CSW: Women Human Rights Defenders

Statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Laila Bokhari at side-event on Women Human Rights Defenders Who Work for Economic Empowerment of Women and Girls, 15 March 2017.

| Commission on the Status of Women

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to address this CSW event on Women Human Rights Defenders, which is co-sponsored by Norway and [her bør navnet på alle bekreftede partnere inn]. I am humbled to be here among such prominent human rights defenders who are fighting for gender equality and promoting the role of women in society. I look forward to listening to your experiences and to advancing together our collective knowledge on this very important and challenging issue.

In 2013, the General Assembly formally recognised the rights of women human rights defenders, and the crucial role they play in our societies. GA resolution 68/181 provides a comprehensive road map for our work to protect them. The task before us is to translate this resolution into action. The topic of today’s event ‘Women who work for Economic Empowerment of Women and Girls’ was deliberately chosen with this in mind.   

Women human rights defenders play an important role in promoting health services, education for girls, and equal rights. There is a clear connection between education for girls and the opportunities for women to seek employment or run their own businesses, and thus to earn money and achieve independence.

One cannot overestimate the impact of economic empowerment. The active participation of women in society is vital for eradicating poverty and reducing inequality. It is crucial for building sustainable communities and cities, for achieving full employment, and ensuring decent work conditions. And it is essential if we are to achieve gender equality. Economic empowerment of women and girls is a key to achieving nearly half the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

This is why the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, chose SDG 4 and education for girls as the main focus for her work as Sustainable Development Goal Advocate. This work has involved building partnerships and alliances to strengthen the right of girls to attend school no matter where they live.

Women human rights defenders are at the heart of this effort. As we will hear, courageous women human rights defenders all over the world are striving to make our societies better. In return, they often face severe risk and persecution. They are harassed, imprisoned, and even killed. This is totally unacceptable.

This is taking place in a world where all states have committed themselves to upholding fundamental freedoms and human rights for all. This does not just mean respecting the rights of their people, but also protecting those who are promoting these rights, and ensuring that they can carry out this work safely.

Regrettably, many states fail to take this obligation seriously. Last year - according to Frontline Defenders - 281 human rights defenders were killed (2016), a sharp increase from the year before. Many of these were women fighting for economic justice and against land grabbing, exploitation and poor working conditions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we speak, the Human Rights Council is considering once again the renewal of the mandate for the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Protecting women human rights defenders is a key part of the Special Rapporteur’s task. I encourage you all to promote and support the renewal of this important mandate.

More broadly, moving forward, my main message is this: The Sustainable Development Goals and the Beijing Agenda cannot be achieved unless women are allowed to assume their rightful place in society. Norway intends to remain at the forefront of these efforts, and will continue to highlight the important role women human rights defenders play in our societies. 

I know the road ahead is challenging, and the work to achieve our objective is hard. But as UN Member States continue their efforts to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, they need to recognise the vital role women human rights defenders play in advancing the economic empowerment of women and girls.

I look forward to our debate today on this important issue. Thank you.