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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the working group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls

Human Rights Council

6 July 2020

Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls. It also concluded an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Elizabeth Broderick, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, said the trends affecting the world of work and their impact on women required urgent attention from all. Without this, current gender inequalities and discrimination would not only be replicated but would be exacerbated. She presented the report of the Working Group’s visit to Greece.

Greece spoke as the concerned country.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers deplored that the rate of sexual and gender-based violence had increased during the lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic and urged the engagement of boys and men in the struggle for an equal society. Thanking the Working Group for its thematic report, speakers said the fight for equality must be waged in workplace environments and recalled that jobs traditionally held by women remained undervalued.

Speaking during the interactive debate were Latvia on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Mexico on behalf of a group of countries, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, UN Women, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Belgium, Russian Federation, Ecuador, Thailand, Sierra Leone, Libya, China, Venezuela, Tunisia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, France, Pakistan, Montenegro, Senegal, Armenia, India, Philippines (video message), Namibia, Italy, Iran, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Africa, Botswana, Morocco, Costa Rica, Croatia, Bahrain, Iraq, Netherlands, Hungary, Mozambique, Sudan, Nepal, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The dialogue started on Friday, 3 July and a summary can be found here.

Speakers emphasised that without addressing human rights, any investment in mental health could hardly be effective, calling for a rights-based paradigm shift in mental health policy to dispel stigma and discrimination, building a stronger society. The work of the Special Rapporteur in working towards this shift was welcomed by the speakers, who thanked him for his efforts throughout his six-year tenure.

Ecuador spoke as the concerned country. The Defensor del Pueblo de Ecuador, the national human rights institution of Ecuador, spoke in a video message.

In his concluding remarks, Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health, said that to realize the right to mental and physical health, a human rights based approach to healthcare provision was needed, as the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic had shown. The world needed to move away from the status quo towards a rights-based approach.

Speaking during the interactive debate were Djibouti, State of Palestine, Thailand, Belgium, Cuba, Venezuela, France, Tunisia, Pakistan, Montenegro, Qatar, Armenia, India, Philippines (video message), Syria, Portugal, Iran, Mexico, Bangladesh, Luxembourg, Indonesia, Brazil, Botswana, Lithuania (video message), Egypt, Viet Nam, Maldives, Nepal, Korea, Sri Lanka, United Nations Population Fund, Georgia, Norway, Morocco, Sudan, Russian Federation and Algeria.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor : China NGO Network for International Exchanges (video message), Centre for Reproductive Rights, Inc., iuventum e.V., Action Canada for Population and Development (video message), International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (video message), Europe-Third World Centre, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII and Edmund Rice International Limited.

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. The interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls will resume on Tuesday, 7 July at 10 a.m.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health started on Friday, 3 July and a summary can be found here.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Ecuador, speaking as the concerned country, noted that it had held a constructive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur during his visit, and access to the country had been fully open to him. Thanking the Special Rapporteur for his recognition of the progress made by Ecuador, the speaker noted the establishment of a mental health centre, psychiatric hospital, and the work on plans to create national agendas and new legislation, such as a new reproductive health bill. A new policy allowing women to give birth with the assistance of indigenous midwives had been instituted in a broader effort to promote culturally inclusive medical practices. One of the priorities was focusing on chronic malnutrition and the promotion of breastfeeding, as well as instituting new technology to improve agricultural production. Despite the COVID-19 health crisis, the Government had pledged not to stop its efforts in this regard, especially when considering the work being done to support those who were most vulnerable. Recommendations made in reports by Special Procedure mandate holders should not be too general in the future, and should focus on the specific realities of each country. Finally, Ecuador reiterated its commitment to continue cooperating with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and with his successor.

