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Human Rights Council Holds Panel Discussion on Gender-equal Socioeconomic Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic

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6 July 2021

6 July 2021

Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela

The Human Rights Council this morning held the second part of its annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women with a panel discussion on gender-equal socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It also concluded its interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Venezuela.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that for past decades, the economic models of many countries had been increasingly relying on precarious forms of employment. Public investments in social protection and public services had been reduced. Tax cuts for the rich and for big companies had been favoured over progressive taxation. COVID-19 had made matters worse. And yet, the majority of socioeconomic COVID-19 responses adopted by States were surprisingly gender-blind, often failing to address the specific needs of women.

Mónica Zalaquett Said, Minister for Women and Gender Equity of Chile, said this crisis had impacted women the most, deepening pre-existing gaps: it had made women more vulnerable to domestic violence due to confinement measures; it had increased the unequal distribution of unpaid work; and women's participation in the world of work had decreased drastically.

Mohammad Naciri, UN-Women Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, said the world must focus on the immediate and long-term policy priorities. In the immediate term, it was important to protect women care workers, including both the professionals on the front lines, as well as those doing essential but unpaid work at home. A robust care economy to rectify the under-valuation and unequal share of care work must also be created.

Maria Alesi, feminist and development practitioner, asking how gender equal recovery could be financed, said that, first, the debt burden on middle- and low-income countries must be ended. Second, they must be intentional about the informal sector. Third, develop and implement progressive tax regimes. And fourth, ensure inclusion, accountability, and transparency in governance. None of the above measures would work if people were not vaccinated.

Kateryna Levchenko, Government Commissioner for Gender Equality Policy of Ukraine and Vice-Chair of the Gender Equality Commission of the Council of Europe, said the Government of Ukraine firmly believed that gender equality was a prerequisite for the success of governmental policy in every sphere of society, as well as a key factor for the European integration of Ukraine. The 2020 local elections had been the first ones where the 40 per cent gender quota was introduced. Quotas had helped bring more women to the decision-making process in the councils, which previously had the lowest percentage of women.

In the discussion, some speakers said that not only Governments, but also the Council had used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretence to restrict civic space, by cancelling the general debate in the name of efficiency. The pandemic had exposed the fragility of gender gains as the structural causes of discrimination remained unchanged; the gendered socio-economic fallout of the sanitary crisis was not an aberration. Governments must ensure that national risk mitigation strategies covered access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, including sexual and gender-based violence care and prevention.

Speaking were Spain, Lithuania on behalf of a group of countries, European Union,

Malaysia on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Bahamas on behalf of a group of countries, Slovenia on behalf of a group of countries, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Rwanda on behalf of States members and observers of the International Organization of la Francophonie, Australia, Cuba, Montenegro, Barbados, International Development Law Organization, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Albania, Luxembourg, United Nations Development Programme, Israel, China, Mauritania, Ecuador, and United Arab Emirates.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Centre for Reproductive Rights, Inc.; International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Plan International Inc.; Federation for Women and Family Planning; Centre for Global Nonkilling; and Sikh Human Rights Group.

The Council then concluded its interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

In the discussion, speakers highlighted that restrictions of freedom of expression in Venezuela were ongoing and security forces continued to use force, as national organizations identified 23 demonstrations dispersed by force in the first quarter of 2021. Speakers expressed their deep concern at the systematic deterioration of human rights in the country.

The following civil society organizations took the floor: CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Human Rights Watch, and Centre for Justice and International Law.

Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, noted that some States continued with their interventionist claims, pretending to speak on behalf of the so-called international community. These States were desperate, having resorted to all sorts of measures to achieve their aims, including unilateral coercive measures, which few countries had had the courage to denounce despite the unspeakable suffering they had caused to the people of Venezuela.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her concluding remarks, noted that there was broad consensus over the establishment of a country office in Venezuela by the High Commissioner's Office. COVID-19 vaccines must be seen as a global good and fair distribution was a key factor to combat the pandemic in every country. Welcoming the reform of the police, she noted there was a lower level of complaints regarding the Special Actions Force of the Bolivarian National Police since September 2020 - efforts made by the authorities must be recognised. Despite this, allegations against security forces remained, creating a chilling effect.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council's forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will next meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, followed by an interactive dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Panel Discussion on Gender-equal Socioeconomic Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Keynote Statements

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that for past decades, the economic models of many countries had been increasingly relying on precarious forms of employment. Public investments in social protection and public services had been reduced. Tax cuts for the rich and for big companies had been favoured over progressive taxation. COVID-19 had made matters worse. And yet, the majority of socioeconomic COVID-19 responses adopted by States were surprisingly gender-blind, often failing to address the specific needs of women. The pandemic had hit hardest in economic sectors where women were over-represented, including hotel and food services, among others, as well as forming the majority of workers in the informal economy. Women's participation in the labour force continued to decline more rapidly than that of men. Young women between 15 and 29 years old were three times more likely to be out of the labour market and the classrooms than young men.

