Statement: Women’s and girls’ human rights—universal and indivisible

by Asmaa Elwahy

Statement: Women’s and girls’ human rights—universal and indivisible

Statement by UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous for Human Rights Day, 10 December 2022

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out fundamental human rights and freedoms to which everyone, everywhere is entitled, establishing the gold standard for dignity, freedom and justice for all people.

Statement: Women’s and girls’ human rights—universal and indivisible

Today we celebrate the vitally inclusive spirit of that Declaration, while also acknowledging the many ways in which the world falls short of achieving its universality. In too many spaces, human rights and especially women’s and girls’ human rights are harshly denied or restricted. These losses of human potential diminish us all and directly impede recovery, resilience and sustainable development.

At the same time, we are inspired and uplifted by all the human rights defenders, of all ages and nationalities across the world, who have kept the agenda moving. We need them now more than ever and we must join our voices to theirs in calling for universal freedoms.

Everywhere we look, our ability to live up to the promise of the Universal Declaration is being tested, whether in achieving climate justice, or in protecting the human rights of women, in all their diversity, to exercise their rights to lead, to make decisions about their own bodies, and to pursue an education and financial independence.

The signals of pushback and reversal in women’s human rights are all around. At the current rate of progress, it may take another 286 years to remove discriminatory laws and close prevailing gaps in legal protections for women and girls. Women’s political and economic representation has stalled. In 2022 women held only 26.4 per cent of parliamentary seats globally and violence against women standing for public office is rising – as are all forms of gender-based violence. Women’s labour-force participation has still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Gains in educational attainment are faltering or in reverse. Reproductive autonomy is increasingly breached. Poverty and hunger, close allies in the commodification of women’s and girls’ bodies and lives, are on the rise with related increases in child marriages and trafficking and threats to women human rights defenders in migration contexts.

Against these trends and against the fragmentation of society, and in partnership with OHCHR and other key allies across the UN system and the public and private sectors, we must take specific, direct action to put women’s human rights and agency at the centre of solutions. We must reassert the UDHR’s fundamental principle of dignity and equality in rights for all as our blueprint to best sustain our world as we look towards its 75th anniversary next year. And we must ensure dedicated support and financing towards this, such as the new, specific funding window for Women Human Rights Defenders launched by the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.

By committing to the 2030 Agenda, we undertook a vision for sustainable development grounded in human rights and to leave no one behind. In Our Common Agenda, the UN Secretary-General has called for a renewed social contract, anchored in human rights to better respond to humanity’s most pressing challenges. There is no better time to confront human rights abuses wherever they arise, and to reassert the universality and indivisibility of women’s human rights and the human rights of all people.

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