CSW57, MGDs and Gendered Poverty

Meghan Campbell 6th March 2013

One of the themes the delegates at CSW57 will be confronting over the next two weeks are the challenge of de facto achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls. As the first post in the OxHRH CSW57 themed post series, Meghan Campbell looks at the issue of gendered poverty and the MDGs.

There are two development goals which have an impact on gendered poverty: the first goal-eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and the third goal-promoting gender equality and empower women. The MDGs largely address poverty from a gender neutral standpoint and gender empowerment focuses primarily on education. Thus, the MDGs do not approach gendered poverty from a comprehensive, integrated and holistic perspective. This reflects a larger systemic problem in the UN human rights framework of addressing gender and poverty as separate human rights problems. For example, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights does not examine how widowhood can result in homelessness or how gender imbalances in the home can result in women not getting enough food to eat.

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), compliments the CSW, as it approaches women’s issues from a legal and human rights perspective. CEDAW has been described as the Magna Carta for women. It addresses women’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that CEDAW does not make any substantive reference to poverty. This is doubly so when the in 2012 the World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development emphasised that poverty significantly limited women’s gains in education, health and the paid labour force.

Currently, the CEDAW Committee’s treatment of gendered poverty has been rather patchwork. The latest General Recommendation released in 2013, on the economic consequences of marriage, family relations and their dissolution touches upon poverty. The Committee recommends that States to criminalize “property dispossession/grabbing” and protect the inheritance rights of the surviving spouse. This will help ensure widowhood does not result in economic insecurity for women. However, there are still significant gaps. When reviewing State reports, the Committee has noted that in some States there is a disturbing trend of marrying young girls to older richer men in neighbouring countries. The Committee has identified the family’s extreme poverty as a motivating factor, yet the General Recommendation makes no reference or recommendations in respect of how this type of poverty and freedom to choose a spouse.

The CEDAW Committee needs to give serious consideration to drafting a comprehensive General Recommendation on women’s poverty and human rights. This recommendation should link poverty to gender equality to emphasize the gendered nature of poverty and to highlight the entrenched and systemic nature of the wrong. The CEDAW Committee can use the General Recommendation as opportunity to show how each right in CEDAW can be interpreted to have evaluative reference to gendered poverty. This will ensure that the problem is approached holistically and can capture the many inter-locking rights violations experienced by impoverished women. Additionally, a CEDAW General Recommendation on poverty can have a spillover affect so that other branches of the UN, such as the CSW can squarely address the wrong of gendered poverty.

 Meghan Campbell is a DPhil in Law Candidate at the University of Oxford.

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