On this Human Rights Day, we come together to celebrate the right to participate in public life in an inclusive way. While this right is clearly recognized in the international human rights framework, the 1986 United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development puts all human beings at the centre of development and emphasizes that participation will only lead to people’s empowerment as long as it is free, active and meaningful. This implies that having a voice is important, but insufficient unless it can be expressed freely and based on relevant, accurate and accessible public information.
Worldwide, women and young people still face multiple forms of discrimination, hindering them from expressing freely their needs and demands to make their own life choices and be in full control of the processes affecting them in the private and public spheres. For that to change, marginalized and excluded women and young people need to be empowered with information, skills and capacities to advocate and live a life of dignity and well-being, particularly concerning their right to sexual and reproductive health.
Knowledge and skills can be acquired in multiple ways: at home, in the school, in community settings, or from various forms of media, including social media. In UNFPA’s work promoting sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, we see how a woman’s ability to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of her children is a fundamental part of her rights and her decision-making process. If a young girl can enjoy her family’s protection from child marriage and get a minimum of secondary education to open opportunities for her to reach her full potential; if a teenage girl is granted access to sexuality information and education to prevent an unintended pregnancy; if she can be free from any form of bullying or discrimination, then, all these women and girls will be more likely to have the skill sets and the positive attitudes to participate actively in their communities and lead their nations one day.
The right to participation is an inalienable right and inherent to people’s lives and aspirations throughout the life cycle. On this special day, let us remember that the right to participation in public life starts at home, mindful that the respect for reproductive rights and the freedom from any form of discrimination, coercion and violence are solid foundations for inclusive and prosperous societies.