Defensor del Pueblo de Ecuador, the national human rights institution of Ecuador, in a video message, said that the right to health in Ecuador was limited by various structural shortcomings. The right to sexual and reproductive health should be strengthened as teenage pregnancies had increased in recent years. In the case of rape, there was no depenalization of abortion. Regarding COVID-19, it should be noted that Ecuador had made headlines around the world because of social inequalities, the precarious public health care systems, lack of care for those who caught the virus, and insufficient treatment of corpses, which had hampered its ability to respond to the pandemic. In that context, overcrowding in prisons was also an issue of concern, and it should be noted that places of detention also lacked access to drinking water. The situation of indigenous people in Ecuador was also worrying.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers emphasised that without addressing human rights, any investment in mental health could hardly be effective, calling for a rights-based paradigm shift in mental health policy to dispel stigma and discrimination, building a stronger society. The efforts of the Special Rapporteur in working towards this shift was welcomed by the speakers, who thanked him for his efforts throughout his six-year tenure. The use of information and communications technologies and innovative solutions should be considered as a means to this end, especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The enjoyment of mental health had been put to the test at the largest scale imaginable as a result of the pandemic, and States would have to deal with the many ways it fuelled mental distress and anxiety among the global population, paying attention to those most vulnerable, such as older persons and persons with disabilities. Multilateralism had to play a key role, and the World Health Organization was central to a successful response to the pandemic, therefore sufficient resources should be allocated to existing international mechanisms. Speakers requested the Special Rapporteur to pay particular attention to the situation of people living under illegal foreign occupation and those suffering from unilateral coercive measures. It was important to promote the inclusion of mental health care into existing global COVID-19 responses, and raise awareness over the debilitating stigma historically associated with mental health treatment.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

DAINIUS PURAS, Special Rapporteur on the right to health, thanking those present for their interest in his reports, said he had very good cooperation with the World Health Organization. To adequately provide mental health care services, a balance had to be struck between medical and psychosocial care approaches. On COVID-19, it was now clear that the status quo in mental health care did not work. The medicalization of people whose mental health had been affected by the pandemic simply did not work. He expressed hope that the COVID-19 situation would be perceived by policymakers and decision-makers as an opportunity to change their approach to mental health care.

Discussion

Speakers noted with concern the lack of research on sustainable solutions regarding biomedical and environmental determinants of social distress. The existing status-quo of over-medicalisation led to increasing discrimination of groups that were already marginalised. According to the World Health Organization, a person died of suicide somewhere around the world every 40 seconds, and speakers emphasised the importance of reforming mental health policy to best tackle this fact, noting also the potential role of public media in aiding State-driven policies. The intersection between the mental health crisis and the high levels of gender-based violence against women and girls globally was noted as a specific issue that needed tailored solutions. Other speakers noted that the Special Rapporteur had no authority to provide specific recommendations on the use of specific medications, among other recommendations. Speakers welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s remarks with regard to the lack of access to abortion in Ecuador in his report, also calling on the Council to do more about the global increases in domestic violence during the lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic. Some speakers said that racist and imperialist actions of the Global North fuelled the mental health crisis of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, women seeking abortion and persons of African descent. Speakers also emphasised the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the elderly population around the world, asking the Special Rapporteur about the role that civil society could play in addressing this crisis.

Concluding Remarks

DAINIUS PURAS, Special Rapporteur on the right to health, said that of course approaches had to be adapted to local contexts. However, to realize the right to mental and physical health, a human rights-based approach to healthcare provision was needed, as the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic had shown. The world needed to move away from the status quo towards a rights-based approach.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls on Women’s human rights in the changing world of work (A/HRC/44/51).

The Council has before it the Report of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls on the Visit to Greece (A/HRC/44/51/Add.1).

Presentation of the Reports by the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls

ELIZABETH BRODERICK, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, said that, before considering the changing world of work, it must be acknowledged that deep and systemic discrimination was a stark reality for women in the current world of work. This was evidenced in the unwavering gender pay gap, the concentration of women in the most vulnerable forms of informal work, sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, and the disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work carried by women. While technological advances may create new possibilities, there was also a risk that the growth of digital platforms, including the gig economy, would likely contribute to heightening women’s economic inequality by increasing the informalisation of women’s work. Concerning demographic change, population ageing intensified women’s care responsibilities and led to an increased demand for domestic and care workers, including migrant workers. Regarding the trend of accelerated globalization, women’s employment in global supply chains was often insecure, with poor working conditions and labour and human rights violations. The shift to sustainable economies and just transitions held potential opportunities for women’s employment. However, there was a risk of entrenching the same inequality through gendered segregation. The trends affecting the world of work and their impact on women required urgent attention from all. Without this, current gender inequalities and discrimination would not only be replicated but would be exacerbated.

