Opening statement by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on women’s rights and the rule of law in Mexico City

01.05.2019 - Speech

Angel of the hearth and home“ and ”nun in the convent“ were among the typical role models for women in the Spanish colonial empire. In Germany, things were not much different at that time.

Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, who lived here in the 17th century and whose name this university bears, opted for the convent. As amazing as it seems to us today, life in a convent promised her greater intellectual freedom than the being a wife in the Baroque age.

And Juana took advantage of all the freedoms she had. Behind the monastery walls, she penned sentences such as: ”There is nothing freer on Earth than our human mind.“

In her writing, she railed against structures that systematically excluded women from education and academia. Today, we would probably say that Juana was a feminist – 200 years before this term was even coined.

And so I couldn’t imagine a more fitting place than Sister Juana’s former monastery to talk to you today about an important issue that concerns us in Germany and which we also know to be a major issue in Mexico, namely equality. It’s difficult to imagine an event location that offers more in terms of inspiration and motivation than this.

We can also derive inspiration from taking a glance at the guests with us here today. This is a reflection of how important women are in Mexican politics, in journalism and also in academia.

Women make up half of the members of the Mexican Parliament. Many Latin American countries have put in place legal regulations to ensure that women are more strongly represented in parliament. That’s something that you can be proud of.

I say this particularly with a view to Germany, where there are fewer female Members in the Bundestag than was the case 20 years ago. This is simply a disgraceful state of affairs.

But, above all, this shows two things:

Firstly, when we talk about equality, then it seems that we can learn a lot from each other. A dialogue among equals is what all of us here today want to see.

Such a dialogue is also an objective of this journey here and an objective of our Latin America Initiative, which we are launching on this trip and which we intend to get under way in Berlin next month together with many of my counterparts from throughout the region.

The example of the German Bundestag stands for something else, however, namely that we are witnessing, if you take a look at the world, dangerous setbacks. This not only applies to equality, but also to the protection of human rights as a whole and to compliance with international law.

Populism and nationalism are eating away at our democracies like rust. Their protagonists want nothing more than to turn the clock back again.

I experienced myself just how real the danger posed by such push-backs is a few days ago in New York, when we passed a resolution on combating sexual violence in conflicts in the Security Council under the German Presidency.

What we considered to be a success also had a bitter after-taste. It was genuinely sobering to see how, during weeks of negotiations, things were called into question that, as common sense would suggest, should actually be a matter of course. Bringing perpetrators to justice more resolutely, for instance. Or the call to, at long last, give survivors of sexual violence the help and support they deserve.

What is new, however, is that resistance came not only from those who have always rejected any discussion of human rights as meddling in their internal affairs, but also, quite surprising, from long-standing partners.

This made one thing clear to me above all else, which is that progress in human rights and equality is nothing that can be taken for granted.

Michelle Bachelet, one of our allies as High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently put this in a nutshell: ”We need to push back the push-back.“ I think that hits the nail right on the head.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We will need new partners for this. This is true of both Europe and Latin America. That is why we said a few months ago that we must come together in an alliance for multilateralism in which we also need partners from Latin America at our side.
•After all, we share the same values and, in many cases, also similar interests.
•We are closely connected in cultural terms.
•We believe in international cooperation because our countries benefit from exchange and openness – based on the principle that, together, we are simply stronger than each of us can be on our own.

This makes us natural partners.

And when I say ”partners“, and it’s important to stress this, then I expressly mean not only government representatives. We will not be able to stop this push-back without working closely together with civil society. And we won’t make any progress if we don’t do this. Moreover, without the equal participation of women, we will weaken our capacity to exert influence.

More than that, we will weaken our democracy. If 50 percent of a society earns less for the same employment, if this 50 percent are victims of domestic violence much more frequently, if they still have significantly worse career opportunities – then this is not only an intolerable injustice.

It also affects the very essence of what makes us so strong as democracies, namely equality in freedom.

And for me as Foreign Minister, this means ensuring that we perceive women worldwide as equal actors. This is, or indeed it should be, par for the course in the year 2019. But the reality is unfortunately different.

That is why we always endeavour to meet women and take their concerns on board wherever we are in the world – be it in Iraq, Sierra Leone or New York. And that is why I’m also delighted that committed pioneers for women’s rights in Germany are accompanying us on this journey.

In Salvador da Bahia and Bogotá we have already discussed discrimination, violence against women, and also the opportunities and prospects of women in business, politics, academia, culture and the media. And I am pleased that we can continue this dialogue with you here in Mexico City today, and also tomorrow.

These are all steps on the path to establishing a network of and for women from Germany, Latin America and the Caribbean. In so doing, we want to create a platform that
•pools progressive forces in our regions and all the opportunities they have,
•facilitates closer dialogue,
•promotes projects supporting gender-equitable societies, and lastly
•honours outstanding commitment to women’s rights and democracy, for example by awarding a fitting prize.

One issue is particularly important to me in all of this. We have already discussed this issue intensively in Brazil and also in Colombia, and I have just mentioned this with a view to our work in the Security Council – namely violence against women.

Violence against women has become a worldwide epidemic. The figures are shocking – in Germany, but especially in Mexico. UN Women recorded 760 feminicides here in 2018 alone. Each and every case is one too many.

It is the culture of impunity that leads to such shocking acts and to them being repeated over and over again. We therefore need more efficient public bodies and authorities that initiate more rigorous investigations into crimes against women.

We are offering our partnership in this area too. Strengthening the rule of law is already a central pillar of the cooperation between Germany and Mexico, and we must include this issue here as well.

What is more, it is encouraging that the Mexican Government has made the fight against ”disappearances“, corruption and impunity one of its priorities.

”Ni una menos!“ – ”Not one less!“ – this slogan of the Latin American women’s movement should also find its reflection in the work conducted by our women’s network.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We have given some thought to what such a network could be called. ”UNIDAS“ was chosen in the end – ”UNIDAS“, because this is about networking and mutual support.

So this is the name that we have. What we still lack are perhaps some godmothers. And here, in this very special and beautiful place, I’m thinking of someone like Sister Juana de la Cruz. Our cause could do with someone who, like her, had the courage to stand up to the authorities over 300 years ago and tell them that gender makes no difference. Let’s hope, then, that she will agree to be a patron, up there on the gallery from which she is perhaps watching us today.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to wish you and all of us an inspiring evening as well as good, open discussions – very much in the vein of Sister Juana, for whom there was nothing freer than the human mind. And she was spot on about that.

Thank you!


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