Women represent the majority of the 1.2 billion people living in poverty throughout the world. Inequality, with respect to the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights is a central fact of women’s lives in every region of the world. Ongoing inequality in the sphere of ESC rights contributes to the continuing subordination of women and makes them especially vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and other forms of abuse.
Women’s ESC rights can be transformative, not only in ensuring that women’s immediate material needs are met, but also in fundamentally reshaping unequal power relationships between women and men. Indeed, certain rights are especially transformative from the standpoint of women’s empowerment, including equal rights over land and property, and rights to education, livelihood, and health.
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Levels of legal protection are uneven, with significant gaps in legal frameworks. A major part of the remaining challenge revolves around implementation and enforcement, as well as awareness raising and changing of practices on the ground.
While GI-ESCR’s work in general strives to incorporate a gender-sensitive perspective, we feel it is vital to include a targeted focus on advancing women’s ESC rights. We know that the realization of women’s ESC rights can itself be transformative, not only in ensuring that women’s immediate material needs are met, but also in fundamentally reshaping unequal power relationships based on gender. We know that certain rights are especially transformative from the standpoint of women’s empowerment, including equal rights over productive resources, and rights to education and health, among others. For women, advancement on these critical issues is more than about poverty alleviation, it is about uplifting women’s status in a fundamental way and about ending women’s subjugation on the basis of gender.
For many of the world’s poorest women, rights to land and other productive resources is an especially telling marker of gender inequality. This is an area where GI-ESCR works to advance new standards and protect women’s equality in law and in practice. In Africa for example, women are too often denied access to productive resources, such as land, due to entrenched patterns of gender discrimination and exclusion. This situation both reflects and deepens gender inequality, leaving women far more vulnerable to the multiple threats of food insecurity, violence, marginalization, and economic impoverishment; as well, as in many cases, to the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS.
We work to advance standards around women’s rights to land and productive resources, and their implementation, highlighting the important gains it can have to gender equality, food security, HIV prevention, and women’s economic autonomy.
In all areas of our work, we incorporate a gender-sensitive perspective, and we feel it is vital to include a targeted focus on advancing women’s ESC rights. With local and national partners, we work to raise the visibility of women’s ESC rights, particularly land and property rights, at various international and regional forums, and to strengthen the enforcement of these rights.
More generally, we also provide gender-sensitive analyses of substantive ESC rights and their relationship to the fulfillment of women’s right to equality. Similar approaches are taken at regional and national levels. This includes the identification of what the right means for women in terms of respect, protection and fulfillment of their rights, and what kinds of specific measures need to be considered by States for implementation, including for women facing intersectional discrimination.
GI-ESCR is a member of the ESCR-Net Women and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Working Group and its Steering Committee, and works in partnership with many international organizations and networks