Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to the German Bundestag in the debate on International Women’s Day on 8 March

05.03.2021 - Speech

As the world fights to beat COVID-19, we are also seeing what the United Nations calls a “shadow pandemic” – women’s rights are being rolled back worldwide.

In the debate with Franziska Giffey and others, we have already heard a great deal about what this means in our own country. Stereotypical roles are re-emerging and other problems such as domestic violence are once again growing. If we think about what is happening here and imagine the impact that this has in developing countries or conflict zones where women and girls are utterly unprotected from it, then we must agree that, in those places, it is not a question of self-realisation but quite simply of life and death.

Women’s rights have an international component. That is, of course, why it is called International Women’s Day. We have further increased our support for women and girls worldwide via specific, targeted programmes. These range from safe houses for women advocating human rights in Afghanistan to negotiation training for women politicians in Khartoum to women’s networks in Africa and Latin America. Thanks to our efforts during our time on the United Nations Security Council, the UN is now prosecuting sexualised violence in conflicts more consistently than before and work is being done to strengthen the role of women in crisis prevention and peace talks, which too rarely involve them even though it is precisely these efforts that their rights in the post-conflict era depend on. Finally, last week, the Cabinet passed the Federal Government’s Action Plan to implement the UN’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda – the first such strategy with strictly binding indicators in order to measure progress.

When it comes to the international component of this issue, we must not flinch away from the truth of the matter. Internationally, in many parts of the world, it is not at all a question of advancing women’s rights; it is very simply a question of working to ensure that such rights even exist in reality.

And so it has nothing to do with – as has been implied here on occasion – promoting an “ideologically driven feel-good issue” or endeavouring to permanently change independent cultures and established structures. The latter, certainly, is part of it. Indeed, I believe it is an ongoing responsibility of every society to do away with certain structures and cultures. Were that not the case, we would all still be living in the Stone Age.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will say quite frankly that, yes, we do want to do away with certain cultural practices when that means that women and girls will no longer be used as a weapon of war, that genital mutilation will finally end, that rape will no longer be instrumentalised in conflicts.

This has nothing to do with interventionism or ideology. It is nothing more than taking universal human rights seriously.

Thank you very much.


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