HRC44: Combatting discrimination against women and girls in the changing world of work

On July 6th and 7th 2020, the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, during which the Right Livelihood Foundation delivered a statement highlighting the essential role of women’s cooperatives, and in particular the work of 1984 Right Livelihood Laureate “Self-Employed Women’s Association” (SEWA).

In introducing the Working Group’s latest report, Ms. Elizabeth Broderick, member of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, emphasised that it stresses the need to focus on systemic and structural discrimination in the world of work and sets out a vision for a new system that starts with women’s human rights. This would not only benefit women, but everyone. She then explained that the report focuses on all ways in which globalisation impacts discrimination against women and girls, from new technologies to global supply chains. The working group identified 5 action areas to ensure that future trends do not exacerbate discrimination against women: (1) Ensuring freedom from violence and harassment; (2) Recognising, reducing and redistributing unpaid care and domestic work; (3) Disrupting patterns of “women’s” and “men’s” work; (4) Ensuring all women workers can enjoy their rights, without discrimination, including informal workers; (5) Supporting women’s collective action.

During the dialogue, 58 member states and observers took the floor, including 4 joint statements. Most countries outlined their good practices and recent progress related to ending discrimination against women. They also identified focus areas for the years to come, including parental leave policies; ending harassment in the world of work; measures to eliminate the gender pay gap; how to harness new technologies for gender equality. Some states, including South Africa, welcomed the 2019 ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment, and announced that they were in the process of domesticating it.

States also referred to the challenge of COVID-19 and how it risks exacerbating current discriminatory practices. Speakers deplored that the rate of sexual and gender-based violence had increased during the lockdown. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom also stressed that access to sexual and reproductive health services remains essential for effective recovery.

The Right Livelihood Foundation delivered an oral statement, welcoming the report and the reference to the contributions that women’s cooperatives, such as 1984 Right Livelihood Laureate Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), can bring in identifying priorities and strategies for change. Underlining the success of SEWA, the Foundation also referred to the worrying impact of COVID-19 on numerous SEWA members, that Reema Nanavaty had explained in her interview. Read the full statement below.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Broderick stressed that states must create an enabling environment for civil society, so that they combat the backlash against women’s human rights. Referring to COVID-19, she said that it has exacerbated the existing systemic discrimination in every region of the world. Nevertheless, she stressed that the recovery gives the opportunity to fundamentally transform the structure of work in the economy, into one that recognizes women’s specific needs.

Oral Statement – Delivered at the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council:

ITEM 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women

Madam President,

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation welcomes the comprehensive report of the Working Group, in particular the reference to the important contributions that women’s cooperatives can bring in identifying priorities and strategies for change. This is certainly the case of 1984 Right Livelihood Laureate: Self-Employed Women’s Association, also known as SEWA.

SEWA plays an essential role in the empowerment of poor, self-employed women, who are often invisible from statistics and policies, enabling them to become decision-makers, owners and users of self-sufficient co-operatives. For the system to change, women from all backgrounds, especially those currently forgotten, must be placed at the centre of all levels of decision making, from policies to designing new technologies.

Fédora Bernard from the Right Livelihood Foundation delivering the Oral Statement at HRC44.

Madam President,

As the report mentions, COVID-19 will place women’s livelihoods at significant risk. This is especially true for women in the most vulnerable forms of work. Due to the pandemic, over 71% of SEWA members have lost their livelihoods and are unable to find new employment.

Nevertheless, as the High Commissioner said last week, the pandemic gives the opportunity to develop a new economic paradigm based on human rights.  What does the working group believe will be the long-term impact of this pandemic on women, especially those in non-standard forms of employment and what concrete actions can you recommend governments in order to mitigate them?

Thank you.