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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Türk urges solidarity in face of gender equality backlash

23 June 2023


Side event - Countering anti-rights movement: from mapping to action

53rd session of the Human Rights Council

Video message by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


Today’s discussion is crucial for women and girls - in all their diversity - and it is crucial for humanity.

Global advances on women’s human rights and gender equality – driven by powerful feminist movements and leaders - have been wide and significant, and we must celebrate them.

The adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995 was groundbreaking.

There, 189 countries recognized that “women’s rights are human rights” and they pledged to achieve gender equality, in practice and in law, so that all women and girls could fully enjoy their inalienable rights and freedoms as equal human beings.

The progress that ensued has been truly remarkable.

Dear colleagues,

No achievement can be taken for granted. History has shown us when there is progress, there is backlash.

The gender equality backlash is not a new phenomenon. We have fought for years for women’s rights in the face of fierce and violent opposition.

Today, we are witnessing an alarming trend: a surge in well-resourced and well-organised campaigns against the achievements that have been so painstakingly made over decades.

In 2023, we must not step backwards.

The goals of these campaigns are clear, calculated, and dangerous: to control women’s sexuality and bodily autonomy.

And their voices are getting louder.

Their actions are cloaked in narratives that reward toxic masculinity and normalise misogyny, and are thinly veiled in an emphasis on traditional “values.”

I ask them where is the “value” in oppressing women and girls, stifling the voices and aspirations of half the global population?


In some countries, we have seen major setbacks on legal protection for sexual and reproductive health and rights, including on access to safe abortion.

Hate speech and violence against lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women are on the rise.

The teaching of comprehensive sexuality education has been restricted in some countries.

And there are calls for withdrawal of countries from the Istanbul Convention, a landmark treaty to put a stop to violence against women.


You are here today to talk about action.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which promises freedom and equality for all– offers us a solid way forward.

Gender equality lies at the core of all human rights, human dignity, and our shared future.

Because without it, there is no justice. No development. No peace.

So our action must be determined, and it must be collective. Across generations, and across countries.

Solidarity must be our guiding principle to dismantle the patriarchy and all the structures that perpetuate gender inequality.

By forging strategic alliances and partnerships among States, national institutions and civil society and solidarity among equality movements.

We must engage men and boys as allies, advocates and agents of change and demand their accountability for gender equality.

We must mobilize resources to support all those on the frontlines who work on women’s rights and gender equality, and ensure their protection. And as civic space around the world continues to shrink, the United Nations must ensure women human rights defenders are heard in its fora.

I deeply honour and pay tribute to all the women and girls who continue to fight for equality, and to all of the generations before them who paved the way.

Their fight is our fight.

I wish you productive discussions. Thank you.