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Panel discussion on the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism

racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls

Addresses by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council

Geneva, 25 September 2017
Salle XX, Palais des Nations

Mr. President, Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

Distortions of our opportunities and progress that discrimination introduces is never down to just a single dimension of our identities.  For those most affected by discriminatory practices, it is multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that create intricate webs of deprivation, of denial of rights, which hinder, undermines, oppress.  In this sordid dynamic, particular groups of women and girls are most deeply affected.

Although the aggregated data tracking progress in realization of women’s human rights shows important progress has been achieved, when those welcome outcomes are examined more closely in respect to other vital dimensions - racial or ethnic origin, nationality or migration status, disability, minority status – then deep inequalities reveal themselves.

These inequalities intertwine with multiple forms of discrimination to bind the feet and gag the mouths of millions of women and girls the world over. Women from minority groups are more likely to live in poverty.  Being poor, of minority status and female: their socio-economic status infects every sphere of their daily lives - their access to health services, their progress in education, their right to shelter, to live free from fear, their participation in their communities.

These disparate and simply unfair outcomes are the bitter fruit of intersecting and diverse forms of discrimination – and are to be found across region:.

•           In the United States of America, women of African descent are more than three times as likely to die in childbirth.

•           In Vietnam than 60 per cent of childbirths by ethnic minority women occur without any prenatal care—twice the rate as that among the majority women.

•           In the European Union, a survey of the living conditions of Roma women in 11 Member States revealed that only 23 per cent of Roma young women remain in school after the age of 16, compared to 32 per cent of Roma men and the majority of other women.

•           In Guatemala, sixty-four per cent of all indigenous women are unpaid family workers, with little or no independent access to land, credit or other productive resource.

Multiple and diverse forms of discrimination against women and girls from marginalized communities also drive debilitating stereotypes whose consequences vary from distortion of their access to employment to the higher rates at which they are subjected to violence.

•           In France, a very straightforward experiment showed that a woman with a Senegalese sounding name had only 8.4 per cent chance of being called for a job interview as compared to 22.6 per cent chance for women with a French-sounding name.

•           According to research by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, attacks against women whose appearance suggested they are Muslim have been reported in a number of European countries, while the majority of Islamophobic acts committed in 2015 targeted women (74 per cent in France and 90 per cent in the Netherlands).

Debilitating stereotypes and bias among State officials, including the police and the criminal justice system, can result in violations of minority women’s and girls’ rights to equal treatment before the law, fair trail and access to remedies.

In conflict settings, and in the context of migration, women and girls from ethnic and religious minorities or indigenous populations face additional grave attacks on their rights, seemingly just because of their identity including, for example, such as forced pregnancy, human trafficking, systematic rape, sexual abuse and sexual slavery.  So marked is this pattern of specific targeting of minorities in the context of instability and conflict, ethnic or race-based violence against women has been recognized as a weapon of war by both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and prosecuted accordingly.  That these weapons of war are still being deployed frequently and ferociously even in more recent conflicts is clear, as the experience of human rights violations to which Yazidi women in Iraq testifies and the mounting evidence of grave violations against Rohingya women in Myanmar suggests.


Bigotry, xenophobia and discrimination are just repugnant.  They further are manifestly against the highest principles that bind the international community together.  This is a matter well established in norms, jurisprudence and by decision too of countless forums in which Member States over decades have gathered to express shared intent.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is one of the most recent and most authoritative reiteration of that longstanding call to ensure equality of opportunity and end the mindlessness of discrimination.  The Agenda’s deepest and overarching promise is to leave no one behind.  The details of what this commitment means are made clear: promote gender equality (in Goal 5) and reduce inequalities within and among countries (Goal 10). And, the success of this Agenda will be measured by the extent to which we deliver for women and girls, who are members of the most marginalized, excluded and rejected communities.

Quality, sufficient and appropriate data must be collected, disaggregated by all forms of discrimination prohibited under international law and analysed so that policies and practices impacting on women and girls are from minority communities can be based on sound evidence and those in authority can also be held accountable for delivery of the Agenda.

To end discrimination in all its multiple intersecting forms, the collection of data is not sufficient, but it is essential. One way to help fill the data gap - and help ensure no one is left behind - is to build in participation by affected women and girls in community-based monitoring as a complement to traditional data collection by States. 

Indeed, to transform the caustic persistent patterns of exclusion because of mere skin pigment or hormones or dress, the voices of women and girls themselves must be further amplified and they must be provided more meaningful opportunities for participation in public life and associated decision making.

“Leaving no-one behind” is much more than a goal or an end target. It is an acknowledgment across Member States that development cannot be sustainable where its fruits are enjoyed by some and never by all; when its social and economic systems reproduce societies stratified not by effort, contribution or achievement but by where you are born, how you look and what you identify as.

The 2030 Agenda is grounded in human rights for good reason.  The human rights violations that drive vicious circles of marginalization and exclusion have no place on a planet of peace and prosperity.

We simply cannot accept as inevitable that the life of a girl-child or woman should be predetermined by the colour of her skin; nor by the place where she is born or by the happenstance of her religious belief.  Devising effective measures to eliminate discrimination against her is thus not only about upholding her rights in practice – her rights to basic human dignity – it is also a matter of removing those obstacles of hate and ignorance that stand in her way as she seeks otherwise to fully express her talent, fully develop her skills and fully exercise her leadership abilities in whatever field or forum her capability provides.

This esteemed panel will provide us most welcome opportunity to learn more about just how possible this is.  

Thank you