Speech by Michelle Bachelet at the 20th anniversary gala of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). New York, 24 October 2012.
[Check against delivery]
It is an honor for me to accept this award, especially from Isabel [Allende]. I am truly in great company here. So the first thing I want to say is thank you, to all of you. And congratulations to the Center for Reproductive Rights on your 20th anniversary.
We can all remember a time when women’s sexual and reproductive rights were not considered human rights. Over the past two decades, the Center for Reproductive Rights has done so much to institutionalize women’s rights and ensure real progress. You were joined by many partners, including our sister agency, UNFPA, the UN Population Fund.
Today, women in every country are standing up for their rights. There is growing recognition that respecting women’s reproductive rights leads to lower rates of maternal death and disability, to healthier children and families, and to stronger societies and economies.
I have met countless women around the world. Together we have pushed forward and witnessed the rising attention and commitment to women’s rights. I am proud to be the first leader of UN Women. Our work is built on a strong foundation. From the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women to the agreements reached in Cairo and Beijing. These agreements were hard-fought and hard-won. The struggle is not over.
We continue to encounter backlash and opposition. That’s why our work is so crucial, to draw the line and hold the line on women’s rights. It must be reinforced: women’s rights are not a bargaining chip. Women’s rights are not up for negotiation. Women’s rights are fundamental to global development, and to international peace and security.
Yet an estimated 222 million women in the developing world who want to plan and space their pregnancies still have no access to modern contraception. This leads to more than 9,000 unintended pregnancies every hour. These are women with the same concerns, facing the same decisions as many of us in this room. These are women now placed at risk of unintended pregnancy and abortion, because they have no reproductive options.
No woman should pay with her life for a lack of options. But every year, 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the number one killer of young women aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
It is unacceptable that we continue to talk about deaths we can prevent. What is really at stake here is the right to life: a woman’s right to life, and all the other human rights to which every woman is entitled.
Women must enjoy full and equal rights – to sexual and reproductive health, to education, to be equal participants and leaders in their economies and societies, and to be free from violence and discrimination.
Until all women can enjoy all rights, including reproductive rights, we will draw the line and hold the line. Reproductive rights are absolutely fundamental to gender equality and women’s empowerment.
I thank you again for this honour, and I thank you for all that you do. UN Women stands beside you.