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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

25th session of the Conference of the PartiesGeneration Equality: Promoting women’s leadership for environmental sustainabilityStatement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

10 December 2019

Madrid, 10 December 2019

Minister Schmidt,



Distinguished panellists,

Colleagues, Friends

Greetings to all of you. It is both a joy to be among you, and vitally important that we be here, together, at this crucial time.

Twenty-five years ago, in Beijing, 189 countries made a commitment to achieve equality for women, in practice and in law, so that all women and girls could at last fully enjoy their rights and freedoms as equal human beings.

Today, we must stand, together, in defence of those commitments, principles and values – and advance them. The climate emergency is an unprecedented and comprehensive threat to human rights. It is already harming the rights to health, water, food, housing, self-determination, and life itself, of women, men and children around the world.

Women, who are often responsible for subsistence, and providing for the daily needs of their families, very often bear the brunt of this harm. Girls are frequently the first to be pulled out of school – often even the last to eat. And when communities are forced into displacement by environmental damage, it is women and girls who are most frequently exposed to severe human rights violations, including trafficking. 

A wide-ranging study for the Human Rights Council in May of this year establishes clearly that that entrenched discrimination intensifies the impacts of climate change on women and girls – particularly when they are living in poverty, or are members of communities marginalised because of indigenous status, perceived caste status, or as minorities.

This harm that is already being done will, tragically, intensify as the climate crisis deepens. A recent study by researchers at the University of Cambridge estimates that 7% of global GDP is likely to be wiped out by the end of the century if current climate trends continue. A paper in Nature indicates that land that is currently home to some 150 million people will be "permanently below the high tide line" within 30 years. Where will all those families find shelter, services, food, a new life? And what will be the destiny of these girls and women?

Unless there is much more focused attention on the gender-specific impacts of the climate emergency, increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters, and slow-onset climate harms will deepen the human rights violations, inequality and discrimination that is already inflicted on billions of women and girls.

As CEDAW, the Committee for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, has pointed out, we need ambitious climate change mitigation and effective climate action that benefits and includes women and girls – and addresses the discrimination that makes them disproportionately vulnerable to climate harms.

 The heighted risk exposure of women and girls to climate and environmental harms is economically, socially and culturally constructed. It is exacerbated by their exclusion from participating in decisions, and the online and real-life suppression of their voices. To reduce women's vulnerability to the harms done by climate change and environmental degradation, it is essential that their rights to raise their voices and effectively share in decision-making be protected and upheld.

In particular, I emphasise the need for justice, and remedy, for women and girls who have suffered harm, and accountability for acts of violence, intimidation or even killings of women who defend land and environmental rights.

Many women and girls are leaders in efforts to build sustainable agriculture and advocate the elimination of polluting industries. And across the world, young women are on the front lines of the surging climate protests that demand we defend our climate and our future. But research by my Office indicates clearly that women human rights defenders, and environmental human rights defenders, are at greatest risk of violence and murder. Women activists often also suffer extreme abuse online, creating intolerable stress, and additional threats to their security.

All of us – all women, and all men – should be standing up to defend their rights to speak, to assemble peacefully, and to be included in all decisions that affect their communities.

Empowering women and girls as agents of change is also key to ensuring more effective climate action. The full and informed participation of all members of affected communities is essential to the design and implementation of all climate measures – and women, who may have specific knowledge of land, can often offer indispensable expertise. The Beijing Platform for Action envisaged a role for women as managers, designers and planners, implementers and evaluators of environmental projects – and it is long-past time for us to act on this.

In September, 53 countries committed to action on gender equality and climate change. We need action to realise that promise, which echoes the commitments to women's rights in the Paris Agreement. States need to commit to mainstreaming women's rights and gender equality across all climate action, including their revised nationally determined contributions and a strengthened Gender Action Plan to be adopted here, at COP25.

There needs to be support for finance and capacity-building for women from diverse backgrounds, to maximize their voices and skills.

Women need to be empowered, as economic and climate actors, and as workers and employers, to help shape a just transition to a low-carbon economy. And this means promoting equal rights and opportunities for women in agriculture; in the workplace, strengthening women's land rights; ensuring women's access to financing and technological tools; and improving working conditions. Climate funds need to systematically integrate women's equality, and benefit the countries and people most affected by climate change.

The world is still far from the vision of freedom and rights that was articulated in Beijing. Approximately 1 in 3 women throughout the world will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. In over 50 countries there is no legal protection for women against domestic violence. The most recent figures indicate that more than 800 women are still dying every day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth – and most of those deaths could be prevented. In many parts of the world, women and girls still cannot make decisions on their most private matters – sexuality, marriage, children.

All our societies are still affected by stereotypes that are humiliating and oppressive. And these injustices and harms could increase, as the climate emergency deepens.

I pledge today, as I trust we all do, to stand up and do my utmost to defend and advance the rights to which States committed, in Beijing.

Thank you