March 23, 2017

From the Women’s Rights Caucus

New York, NY—Governments in final negotiations at a crucial global gathering on women’s rights will fail to address the fundamental hurdles to achieving women’s full economic rights and justice unless they make bold commitments to create just economies that factor in climate change, gender discrimination, and unprecedented inequality.

This year’s edition of the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) focuses on “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work,” and represents an opportunity to forge policies that remove the deeply entrenched barriers that prevent women from fully participating in decent work. Instead of addressing these critical issues, governments have chosen to repeat debates they have year after year as Russia, Guyana, the Holy See, and their allies spearhead efforts to restrict women’s sexual and reproductive rights, exclude people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and enforce restrictive ideas of family and gender roles. Similarly, some states—including the United States and Russia—have aligned to reject the inclusion of the main UN body responsible for labor rights, the International Labour Organization in the CSW conclusions.

Women’s groups from around the world are calling on governments to hit reset on the imbalance between public and private wealth. “We need a global policy framework that pushes public investment in the public services and social protection necessary for women’s rights, and does not outsource to private investment that caters to shareholders and not people,” said Vicky Smallman from the Canadian Labor Congress, on behalf of the Women’s Rights Caucus, a coalition of more than 200 nonprofit organizations advocating for women in more than 50 countries.

Around the world, women’s economic justice is undermined by gross inequality: eight men possess the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity. Disparity between the minimum wage and a living wage is accelerating the feminization of poverty. Women are disproportionately represented in the informal sector and in precarious work. They lack access to social protection and basic public services. Their livelihoods are at risk due to climate change and they bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work.

In order to deliver a policy blueprint that addresses these challenges, women’s movements from around the world are calling on governments to make bold commitments to create just economies, address the consequences of climate change on women’s livelihoods, eliminate inequalities within and between countries, and end the discrimination that leaves too many women and girls behind.

A successful agreement would also focus on expanding and protecting labor rights, addressing women’s burden of unpaid work, and ensuring just transitions to low-carbon economies that protect women’s livelihoods. Women, after all, are responsible for producing more than 60 percent of food in some countries.

“Some governments have made welcome efforts to recognize that women’s organizing and bargaining rights are essential to achieve living wages and that trade unions are crucial for women’s economic justice,” said Sanam Amin of Asia Pacific Women Law and Development. “At the same time, it is alarming that at a global gathering dedicated to women’s economic empowerment and their place in the working world, many governments reject the International Labour Organization as part of agreed conclusions of this meeting and refuse to commit to the Fundamental Principles that underpin rights to obtain and carry out work.”

As the world grapples with the effects of climate change, women’s lives and livelihoods are severely affected, but as key decision-makers on household needs such as fuel and water, women are also the backbone of climate adaptation and mitigation.

“Increasingly, governments are acknowledging the links between women’s work and climate change,” said Noelene Nabulivou of Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality. “But the CSW needs to set out the components for just and equitable transitions to low carbon economies and how to implement them.”

During the ongoing CSW negotiations, some African states have said that women’s unpaid work is “cultural” and a pleasure for women, and have challenged the idea that states have a role in reducing it. The CSW should ensure that unpaid work is counted, that governments provide services like paid leave, public child and elder care to reduce it, and promote policies that encourage the sharing of caregiving work within families of all kinds.

“We stand with governments seeking to ensure that the CSW uses a strong universal human rights framework regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sexual characteristics, and other diversity, and who recognize that sexual and reproductive health and rights are vital in the changing world of work,” said Shannon Kowalski of the International Women’s Health Coalition. “Nonetheless, we are frustrated that states indulging in opposition to these basic human rights dominate negotiations that must advance global women’s economic rights.”

As the CSW negotiations conclude on March 24, we urge Governments to ensure that the CSW delivers economic justice to women in all their diversity.

Contact: Shannon Kowalski

Photo: Arne Hoel/World Bank.