When women's contribution to all types of care was considered, its economic value equated to $ 11 trillion, or 9 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product. Nonetheless, response measures addressing unpaid care work had been scarce. Women were largely absent from decision-making, representing only 24 per cent of the members of national public institutions created to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was time for concrete steps, such as: ensure that the maximum of available resources was allocated to quality public services necessary for the enjoyment of minimum essential levels of economic and social rights; recognise the economic value of both paid and unpaid care work; ensure women's equal rights and responsibilities in the family and eliminate stereotypes and practices that reinforced gender inequalities; adopt progressive tax policies that were fair for those left furthest behind; and protect civic space and the participation of women, girls and people with diverse genders in decisions relevant to recovery measures.

MÓNICA ZALAQUETT SAID, Minister for Women and Gender Equity of Chile, said the COVID-19 crisis had impacted women the most, deepening pre-existing gaps: it had made women more vulnerable to domestic violence due to confinement measures; it had increased the unequal distribution of unpaid work; and women's participation in the world of work had decreased drastically. Despite the fact that women had borne most of the responsibility for health care and caregiving, they had not been equally involved in strategic decision-making in the response to COVID-19. Globally, women represented only 24 per cent of the membership of national institutions created to respond to the pandemic, a figure that was replicated in Chile. The pandemic had led to a dramatic loss of jobs: 114 million fewer jobs globally, affecting female labour participation 5 per cent more than men.

Another serious consequence of COVID-19 for women was the overburdening of unpaid domestic and care work within the household. Given this worrying scenario, the Government of Chile was committed to promoting economic reactivation with a gender perspective. The Ministry of Women and Gender Equity had articulated a participatory approach in recovery policies. It had convened the COVID Women's Council, a group made up of women representatives from civil society, academia, the private sector and politics, who worked on the development of short- and medium-term proposals to address the crisis in three areas defined as vital: violence and health; economic recovery; and care. It had formed the COVID-19 Social Roundtable, a cross-cutting working group with the aim of coordinating and promoting effective actions against the pandemic, in order to incorporate a gender perspective in all decisions in response to COVID-19.

Statements by the Panellists

MOHAMMAD NACIRI, UN Women Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, said the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action still resonated today. Achieving gender equality was still an unfinished human-rights struggle. But the context was different in significant ways. There had been notable progress in some areas, and perhaps less in others. The COVID-19 outbreak had presented unforeseen challenges. The world must focus on the immediate and long-term policy priorities. In the immediate term, it was important to protect women care workers, including both the professionals on the front lines, as well as those doing essential but unpaid work at home. A robust care economy to rectify the under-valuation and unequal share of care work must also be created. For instance, investments could be made in basic infrastructure to help women spend less time on unpaid work, such as expanding electricity access to close rural-urban gaps.

MARIA ALESI, Feminist and development practitioner, highlighted that a key pillar for gender-equal recovery was gender-responsive financing: not simply funding small village projects for women, but financing through a human rights lens with focus on dismantling structures and systems that created and reinforced inequality. How then could everyone finance gender equal recovery? First, everyone must end the debt burden on middle- and low-income countries. Second, they must be intentional about the informal sector. Third, they must develop and implement progressive tax regimes. And fourth, they must ensure inclusion, accountability, and transparency in governance. None of the above measures would work if people were not vaccinated. Only 0.78 per cent of the population in Africa was vaccinated and many low- and middle-income countries still had insufficient access. The World Bank was offering credit facilities to already highly indebted countries to purchase vaccines from companies located in countries that were hoarding it. This ensured money remained in rich countries, reinforcing inequality. How could they talk about gender equal recovery when women in middle- and low-income countries could not access vaccines against the pandemic?

KATERYNA LEVCHENKO, Government Commissioner for Gender Equality Policy of Ukraine and Vice-Chair of the Gender Equality Commission of the Council of Europe, said the Government of Ukraine firmly believed that gender equality was a prerequisite for the success of governmental policy in every sphere of society, as well as a key factor for the European integration of Ukraine. The 2020 local elections had been the first ones where the 40 per cent gender quota was introduced. Quotas had helped bring more women to the decision-making process in the councils, which previously had the lowest percentage of women. For some councils, the representation had increased from 8 to 10 per cent to between 30 and 35 per cent. The average of women's representation in elected local authorities was around 32 per cent. To have a seat at the table, and to participate equally in the decision-making process was an important and necessary condition in order for the voice of women to be heard. Quotas were an effective tool which corresponded to the provision of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on temporary special measures.

