Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at a women’s network in Salvador da Bahia

29.04.2019 - Speech

Joy, but also disillusionment. These two very different emotions were felt by many when, last week in New York, we spoke out in the UN Security Council in favour of a resolution on the fight against sexual violence in conflicts.

In the end, joy won the day as, following a discussion featuring 78 speakers, the UN Council adopted the resolution we had tabled with 13 out of 15 votes in favour.

But there was also disillusionment over the fact that we had to hold such a debate in the first place and that the road to getting there had become so difficult. For weeks, we engaged in tough negotiations on things we thought were actually a matter of course.

About bringing perpetrators to justice more resolutely. Or about the call to, at long last, give survivors of sexual violence the help and support they have long deserved.

And yet the resistance we encountered was stiff. By the way, this resistance didn’t only come from countries that you would expect this from. Rather it came from unexpected quarters – from a country that has so far been an ally in the fight against sexual violence and for women’s rights.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t very surprising. We are currently experiencing dangerous setbacks. Populists and nationalists are on the advance around the world. Achievements fought for over the course of decades are not only the subject of discussion today, but are, in some cases, even being called into question.

This is true of the multilateral, rules-based order in general. But this is also true in particular of achievements such as women’s rights and equality.

We will have to fight to keep progress alive. In Germany, Latin America and worldwide. And we need allies for this fight.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is therefore no coincidence that my trip to three Latin American countries is first taking me to Salvador.

To a city with an eventful history, which, by the way, has given it many nicknames:

• “Black Rome” in reference to the many churches and the rich Afro-Brazilian culture that have shaped the city and state in a fascinating way.
• Or “the City of Joy”, as Salvador is called on account of its many festivities.
• Or indeed “the City of Women” in reference to a book by the US ethnologist Ruth Landes.
She chose this title because women have played a prominent role not only in the city’s spiritual life.

The city of women! What a fitting place to launch an initiative to strengthen women’s rights.

This network is to be called “UNIDAS”, or “united” in English, because this is about networking and cohesion. And when I take a look around me here, then I have the impression that this name is a good choice.

I’m delighted that so many committed women are here today. From Brazil, but also pioneers for women’s rights in Germany who are accompanying me on this journey.

All of us here are united by a common goal, namely equal opportunities for women and men.

The UN Secretary-General pointed out only recently how far we are from achieving this goal.

If we continue to make progress at the current rate, then it will take another 200 years for full gender equality to be achieved worldwide.

Two hundred years – a truly shocking amount of time in this context.

But there is no alternative to the fight for equality and gender equity.

Participation, equal opportunities and equal rights are at the heart of democratic societies. There can be no justice without equality. And without justice, we will weaken our democracy – around the globe.

It should be a matter of course for women to be equal partners worldwide. But the reality we face in most parts of the world paints a different picture.

That is why focusing on women’s rights is an important part of our German foreign policy.

• Be it through our work in the Security Council to combat sexual violence and to promote the participation of women in peace processes – which is the case today to far too limited an extent.
• Or through dialogue with women on the many trips that take place and that I have been on – to Iraq, Sierra Leone and New York. And I keep learning new things wherever I go.
• And also through the establishment of a network such as UNIDAS.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This network represents an opportunity. An opportunity to close ranks in the fight for greater equality.

There are numerous challenges in which Germany and Latin America can learn from one another. Let’s take political participation, for example. In our parliament, the German Bundestag, there are fewer women today than there were 20 years ago. This is a genuinely disgraceful state of affairs.

In Brazil, too, the share of female members of parliament is still very low.

Many other nations, including Latin American countries, have now introduced legal regulations to improve the representation of women in parliaments.

This is an experience that we find interesting – after all, we are just beginning to discuss this in Germany.

I’m therefore eagerly awaiting the discussion that is set to take place here today. I’m also looking forward to hearing about where you see opportunities and prospects for women in business, politics, academia, culture and the media. After all, it is ultimately your ideas that give rise to such a network, a network of ideas, but also of common goals.

And if today, in this city, not only the foundation stone is laid for, and impetus injected into this effort, then this is a good day. A good day for women’s rights, but also, by extension, a good day for our democracy.

Allow me to welcome you here today. Thank you very much for coming here this morning.


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