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35th session of the Human Rights Council
Side event on "Women’s health as key to empowerment and full realization of rights"

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

Geneva, 13 June 2017 at 11:00 a.m.
Salle IX, Palais des Nations


I am extremely grateful that we have this opportunity to speak together this morning and to do so with President Halonen, who most recently as co-chair of the WHO/OHCHR High Level Task Force on Health and Human Rights has provided once again invaluable global leadership on women’s health and rights.   The support of member States – Slovenia, Finland, Uruguay – for this side-event and the support too of UNFPA is invaluable.

I also want to thank Rajat Khosla and, through him, thank WHO – including my counterpart Dr Flavia Bustreo and Rajat’s other colleagues - for their partnership in this work and specifically for Rajat’s visionary effort that has enabled this work to come alive through the High Level Task Force.  We also thank for their generous financial support, the Governments of Finland and of the Netherlands – without which there would be no report on human rights to health and through health.

By many measures, we stand in the midst of unprecedented opportunity and yet unfathomable challenge – globally, there is a massive change-dynamic underway, unprecedented in its scale, significance, consequence, pace and urgency.  This is an unprecedented NOW.

For, there is alive today the largest generation of adolescents the world has ever seen; children making their way down the human development pathway to adulthood; children who are concentrated in greatest numbers in the toughest of places at the toughest of times; children who through puberty and adolescence have the right to emerge into adulthood with their rights in tact.

Yet, conflict, contagion, climate instability, the crises of famine and feud -  are shaping cruel reality for unprecedented numbers of people and those countries suffering the gravest of these consequences have the youngest of populations.
The city unplanned and the sprawling slum; the contaminated water supply and insecure food chain; armed conflict and corruption’s erosion of peace – these too are having broader direct and indirect consequences for populations’ wellbeing and their physical and mental health. 

Deprivation of the basic dignities that only realization of the right to health provide would be wrong at any time.  However, in this unprecedented now and in the future into which we head, health emerges as a core strategic investment for stable, inclusive and sustainable states.  Sound health financing, reliable inclusive investment, provision of quality information and services and public accountability for health are strategic, essential and are obligations on the State.

And yet instead, people’s access to quality health services and information – without fear, stigma or discrimination - is being undermined, is threatened. The increased costs of healthcare jeopardise the stability of universal health care systems. Policies of low taxation restrict the fiscal space to progressively realise the right to health. Many people are prevented from purchasing health insurance by low wages and insecure work. Refugees, stateless persons and many migrants face barriers to healthcare even in countries where there is a universal system.

In the meantime, a misanthropic roll back on hard won health gains particularly for women and girls - is in play – with ramped up attempts to erode sexual and reproductive health and rights. The consequences of deliberate denial of access to sexual and reproductive health services and information brings selective devastating consequences for women and adolescent girls - devastating for their health, destructive for their exercise of all other rights, and exacting unaffordable costs on them, their families and their communities.

Deliberate targeting of health workers and health facilities too, particularly, but not only, in conflict settings is on the increase.  However, health workers – and all civilian objects - are protected by law in war and beyond – and as humanitarians for the right to health, health workers are human rights defenders – and their work should be protected and supported including against reprisals.

More people on the move, people forced out of their homes and livelihoods at record levels; more young people and growing numbers too of older people – unprecedented rates of urbanization and pollution, increasing climate instability, wide spread environmental degradation: these are the stories of our modern world, of our future and this is our now - an unprecedented now – whose urgency is real, possibilities are broad and encompassing and whose moment, if lost, will bring preventable suffering, sorrow and indignity for generations to come – a burden to be borne perhaps not by us directly but most certainly a burden that will bend the backs of our children and our children’s children.

In the midst of this unprecedented now, thanks to the Sustainable Development Agenda, we also have an unprecedented opportunity -  a mandate to truly achieve the conditions in which rights to health and through health can be realized, leaving no one behind.

  • Calling 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, the 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, the HLTF 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.

The HLTF – comprised of global leaders in and for health and supported by eminent experts, concluded, however, that the gravest gap between the promises made and delivery achieved is, in reality, a leadership gap.

Government and other leaders – civil society, private sector, community leaders - must be more vocal as champions for human rights to health and through health, if development’s fruits are to be more equitably spread, more sustainably shared and if 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, why we should do it and that it also makes financial sense, we want only for the conviction that this matters – that the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents in particular matter enough to invest in their futures and through them the future for us all.