UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Ensuring equity and promoting rights – including those of young people

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Date: 11 July 2012

Remarks by Michelle Bachelet Executive Director of UN Women at Panel discussion on Panel on Ensuring Equity and Promoting Rights including those of young people, London, 11 July 2012.

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Good morning to all.

It is my pleasure to convene this important panel on Ensuring Equity and Promoting Rights - including those of Young People.

I thank the Gates Foundation and DFID for taking this initiative. The issue we are here for, is so important not only to women around the world but also to the sustainable future for us and future generations.

This is a panel on rights. Let me start by making one thing clear in case we would still harbor doubts: the reproductive rights of women, including adolescent and young women, their right to control their sexual and reproductive lives, they are not up for debate. Those rights are enshrined in a number of internationally agreed instruments, including CEDAW and the Cairo Program of Action, and are part of international human rights law.

This might sound obvious to most of you. I feel compelled to state it here as we have seen attempts by some lately, including just a few weeks ago in Rio, to act as if these rights did not exist or were to be renegotiated. Luckily, reason prevailed in Rio and in the Outcome Document Member States clearly recommitted themselves to the Cairo Program for Action and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Yet, this is a worrying trend and a trend that we at UN Women will be monitoring in close partnership with our good friends at UNFPA.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The right to voluntarily choose whether or not to marry, whether or not to establish a family, the right to decide on the number, timing and spacing of children, the right to have access to the information and means needed to exercise voluntary choices, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health, are all universal human rights.

When women and girls are able to exercise this human right, there are tremendous benefits not only for women themselves, but also their families, communities and nations. Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are essential to allow women to enjoy most of their other rights and to empower them to fully participate in the economic and political life of their communities. Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are in this respect truly essential to development and to the kind of sustainable development we just agreed on in Rio.

Yet, as you have heard earlier today, there are currently at least 200 million women in the world who want to use safe and effective family planning methods, but are unable to do so. They lack access to information and services or the support of their husbands and communities.

This is unacceptable. A woman's access to family planning should not depend on whether she is rich or poor. On whether the man at her side is her husband or her boyfriend. On whether she lives in the city of in a rural area.

All women should have access to voluntary family planning, which includes counseling and informed choice and consent, that offers a choice of methods, that is free from coercion and discrimination, and that provides a positive experience for the user.

And when I say all women, I particularly mean girls and young women. Complications arising from unsafe abortion, pregnancy and childbirth remain indeed a leading cause of death among young women aged 15 to 19. And I don't need to explain to any of you that delaying first pregnancy means that girls can gain the education, knowledge, skills and assets they need to live healthy lives, have decent and secure livelihoods and support the children they will have when they choose to.

As we listen to our panelists, I invite you to reflect on how the experiences that they describe can serve as models to reach out to the 200 million women and girls that have been left behind in family planning outreach efforts to date, especially unmarried women, young women, women in marginalized communities and women living in hard-to-reach areas.

I thank you.