the promises made and delivery achieved for women, children and adolescents is, in reality, a leadership gap. Government and other leaders – civil society, private sector, community leaders – are called upon to be more vocal, courageous and bold as champions for women, children and adolescents, including for their human rights to health and through health.  This is essential if development’s fruits are to be more equitably spread, more sustainably shared and if indeed no one is to be left behind.

For OHCHR’s part, the High Commissioner has committed to working closely with WHO towards the implementation of these recommendations and to continuing to support Governments and other stakeholders’ efforts to prioritize health and human rights.


We know what needs doing; we know why we should do it and we also know that it makes financial sense to invest in this powerful relationship between health and rights. We want most for the heartfelt conviction at the highest levels that this should happen, that this matters – that the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents in particular matters enough to invest in their futures and through them, in the future for us all.