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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Women’s Heritage festival, Florence, Italy

04 October 2019

Video message from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 

5 October 2019

Care amiche, cari amici, é per me un onore poter partecipare a questa magnifica celebrazione dell’eredità delle donne. 

Friends, it’s an honour for me to participate in this great celebration of women's heritage. I send my greetings to you all in Florence.

We have so much to celebrate when it comes to women’s heritage, in Italy and everywhere in the world. Women have been – and continue to be – leaders and influencers in every area of life. They’ve led social change that has enabled more people to enjoy their human rights. And they’ve painted out the artificial distinction between women’s rights and human rights.

This is so important, because women’s rights are human rights.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with its commitment to “equal dignity and rights for all human beings, without discrimination”, could not be clearer on this point.

We enjoy a rich heritage today because of the feminist movements and  women’s human rights activists who have gone before us. Those who decided to stand up for their rights, or for the rights of other people – sometimes at tremendous cost to themselves. These women inspire us, challenge us and lead us onwards.

Like the thousands of South African women who were the first to march against apartheid in Pretoria in 1956. Like the African-American women who circulated leaflets calling for a bus boycott in 1950s Alabama, after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Like the women in Sudan who have led protests this year against religious fundamentalism, or those who went on strike in Poland in 2016 over plans to ban all abortions. Like the women across the world who backed the #MeToo movement.

We also celebrate those who have shown us you’re never too young to make a difference. Greta Thunberg in Sweden, who began a school strike to call for action on climate change. Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, who refused to be silenced in her campaign for girls’ education, even after being shot in the head by the Taliban. Franca Viola in 1960s Italy, who refused to marry the man who had raped her – and instead saw him jailed.

The example set by all these girls and women of courage is why I wholeheartedly support the festival’s goal of empowering women, and its founding principle that cultural roots hold a major key to achieving gender equality. So many cultural norms continue to hold women back in societies right across our world.  So many girls and women live with restricted choices and limited freedoms, with violence, FGM and the harshest impacts of war and migration. So many carry out disproportionate levels of care and domestic work. And so many of our planet’s most marginalised women and girls have not benefited equally from the progress that has been made.

Our challenges are clear. To stand firm in what we have achieved, and push further forward.  To resist calls for a return to “traditional values”, when these are thinly veiled yearnings for less equality and fewer rights for women and girls.  To counter all efforts to control women’s decisions, freedoms, and the choices they make about their own bodies.

I hope the great Renaissance city of Florence will help inspire you to spark a renaissance in women’s rights - until we have truly delivered all human rights for all people. I wish you a fulfilling and fruitful event.