Statement by the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights by Ms. Kyung-wha Kang to the Human Rights of Women and Girls: Promoting Gender Equality The Role of NHRIs (Amman, Jordan, 5 November 2012)


Your Excellency Mr. Abdullah Ensour, Prime Minister of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,
Dr. Burayzat, Chair of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions,
Distinguished representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure and honour to address you here in Amman at the opening session of the 11th International Biennial Conference of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions. I would like to express my special gratitude to His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein for supporting this event; the National Centre for Human Rights of Jordan for being a generous host, and the ICC for organizing this important meeting. I also wish to thank all our partners, including NGOs, who have contributed to all the work leading up to this conference possible.

The theme for this year’s conference, the Human Rights of Women and Girls, is one to which OHCHR attaches priority importance. Every country of the world has more work to do when it comes to eliminating discrimination and violence against women and girls. But the challenge takes on a particular relevance and urgency in the countries of the Arab world, many of which are undergoing historical transitions in the aftermath of mass uprisings calling for greater freedom and human rights. Women’s voices, through the courage of such advocates as Tawakkol Karman, for equality and dignity have been at the core of the calls. And yet, we watch with deep concern that the hard-won advances for women, before and during the uprisings are at risk of being lost and the new order taking shape bring little for women’s rights and general equality. Under the circumstances, we look to the reform-minded countries of the region, such as our host, to lead the way in turning the momentum of the Arab uprising into greater protection and promotion of the rights of women and girls in accordance with international standards.

In this regard, I welcome recent steps taken by Jordan to adopt legislation enhancing the protection of women’s rights, and to ratify international instruments concerning women’s and children’s rights. I hope that these steps will be followed by additional action to address persisting discrimination against women.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Equality between men and women and non-discrimination based on sex have been a cornerstone of the United Nations agenda since its creation. Human rights treaties, declarations, and political commitments of the United Nations have systematically reaffirmed these fundamental human rights principles. 

Yet, women continue to be discriminated against throughout the globe, in many areas, including political, economic, social and cultural domains. Although women’s political representation has increased globally speaking, women still constitute less than 20 percent of representatives serving in Parliaments across the world. Blatantly discriminatory laws are still on the books of many countries, and even where the laws appear to be gender neutral, we often see that discrimination manifests in the way that the law is implemented.

Furthermore, such discrimination is rooted in unequal gender relations, and perpetuated by widespread gender stereotypes. In all parts of the world, many women face violence in their homes and their communities. Many do not file complaints about – or even speak of their situation – fearing reprisals or stigmatization, or out of distrust in the justice system. In conflict situations, women and girls are particularly exposed to violence used as a tool of warfare – particularly sexual violence - in a climate of impunity for perpetrators.

In terms of economic, social and cultural rights, too many women around the world still die or succumb to lasting illness while giving birth, not to mention broader violations of their right to health. Many women work in more dangerous conditions than men. In all regions, women are usually paid less than men for work of equal value.

In these times of austerity, these conditions are exacerbated. In addition, the vast amount of unpaid work which women undertake in the domestic context remains woefully under-recognized. Globally, girls’ access to secondary education and some areas of university education, traditionally reserved for men, is not yet fully ensured. And in many countries, when one examines the content of educational materials and curriculums at all levels, gender stereotypes are too often reinforced.  

For decades, international human rights mechanisms that OHCHR assists and works with have contributed to the increased understanding by States and other stakeholders that violence against women is a fundamental violation of women’s human rights. I am delighted that the former Chairperson of CEDAW, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and the Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women are participating in the conference. I am sure they will add much insight to your deliberations.

OHCHR also works with States to meet their human rights obligations to prevent violence against women, investigate and punish the perpetrators, and ensure remedies to victims. For example, in Central America, we have worked on the issue of femicide. Femicide is the killing of a woman just because she is a woman, and encompasses all forms of gender-motivated killing. In El Salvador, OHCHR supported the drafting of a law on violence against women, including femicide, and assisted in the elaboration of a Protocol for the investigation of femicide based on this new legal framework, which is now used by the justice sector. Based on this experience, we are now supporting the development of a regional protocol on the same issue for the whole Latin America.
The Office has also studied the ways in which discrimination against women leads to denial of their economic, social and cultural rights. For instance, OHCHR has developed a body of knowledge on women’s right to health –focused on maternal mortality and morbidity. Building on the work of human rights mechanisms and civil society activism, we have pointed out that the unacceptably high rates of maternal mortality is entirely avoidable, and is perpetuated by discrimination against women. Underlying structural factors which give women a lesser status in society, policies and laws that hamper women’s access to comprehensive health care, combined with government actions that underlook and under-fund sexual and reproductive health programmes, all contribute to this situation. In 2010, more than a quarter of a million women died of complications related to their pregnancy, and another 10 to 15 million suffered debilitating injuries.

In this regard, the side event on reproductive rights at this Conference will be a crucial opportunity for national human rights institutions to share experience on their work in this important area, and to learn more about tools that the United Nations has been developing in this area.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The importance of the role of NHRIs in promoting gender equality cannot be understated. As independent institutions, NHRIs can and should lobby States to implement existing human rights standards and monitor their compliance with their international obligations pertaining to women’s human rights. This includes obligations not only to respond to manifestations of discrimination and violence against women, but also to comprehensively tackle the root causes.

I hope that NHRIs with extensive practice in the field of gender equality and the rights of women and girls will share their best practices over the course of this conference.
Also crucial is ensuring strong connection between national human rights institutions and international human rights mechanisms. Such bridges and synergies exist, but they should be further developed. OHCHR is committed to continue working with national human rights institutions to enhance their capacity for the protection of all human rights, including women’s rights and also to strengthen their collaboration with the UN human rights mechanisms

Ladies and gentlemen,

In closing, I hope that the declaration that will be adopted at the closure of this conference will provide a clear strategy for NHRIs to pursue their role in promoting and protecting gender equality and the realization of all human rights. This strategy, as well as the challenges and best practices that will be shared among participants, should guide us as we endeavor to usher in a world of gender equality and all human rights for all.

Thank you very much. Shukran.