Speech by Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock at the opening event of UNIDAS Week 2022
Esteemed Unidas members,
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very good morning to Latin America and the Caribbean;
I’m most delighted that you’re joining us today, Antonia Urrejola, as there’s most positive news from your country – something that’s certainly in short supply these days.
The first “feminist government” took office in Chile on 11 March. It is made up of 14 women and ten men. That is a sensation, as only very few cabinets around the world have such a high share of women. I would like to congratulate you, Antonia, on being a part of this government and thus also a role model for many women, and hopefully also men, worldwide. Congratulations!
A cabinet list such as this shouldn’t actually be anything unusual. However, in the reality in which many women and girls live around the world, this is a signal of support for equality and justice that is all too rare. Not only governments and boardrooms, but also parliaments around the world should follow this example of equality that allows women to be fully represented, or even for there to be more women than men for a change.
And I really do mean worldwide, for this is not a question of north-south or west-east. Rather we are witnessing this problem in all countries of this world, also in our country, also in our parliament: in the German Bundestag, only 34 percent of the members are women. This means that we’re lagging behind many countries of Africa and Latin America.
Even in 2022, the sad fact of the matter remains that no country in the world has achieved genuine gender equality to date. We want to change that so that things will be different in the future, so that everyone enjoys equal opportunities.
It would be great if we only had to talk about leadership positions here. But this is about something existential. This world is not a safe place for women and girls. No part of it is. Many of you will be familiar with the name Chiara Páez. Chiara was 14 years old when she was in eighth grade in a small town in Santa Fé in Argentina. She liked to play hockey and enjoyed sports, like many 14-year-olds around the world. She had a lot of friends and liked going to school. She had a 16-year-old boyfriend. And she was three months pregnant.
Her body was found in the garden of her boyfriend’s parents’ house. He later confessed to having beaten her to death. He did this because she refused to abort their child. Abortions were illegal in Argentina at the time. And Chiara’s terrible fate was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Women being killed because of their gender is something that happens so often, not only in Argentina, but around the world, that we need a separate word for this.
Femicides make Latin America and the Caribbean the world’s most dangerous regions for women and girls. Of 25 countries with the highest femicide rates worldwide, 14 are in Latin America and the Caribbean.
But I want to clearly state that femicide is a shocking reality in all countries. The number of violent attacks against women is appallingly high also in Germany. One in three women in Germany will be a victim of violence in their lifetimes. One woman suffers violence in a relationship every five minutes on average. And one woman dies as a result of such violence from her partner, ex-partner or husband every three days. Such murders of women continue to be downplayed as family disputes by sections of the global public or in courtrooms.
But the truth of the matter is that physical violence is the crudest form in which inequality and hatred of women manifest themselves. Yet there is so much more to this than that. In many countries, women are forbidden from making choices about their bodies and their health. Again, this isn’t a question of north, south, east or west.
Also in my country – until four weeks ago, when our new government amended the Criminal Code – gynaecologists were not allowed to state on their websites that they perform abortions.
In Guatemala, on International Women’s Day of all days, the country’s Congress endorsed a bill banning same-sex marriage and increasing sentences of imprisonment for abortions from three to ten years. The Congress has at least since suspended the legislative process.
In the United Nations, we are, on a regular basis, witnessing a veritable clash of cultures over the issue of whether a commitment to sexual and reproductive rights and health can or indeed should appear in declarations. This was, unfortunately, something that could not at all be taken as read at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York either.
That’s why, as my country’s Foreign Minister and also as a 41-year-old woman and the mother of two daughters, I would like to say something quite undiplomatic for a change: no male politician, no male judge or public prosecutor knows what an unwanted pregnancy, let alone rape means for a woman. It’s our body, it’s our choice. It is our mission to ensure that precisely this becomes a matter of course for our daughters, namely the universal right to be in charge of their own bodies.
If we finally achieve this, it will also be reflected in other areas in which women are still disadvantaged:
women are poorer and have less access to education. In Germany, women earn 18 percent less than men. And, according to UNICEF, two thirds of all illiterate adults worldwide are women, because girls are less likely to go to school than boys in many countries and regions of the world.
Women also have less say when it comes to political decisions. Around the world, only around a quarter of the members of national parliaments are women. What is more, according to UN Women, only 24 countries worldwide had female heads of state or government last year.
And the people most affected by these problems are all those who face discrimination on multiple levels – transgender women, indigenous women, black women, women with disabilities.
On International Women’s Day, the whole world talks about this and we hear many commitments to equality. But we mustn’t stop at making such commitments – or even at restricting them to International Women’s Day – rather, they must be our mission on all the other days of the year. We must tackle shortcomings together and actually do something about them.
We’ve taken on this task as the new German Government. This is why I’m pressing ahead with a feminist foreign policy here at the Federal Foreign Office. I often hear things like “what does that mean – that men no longer have a say at all?” Of course not. This isn’t about exclusion, but the opposite: this is about inclusion. It’s about including all people in a society.
The point of feminist foreign policy of the kind that we are talking about here today is not to hear fewer voices, but more – namely all the voices of society. After all – if you look at this quite dispassionately and economically – it cannot be healthy for any country in the world, any economy, any society, if half of the population are unable to participate or be represented. How are we going to solve the biggest challenge of our age, climate change, if we aren’t really listening to half the world’s population? The fight for equality is therefore in the best interests of each and every society. We must wage it together, in Germany and in Latin America and the Caribbean – with all people, regardless of their gender.
The women’s network Unidas is our joint response to this. We’re giving the fight for equality a platform with this women’s network. We’re funding projects, networking female activists and learning from one another. We’re sharing experiences. We only have to look around this room – and many participants are joining us online – to see the potential that Unidas has to offer. I would like to mention just a few examples:
Two women here today are helping to negotiate between the Maduro regime and the opposition in Venezuela. They will be joined by a Brazilian expert who is campaigning for the security of women environmentalists in the Amazon region. And the Chilean head of a think tank that won a major victory last week in the ongoing Constitutional Convention is also in our midst. The right to sexual self-determination and bodily autonomy will be included in the draft Chilean constitution that the country is set to vote on this year.
It is precisely because everything that we need falls into place in this network that I have decided to assume the patronage of Unidas today. Because I believe that we can make a difference together. And because I believe that we must make a difference together. We owe this to women and girls such as Chiara Páez. The journalist Marcela Ojeda, who is joining us digitally today from Argentina, reported on Chiara’s death at the time. She tweeted three words that triggered an earthquake: “nos están matando” – they’re killing us.
Thousands of women subsequently took to the streets in protest. And under the hashtag #NiUnaMenos – not one less – a local movement spilled over into Chile, Uruguay, Peru and Mexico. This shows the strength that civil society can have in an interconnected world. When people across borders, when women across borders fight together for their rights and take to the streets together for their rights. This also shows what a feminist, modern foreign policy means, namely listening to this civil society, seeing it and giving it a common platform.
Chiara’s female classmates now live in a country in which femicide is openly denounced. And even though there, as in many other places in this world, the struggle unfortunately has to be continued – women there are, at any rate, no longer treated as criminals before the law if they decide to have an abortion.
I will therefore shortly be presenting the first Unidas Prize for Women’s Rights and Democracy to some of the members of Ni Una Menos who represent the movement here today. They have shown that if we stand together, we can achieve much more than if we fight by ourselves. That is the spirit that our network stands for: united – Unidas!
Thank you very much for today, thank you very much for your struggle, thank you very much for your hashtag – and for writing history in the process.