Breaking the Cycle of Gender Inequality
Editor’s note: this post follows from yesterday’s post, by Frances Raday, UN Rapporteur-Chair, on the 2014 Working Group report.
The UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice (the WG) is to be commended for its in-depth report on discrimination against women in economic and social life.
The purpose of the report is two-fold: to identify persistent areas of gender discrimination and to share good practices in the advancement of women’s empowerment and equality in economic and social life. The report pays particular attention to how economic crises have affected women’s economic and social rights. The WG achieves these aims due in part because of the meticulous and through research that has gone into the report. Further, the depth of consultation has resulted in a careful examination not only entrenched aspects of economic and social discrimination, the gender pay gap and unpaid care work, but has opened up new facets, such as the role of corporationsin perpetuating gendered disadvantage.
One of the over-arching findings of the report is that anti-discrimination legislative frameworks and guarantees on gender equality are important but alone they are not sufficient. The WG concludes that countries must focus on de facto equality and “it is essential to adopt a transformative agenda that eliminates the cultural and structural barriers to women’s equal opportunity.” However, the report spends very little time openly discussing what a transformative agenda or framework entails. Without specifying precisely what is meant by de facto or transformative equality the WG lapses back into the language of equality of results, criticized as a limited model of equality in relation to gender. While throughout the report the WG provides numerous examples of good practices that transform gender relations, without articulating a transformative framework it is challenging to translate these into new and different contexts of discrimination.
The analysis and recommendations of the WG are nuanced and sophisticated. The report follows the discrimination women experience throughout their life-cycle. For example, in times of economic crisis girls “are more vulnerable to being pulled out of school.” As a good practice countries needs to protect families from economic shocks and incentivize families to keep girls in school.
The report conceptualises gender discrimination against adult women are under two primary headings: labour force, both formal and informal, and care work. The WG addresses the classic sticky areas of gender inequality in the labour market: for example, the gender wage gap and the informal labour market. It strongly advocates for mandatory gender quotas on government companies and publicly listed companies, which, if adopted, have great potential to transform gendered power structures in the formal labour market. The other main source of discrimination against adult women is in relation to unpaid care work. The WG advocates a three ‘R’ approach: countries need to recognize the value of care work and include it in the gross national product, to reduce care work by increasing public services and they need to ensure an equal redistribution of care work between men and women.
The WG is innovative in paying attention to the role of corporations in perpetuating gender inequality. It notes “corporate governance has produced a dramatic increase in resources and income inequalities, with harsh implications for women.” These corporations rely on women home and sweat shop workers, who work under harsh and exploitative conditions. In general the connection between gender and corporate social responsibility is under-developed and the WG calls upon civil society organisations and women workers to unite and become agents of change.
Finally, the WG analyses how older women experience discrimination in economic and social life. Pension schemes are often connected to continuous employment in the labour market which negatively impacts women because of “the structural factors in their labour market and care work.” Good practices to empower older women include “continuing pension contribution during maternity and childcare leaves, unisex calculation of benefits.” The report concludes with an assessment of the impact of violence on equality in economic and social life and recommends prohibiting sexual harassment at the work place and education.
The WG report is a comprehensive assessment of how women in the 21st century experience discrimination in economic and social life. Its compendium of best practices is a powerful tool and resource for academics, lawyers, NGOs and government policy makers to use when thinking of creative ways to eliminate discrimination against women.