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Annual Women Economic Forum 2019

"Reimagining Societies: Reclaiming Humanity with Gender Equality. 11th-16th April 2019, New Delhi

Video message by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this year’s Women Economic Forum. I congratulate you on your choice of theme: 'Reimagining Societies: Reclaiming Humanity with Gender Equality.' Imagination is the invisible beginning of creation. It opens our perspectives and readies us to realise our hopes.

So let us imagine a society where women fully participate in the global economy. Existing analysis suggests that such a society would benefit from a 28 trillion dollar increase in annual global GDP within ten years – a 26% increase compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

Our world is facing many global challenges. Increasing inequality and unsustainable forms of development; conflicts; extremism; the threat of climate change and environmental degradation; discrimination and threats to democracy.

Let us imagine societies where women are integral to the search for solutions to these challenges. Gender equality is not only about justice for women and girls. It is also the precondition for promoting more resilient and sustainable development, and building good governance.

Currently, over 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men, according to the World Bank. Billions more are deprived of fair access to education and training – or trapped in low-level jobs with low pay and few prospects for career growth. This is particularly true for women from certain racial or religious communities, or castes, or those with disabilities, who suffer from compounded discrimination and stereotypes.

Gender-based violence at work, including sexual violence and harassment, push women away from the workplace. Lack of respect and protection of women’s autonomy and control over their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender stereotypes, which place an undue burden of unpaid domestic care work on women and girls, are also major obstacles.

We need better laws and policies – but we also need to change the social norms and stereotypes, which hold women back from truly equal participation.

Generations of courageous women have tackled this work. They have challenged and broken glass ceilings; gender pay gaps; violence and harassment at work; and discriminatory gender stereotypes. Women like you have helped other women up the ladder.

Women business leaders can pay conscious attention to how their business are preventing, challenging and remedying gender discrimination and gender-based violence within their companies as well as in their business operations. They can lead and advocate for business models that respect human rights. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are a set of practical, concrete guidelines, which have helped hundreds of businesses align with international human rights standards.

The world needs empowered women. We need to work together to advance gender equality for everyone, in every society. And this isn’t just a fantasy. People and societies across the world are making real steps forward. Now that we have imagined equality, let’s make it  reality.