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11 March 2014 - Statement by Mrs Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister for Women’s rights and Government’s Spokesperson, at the general debate of the 58th session of the Commission on the status of Women

(Unofficial translation)

"We must say it loudly and clearly in this forum: Sexual and reproductive rights must be protected everywhere" - Mrs Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister for Women’s rights and Government’s Spokesperson, speaks at the general debate of the 58th session of the Commission on the status of Women
New York - 11 March 2014 - Credit : Franceonu photo


Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

I would like to congratulate you and thank Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka– and through her, UN Women – for her daily action in support of women’s rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, the theme of our session is the empowerment of women and these are not just fine-sounding words. The empowerment of women encompasses, in very practical terms, development, health and rights.

Undeniable progress has been made with respect to all these issues since the middle of the 20th century. In many countries, the dreams, seemingly the wildest dreams, of the feminists of the previous century have become reality. Gender equality is now recognized under international law and enshrined in many constitutions. Women have the same rights as men: political rights, civil rights, the right to receive instruction, access to work, to all jobs, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, to have children, or not have children.

We must remember that each of these freedoms is an achievement, the result of long struggles. But we also know that the disparities between women have never been greater than they are today. In all countries of the world, there are women who have the rights that I just mentioned, but, at the same time, in the same countries, most often in the countryside, there are hundreds of millions of women still living in a patriarchal society, who are considered inferior, who spend their entire lives under the domination of a man and a clan, who are only good for producing boys. They often suffer violence in their families, and outside their families. And this patriarchal society which is now feeling threatened, is becoming even more oppressive. It seeks in particular to take freedom away from women, especially their sexual freedom.

And for good reason. Sexual freedom and reproductive rights lead to the empowerment of women. These are the key conditions for ensuring equal opportunity between women and men. That is why I wanted to stress this point in my comments today. We must say it loudly and clearly in this forum: Sexual and reproductive rights must be protected everywhere.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Saying this here is not interfering with issues that may be cultural or religious-based and that are therefore specific to each state. No. The right to self-determination is a basic human right. I want to reaffirm that when human rights are involved we have a duty to ensure universality and an absolute obligation to protect.

What does guaranteeing sexual and reproductive rights mean exactly?

It means establishing the conditions that allow women and men to make free, informed and responsible choices about their lives. It means ensuring access to appropriate quality services that will finally mean that girls will not die in childbirth, that will finally allow women to live without fear, to choose the number of children they want, to have access to education, to knowledge, to work, to responsibilities, and therefore to contribute to development and social progress in their countries.

All this is the responsibility of the states and in the interest of our societies.

However, refusing to recognize these rights, means accepting as inevitable the 50,000 women who die every year as a result of unsafe abortions and the millions of others who are mutilated forever because they have no other choice than to carry out this act under appalling conditions.

Refusing to recognize sexual and reproductive rights means denying responsibility for the 240 maternal deaths per 100,000 births that remains the harsh reality today in developing countries.

Refusing to recognize these sexual and reproductive rights in our Commission on the Status of Women and, in the future, in the Sustainable Development Goals means accepting the persistence of the oldest practice in the world, namely the control of women.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is high time for the international community to guarantee universal access to family planning, safe abortions and sexuality education. We must dedicate the necessary resources to achieve this and France is ready to contribute to this issue. We will ensure that this topic is integral to the preparation of the development agenda.

Thank you.

Learn more on women’s rights.



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