Turning to the Working Group’s visit to Greece which had taken place from 1 to 12 April 2019, significant efforts had been achieved in Greece, in terms of the legal, institutional and policy framework for the promotion and protection of women’s human rights. Although a comprehensive legal framework for the protection and promotion of women’s human rights was now in place, implementation lagged behind, and further efforts were needed in a number of areas. At the time of the visit, the migration policy of the containment of asylum seekers in camps exacerbated women’s vulnerability. Despite some efforts to move vulnerable groups to new camps on the mainland, conditions remained precarious for women.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Greece, speaking as the concerned country, thanked the Working Group for presenting the report, and the Chair for her kind words, noting that it was willing to work productively with the Working Group, paying close attention to all recommendations. Greece was now focusing efforts on reaching higher levels of women in high-level positions, taking many active steps in eliminating discrimination against women and girls. Another example was the implementation of a quota of a minimum 40 per cent of women candidates in national and local elections. The first Action Plan of Women, Peace and Security was also currently being developed. Despite these efforts, the economic and migration crisis, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, had a disproportionate effect on women and girls. To tackle this, following the outbreak, a public campaign was launched against domestic violence, raising awareness on available mechanisms, among other goals. A series of educational and financial measures had also been implemented to further integrate Muslim and Roma women into society.

Discussion

Speakers deplored that the rate of sexual and gender-based violence had increased during the COVID-19 lockdown and urged the engagement of boys and men in the struggle for an equal society. Thanking the Working Group for its thematic report, speakers said the fight for equality must be waged in workplace environments and recalled that jobs traditionally held by women remained undervalued. Stereotypes must be addressed to foster women’s professional development and their insertion in predominantly male environments, notably those related to sciences, technologies, engineering, and mathematics. Some speakers stressed the importance of bolstering women’s access to education to address the work-related issues flagged by the Working Group. Other speakers faulted the report for including non-consensus based terminology and deplored the substitution of the concept of sex by the word “gender”. On the impact of COVID-19, speakers underlined that women made up the majority of frontline workers. They expressed concern that existing gender inequalities were likely to deepen in the wake of the pandemic, especially for minority women.

Interim Remarks by the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group


ELIZABETH BRODERICK, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, stated that the Working Group was committed to engaging with all stakeholders. Ensuring that future trends in the world of work did not worsen discrimination against women required targeted action in the five key areas of the report. To eliminate structural discrimination in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related disciplines, temporary special measures were recommended by the report. Regarding economic policies, care services and infrastructure that supported decent wages and conditions should be prioritised. In order to ensure a better COVID-19 response, women’s human rights should be placed front and centre in the recovery efforts, such as the equal inclusion of women into national, local and government response teams.

Discussion

Touting policies developed in their countries, speakers emphasized the value of online training ; universal healthcare ; paid maternity leave and parental leave ; flexible forms of employment ; programmes supporting female entrepreneurship ; greater female representation in the judiciary and in cabinet-level positions ; and increasing access to land and pensions, amongst other measures. It was crucially important to prevent negative discrimination patterns, which had led to gender pay gaps in traditional professional fields, from being reproduced in emerging sectors. Calling for an exchange of best practices, some speakers said the global pushback against human rights was worrying. Other speakers urged an intersectional approach to address risks and dangers that women faced in the workplace, notably sex workers and migrant workers, lest they be further marginalized. The world would be safer when women and men had equal rights, speakers stated. They urged further efforts until an egalitarian society, where all would be able to fully realize their potential, came about.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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