Marginality of Economic, Social & Cultural Rights – Gender – Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty to the UN Human Rights Council 2016
Date: January 5, 2017
International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights – http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx
UN Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights – http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/cescr/pages/cescrindex.aspx
Women’s Economic, Social & Cultural Rights – ESCR-Net – https://www.escr-net.org/sites/default/files/ESCR-factsheet-ENGLISH_0.pdf
UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights – Website – http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx
REPORT OF THE UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTREME POVERTY TO THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL 2016 – MARGINALITY OF ECONOMIC, SOCIAL & CULTURAL RIGHTS
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- Non-Governmental Organizations
- One of the most encouraging developments in recent years in relation to economic and social rights has been the growth of specialist NGOs at the international, national and, especially, local levels working to promote either economic and social rights in general or specific rights such as those relating to health, housing, education, water, gender equality, disability and ageing.
- Nevertheless, some of the major international NGOs continue to approach economic and social rights in ways that do very little to change the marginality of those rights within the field. This is especially problematic because these organizations still disproportionately influence the overall shape of the non-governmental agenda, especially at the international level. Good faith efforts in recent years to develop a more positive and proactive approach to economic and social rights have succeeded in moving the field forward in relation to several issues that are important, even though they represent a rather narrow slice of the overall economic and social rights pie. Reporting on issues such as forced evictions, maternal mortality, discrimination in access to schooling, access to palliative care and to HIV/AIDS drugs, and sexual and reproductive health, has contributed significantly in these areas, but the approaches adopted have too often relied almost entirely on using a discrimination lens and avoided reliance on the economic and social rights framework. When combined with policies that eschew issues that involve redistributing resources or require significant budgetary allocations, the approach can amount to a self-denying ordinance that effectively maintains the status quo and ensures that the core economic and social rights issues will not be adequately addressed.
- If the recognition, institutionalization and accountability building blocks were solidly in place in many countries, it would follow that the main focus of advocacy efforts to promote a higher level of real-life enjoyment of economic and social rights should be elsewhere. It may be that this assumption explains why so many of those working to promote economic and social rights, whether through the United Nations or regional organizations or at the national level, have now turned their attention to matters such as developing new methodologies for measuring compliance with the Covenant, exploring new and much more detailed indicators, working out how such indicators can be disaggregated to take account of a wide range of specific factors — such as gender, age, ethnicity and social origin —, identifying means by which to ensure that decision-making processes are transparent and participatory, and developing more detailed normative guidelines, recommendations, principles and other such instruments that elaborate upon or seek to operationalize governmental obligations in relation to economic and social rights.
- The problem is that, unless the basic building blocks of recognition, institutionalization and accountability are in place, it is highly unlikely that other more sophisticated techniques are going to be effective. It is difficult to imagine less fertile ground for many such initiatives than contexts in which economic and social rights remain unrecognized as rights, where the relevant institutions are not working effectively to promote economic and social rights as rights and where there is little or no concept of economic and social rights accountability in place. It is hoped, of course, that these new techniques, developed and promoted externally, can compensate for, or even overcome, the inhospitable domestic environment within which they will eventually have to be implemented. But again, there would seem to be a strong element of wishful thinking in the expectation that States that have not been able or willing to put the foundations of economic and social rights in place, will be likely to implement even more demanding and sophisticated techniques for monitoring and promoting economic and social rights.
- None of this is to suggest that these other endeavours are not of major importance, but the argument is that they will have far less impact where the RIA framework is not in place.
- It is essential for the proponents of economic and social rights to acknowledge the deeply rooted nature of the continuing strong resistance to the very concept of economic and social rights as human rights. The adoption of more resolutions and the holding of more meetings should not be permitted to conceal this fact. The reality is that governments have not accidentally overlooked the significance of the recognition, institutionalization and accountability (RIA) framework. On the contrary, the widespread failure to ensure that these three building blocks are in place in relation to economic and social rights is the principal symptom of the resistance. Proponents of economic and social rights need to acknowledge and tackle this deeper political reality rather than sailing merrily along as though there is widespread and basic agreement on economic and social rights.