Discussion

Speakers applauded the courage of women who were still at the frontlines of fighting the pandemic, noting at the same time that they were often not part of the decisions designing the recovery - it was time for change. Steady progress had been made in the last 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, but the rights of women and girls worldwide were still under attack around the world. Gender-responsive COVID-19 recovery efforts would be critical in regaining lost ground – and in taking the world further. There would be no way out of the multiple challenges that humanity faced without full equality, and without the creative contribution of women and girls. The COVID-19 pandemic had intensified the deeply gendered, undervalued and unrecognised burden of reproductive labour and care work, also erecting further barriers to abortion. Speakers noted that up to 11 million more secondary school-aged girls may not return to school as a result of the pandemic. In order to shape adapted responses and truly "Build back better", it was fundamental to listen to girls and young women.

Speakers urged those present to embrace gender thinking in decision-making and strategic forums. The pandemic had shown, in the most visceral of ways, the devastating impacts of neoliberal policies of austerity and privatisation on health and social protection systems. Investing in digital inventions could be the long-awaited end to violence, some speakers said. Some speakers pointed out that not only Governments, but also the Council, had used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretence to restrict civic space, by cancelling the general debate in the name of efficiency. The pandemic had exposed the fragility of gender gains as the structural causes of discrimination remained unchanged; the gendered socio-economic fallout of the sanitary crisis was not an aberration. Governments must ensure that national risk mitigation strategies included access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, including sexual and gender-based violence care and prevention.

Concluding Remarks

KATERYNA LEVCHENKO, Government Commissioner for Gender Equality Policy of Ukraine and Vice-Chair of the Gender Equality Commission of the Council of Europe, noted that it was important to ensure women's and girls' participation in decision-making processes as well as designing and implementing recovery plans in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. She stressed some important conditions for this: using quotas, developing strategic documents, and keeping to international commitments.

MARIA ALESI, Feminist and development practitioner, said the imposition of the vaccine passport was rooted in colonialism and racist structures, insofar as this policy was implemented along with policies that amounted to vaccine hoarding. With regards to the 15 per cent taxation rate, she urged those present to ask where that number came from. The corporate taxation rate was closer to 30 per cent in several middle- and low-income countries. The 15 per cent rate would divert funds away from these countries, she said.

MOHAMMAD NACIRI, UN Women Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, emphasised that women faced a triple burden of vulnerable employment, unpaid care work, and heightened risk of domestic violence. Welcoming the recent international cooperation, he noted that it was time to build forward better by transforming the care economy, expanding access to resources, and designing gender transformative economic plans. It was not too late to join the global movement for gender equality.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela

The interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela started on 5 July and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers highlighted that restrictions of freedom of expression in Venezuela were ongoing and security forces continued to use force, as national organizations identified 23 demonstrations dispersed by force in the first quarter of 2021. Five people had been executed despite the High Commissioner's recommendations as extrajudicial killings remained a key issue. Speakers expressed their deep concern at the systematic deterioration of human rights in the country. Between 2012 and 2020, 856 cases of alleged massacres had been registered by local organizations - this was evidence of crimes against humanity. The High Commissioner's recommendation to dissolve the Special Actions Force of the Bolivarian National Police had not been implemented. This context favoured impunity and affected the most vulnerable as speakers called on the Council and the High Commissioner to continue putting pressure on the Venezuelan authorities.

Concluding Remarks

Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, noted that some States continued with their interventionist claims, pretending to speak on behalf of the so-called international community. These States were desperate, having resorted to all sorts of measures to achieve their aims, including unilateral coercive measures, which few countries had had the courage to denounce despite the unspeakable suffering they had caused to the people of Venezuela. Genuine non-governmental organizations, not the fake ones, had the Government's full support, Venezuela assured.

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that there was broad consensus over the establishment of a country office in Venezuela by the High Commissioner's Office. COVID-19 vaccines must be seen as a global good and fair distribution was a key factor to combat the pandemic in every country. Welcoming the reform of the police, she noted that there was a lower level of complaints regarding the Special Actions Force of the Bolivarian National Police since September 2020 - efforts made by the authorities must be recognised. Despite this, allegations against security forces remained, creating a chilling effect. The recent work on holding a dialogue between authorities and civil society was welcomed, although concerns with regards to the reduction of the civic space remained. The chain of command had to be held responsible and the role of the judiciary was vital, but there were shortcomings in the judicial systems. The announcement of real reforms in this area was a sign of progress as the High Commissioner noted that her Office was prepared to provide technical assistance to the authorities.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/07/morning-human-rights-council-holds-panel-discussion-gender-equal

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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