Advance Women’s Rights, Change the World


Keynote message of Michelle Bachelet Executive Director of UN Women at the Ford Foundation event; The XX Factor: Advance Women's Rights. Change the World. New York, 17 November 2011.

[Check against delivery]

Thank you Joan, I am so pleased to be here. I would like to thank Amnesty International, The Embrey Family Foundation and The Ford Foundation for organizing this event.

It's wonderful to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International with you and with the focus right where it should be — on the rights of women. For the past half century, Amnesty's research, action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and demands for justice have been a source of inspiration and hope for women and men and boys and girls around the world. As their motto says, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

And perhaps no one exemplifies this wisdom more than the leader who oversaw the fastidious drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She overcame obstacles and cultural differences with determination, intelligence and grace, and fostered consensus through diplomacy. We might not have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights today as the international bill of rights, if it were not for Eleanor Roosevelt. A woman.

Her legacy remains a shining light for freedom and justice around the world. She shows how a woman can change the world. Her stamina, integrity and curiosity, her courage, generosity, humility and perseverance make her a role model for generations of women, and men, to come.

Today our planet that we all share is home to 7 billion people. Our shared planet is host to the largest generation of girls and women ever born. There are now more than 850 million girls and young women aged 10 to 24.

But despite enormous progress including tremendous scientific advances — the reality for women remains one characterized by inequality.

For far too many women and girls, the reality is physical violence or sexual trafficking, lack of education or employment, under-representation at executive levels, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention and care, basic human rights violations and political under-representation. Women continue to suffer all sorts of discrimination and disparities persist.

So it is incumbent on all of us to ask what kind of world will our children inherit? What kind of world will their children be born into? How will they lead the next generation? I submit that the matters discussed today — advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, ending violence against women and engaging women in the promotion of peace and security are fundamental to our future and to our collective well-being.

Too often still, in many parts of the world, women cannot make their own decisions about their body or their life and their voice is silent or silenced. And this marginalization and exclusion harms all of us and slows the progress towards peace and justice to which we are committed.

Statistics show us how far we are from gender equality:

  • Of the estimated 1.3 billion poor in the world more than sixty per cent are women.
  • Of the estimated 780 million illiterates in the world about sixty-five per cent are women.
  • Up to 6 out of every 10 women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Women work two-thirds of the world's working hours and produce half of the world's food, yet earn only 10 percent of the world's income and own less than one per cent of the world's property.
  • Only 1 in 4 senior officials or managers is a woman.
  • Less than 10 percent of elected head of states or government are women. On average, women hold 16 percent of ministerial posts and 19 percent of seats in parliament.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, women represent not only half of the world population but also a tremendous untapped potential from which their community, society and entire nation can and must benefit.

So far 2011 has indeed been a challenging but also a groundbreaking year for women. We all have seen the protests in North Africa and the Middle East and the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to three women who stand up for peace and democracy.

And while that is progress and the past century has brought deep transformation of women's legal rights, most of the laws continue to exist only on paper. They still do not translate to equality and justice for so many, too many, women.

It was against this background that UN Women was created. Some of you would say FINALLY created! And I am proud to be the founding Executive Director.

UN Women was created to deliver on the promise of the equal rights of men and women as inscribed in the United Nations Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

This Convention guides our work at UN Women, and all of our work has to play a role in supporting countries to implement their obligations under this Convention. Revising legal frameworks to bring them into conformity with the Convention's requirements, increasing the capacity of government and civil society actors to implement the Convention, and raising awareness about women's human rights under CEDAW in government, the judiciary, civil society, and in communities are necessary to make further progress.

We need to have strong partners worldwide. This is the only way to advance women's economic empowerment, political participation and leadership, to end violence against women and girls, to make gender equality a priority in national plans and budgets, and to make sure that women enjoy full participation in peacemaking, peacebuilding, recovery and reconstruction.

Indeed, a peaceful, just world founded on dignity and respect for each human being cannot be achieved if fifty per cent of the population is excluded. The 21st century more than ever has to strive for participation and inclusion of all.

What drives us forward? It is knowing that equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and it also so much more. Gender equality is a condition for social justice and economic progress. It is a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for democracy, peace and development for all.

Having said that, we also know that achieving this equality will require a stamina akin to the one shown to us by Eleanor Roosevelt and human rights defenders around the globe like you. Sustained and long-term commitment will be essential, so that women and men can work together for themselves, for their children and for society to meet the challenges of our century and beyond.

Just as all of you advance women's rights, we all — boys and girls, women and men — must work together so that women have equal access to all educational, economic, social, cultural and political opportunities. We at UN Women salute you for your commitment to women's rights.

Including the women of the world on equal footing is the only way to face the deep and complex challenges our planet is facing and will increasingly face in the 21st Century. Let me close with words pronounced long ago by Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.

Let us go forward with strength, courage and confidence. Let us look fear in the face as we stand up for human rights and dignity for all.

Thank you.