Statement of the Executive Director to the High-Level Segment of the Human Rights Council

23 Feb 2021

Excellencies, distinguished guests,

At UNFPA, we have long recognized that embedding human rights into our work is critical for achieving the full vision of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action and the transformative ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to turn back the clock on women’s health and rights. Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are increasingly contested. Rising violence and increasing pushback against human rights have put hard-won gains for women at risk. A deliberate, strategic and bold vision for our human rights work has never been more important. 

As I stated at the ICPD25 Summit in Nairobi in November 2019, UNFPA will not retreat. We will push forward for women and girls’ rights and choices. In Nairobi, delegates from 170 countries – representing governments, academia, civil society, corporate partners and many others – made more than 1,250 commitments in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights. They committed to eliminate discrimination against women and girls and to achieve sustainable development and prosperity by investing in social inclusion and human rights-based policies.

The pledges focused on funding and programmes to achieve zero unmet need for contraception, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, by the year 2030. All of these efforts based on a platform of solid data and evidence so that no one is left out or left behind.

ICPD25 also paved the way for Beijing+25, and I ask for your strong support for sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality in Geneva bodies in 2021 and beyond. This will send a clear message: that sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality are central to achieving sustainable development that leaves no one behind. That they are essential for the realization of human rights for all, including women and girls of diverse backgrounds and identities. We urge the international community to remember this, as it celebrates and reaffirms Beijing at the Commission on the Status of Women and the Gender Equality Forum.

Last year UNFPA issued a Guidance Note on “Elevating Rights and Choices”. It guides the organization on how to apply a human rights-based approach and aims to strengthen the normative and operational connection in all that we do, from our policies and principles down to our programmes and interventions in the field.

For UNFPA, standing up for human rights means working to ensure that

  1. we address inequality and discrimination;
  2. that we provide quality services aligned with international human rights norms and standards, and
  3. that we strengthen accountability systems to bring to light systemic and structural shortcomings that underlie human rights violations.

In our work to advance gender equality, ensure peace in the home, and end harmful practices, we are strengthening our support to women’s rights movements and young feminist leaders. They are the true agents of change and transformation. Through our leadership on the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights we work to drive attention to and support for these grassroots and global women’s movements.

In regards to strengthening accountability for sexual and reproductive health and rights and for ending gender-based violence, it is inspiring to see government efforts to connect the dots between the normative and operational, by strategically engaging in such processes as the Universal Periodic Reviews.  I was encouraged to see Iceland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Fiji, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso, Mexico and other countries using language from the Nairobi Summit Commitments to advance the development and human rights nexus through the UPR.

As UNFPA moves forward with our new Strategic Plan, 2022-2025, we will be focusing on translating the Nairobi Commitments into action, and the UPR is a unique space for doing so.

Our partnership with national human rights institutions is also critical. I welcome the leadership and vision of the Human Rights Council in adopting its Resolution 44/16 on the elimination of female genital mutilation. This resolution offers a pathway for accountability at all levels, recognizing the role of National Human Rights Institutions in monitoring female genital mutilation as a human rights violation as well as progress towards the elimination of this harmful practice.

Building accountability to women and girls across the humanitarian, development and peace nexus is another priority for UNFPA. Armed conflict, climate change and persistent poverty are creating complex crises that last longer and affect a growing number of people. Now, more than ever, we need to work together across the humanitarian, development, peacebuilding and human rights pillars.

In closing, let me reaffirm that in all the contexts where UNFPA operates, we will not retreat on the rights and choices of women and girls. We will not back down. And we will continue to work together with you to bring the normative human rights expertise and accountability machinery of Geneva to our work in the field, ensuring that we are not just talking about rights, but taking action to uphold them.

Thank you.


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