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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Gender parity

25 September 2023

Delivered by

Nada Al-Nashif United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights


54th session of the Human Rights Council


Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms


Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX

Thank you, Madam Vice-President,
Good morning distinguished panellists,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The equal representation and participation of women in public and political life is a necessary precondition to deliver on the promise of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights of equal dignity and rights for all.

Some countries have advanced in achieving gender parity in Parliament or within their Cabinet Ministries, and yet equal representation across all national decision-making bodies remains an elusive goal[1].

According to 2023 data, only 9.8 percent of countries have women Heads of Government, a slight increase compared to a decade ago when the figure stood at 7.3 percent. Women today constitute 22.8 percent of Cabinet Ministers and only 13 countries have gender-equal cabinets[2]. While 2022 marked the year in which women were represented in every single functioning parliament in the world, the share of women parliamentarians today stands at only 26.5 percent[3].

For decades, women have also been underrepresented as judges, commissioners, or members of international decision-making bodies, occupying only 44 out 249 seats in international tribunals, 62 out 283 in regional human rights courts, or 46 out of 168 in international commissions[4].

Women’s participation in public life delivers better and more transformative results. Their participation ensures that policies are built on the views, skills, and knowledge of society as a whole, reflecting its needs and experiences[5]. Women’s participation is, therefore, more conducive to more durable solutions and a greater likelihood of successful implementation of peace agreements[6]. During the COVID pandemic, the participation of women led to more proactive and coordinated set of policy responses, prioritizing clear communication, rapid response, and social protection[7].

In an open letter issued last June in the context of the Human Right 75 Initiative, the High Commissioner called for decisive actions to tackle gender-based discrimination and stereotypes that continue to undermine efforts towards parity. These efforts should also be accompanied by practical measures through education and awareness; more ambitious quotas; greater visibility for women role models but also through the integration of a gender perspective in the work of international human rights policies.

We must walk the talk on this priority for action. The Human Rights Council has demonstrated its commitment to enhancing women’s meaningful participation in its work. It requested[8] the Advisory Committee to prepare a report on the levels of representation of women in human rights organs and mechanisms, reflecting on good practices and providing further recommendations.

The report calls on States to develop and adopt formal, open, and transparent national nomination procedures, which include gender parity as a specific selection criteria and goal. It recommends considering the actual and historical gender composition of mechanisms as part of the nomination procedure and undertaking firm commitments to guarantee gender parity in the election of candidates to fill these vacancies[9].

Since 2015, we have seen the increased appointment by this Council of female experts as Special Procedures mandate-holders. The Universal Periodic Review, has also championed gender parity, with twice as many recommendations on gender parity issued during its third cycle than during the first two[10]. Some tangible progress is similarly visible in the Treaty Bodies, with an increase from 41.8 per cent in 2015, to 52.9 per cent today, of women experts in Committees[11].

Our Office has developed guidance that can help Member States in their efforts towards this gender integration and parity,[12] such as the updated handbook that we issued jointly with the Inter-Parliamentary Union this summer on the role of parliaments in eliminating discrimination against women[13].

As an International Gender Champion, the High Commissioner has committed to parity for panel speakers and combatting gender-based violence, vowing to foster the meaningful involvement and participation of young women and girls of diverse origins in programmes and initiatives by the Office. We have also taken decisive steps to close our own gender gap: women represent 58 percent of all “professional” staff in the office now, and 50 percent of our senior managers[14].

Madam Vice-President,
Distinguished panellists,
Your Excellencies,

In the context of the commemoration of Human Rights 75 this year, a bust of Eleanor Roosevelt has been graciously donated to our Office. I hope it can be joined by commemorative items for many others but at least three other remarkable women delegates who, critically shaped the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by contributing to the integration of a gender perspective. And they are, Dominican diplomat, Minerva Bernardino, who was instrumental in arguing for the inclusion of “the equality of men and women” in its preamble. Begum Shaista Ikramullah of Pakistan, who advocated for an emphasis on freedom, equality, and choice, and championed the inclusion of equal rights in marriage in Article 16. And Hansa Mehta, from India, who changed the phrase, “All men are born free and equal” in Article 1 to “All human beings are born free and equal.”[15]

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our message is unequivocal, and our resolve is unshakeable: the participation and equal representation of women are essential for the protection and promotion of human rights. I hope we can work together to make this a reality across the work of the entire international human rights system.

Thank you.



[5] UN Women input to OHCHR draft guidelines on effective implementation of the right to participation in public affairs



[8] Through r esolution 41/6.

[9] A/HRC/47/51




[14] Figures provided by OHCHR HRMS: Percentage of females on P and above, excluding the temporary appointment, is 58%. Percentage of females on Senior Managers (P5 and above), excluding the temporary appointment, is 50%.