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Human Rights & the Economy | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Women, Human Rights & the Economy

What are Women's Economic Human Rights? What is the Human Right to Work?

All human beings have the human right to livelihood and work, and human rights norms and standards guarantee women full equality in all aspects of economic life. Women have the human right on equal terms with men to dignified, creative and productive labor, free from discrimination and exploitation, enabling them to live in peace, security, justice and dignity.

The Human Rights at Issue

Human rights relating to women and the economy are set out in basic human rights treaties and include:

  • The human right to freedom from discrimination based on sex or any other status in all aspects of economic life, including in hiring and promotion.

  • The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.

  • The human right to equal pay for equal work.

  • The human right to equal access to productive resources, including land, credit, and technology.

  • The human right to freedom of association.

  • The human right to adequate, safe working conditions.

  • The human right to a clean and safe environment.

  • The human right to education and equal access to information, including vocational training.

  • The human right to freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • The human right to proper consideration of women's reproductive rights and sexuality, job security during and after pregnancy, flexible working conditions, and access to child care.

  • The human right to protection during pregnancy from work proven to be harmful.

  • The human right to equal rights within the family, including shared responsibilities for children's upbringing.

  • The human right to unemployment protection and social security.

  • The human right to equal participation in economic decision-making.


Human Rights & the Economy | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Work:

What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Work?

Includes excerpts from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), and the ILO Employment Policy Convention (No. 122).

"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures ... to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, ... the right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings; the right to the same employment opportunities...; the right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and ... training; the right to equal remuneration ... and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value...; the right to social security...; the right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall ... prohibit ... dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination ... on the basis of marital status;... introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment.... States Parties shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular ... the right to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas ... to ensure ... the right ... to obtain all types of training and education ... in order to increase their technical proficiency ...; to have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 11, 13, and 14

"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.... Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.... Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours.... Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family ... and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability ... or other lack of livelihood ...."
--Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 4, 20, 23, 24, and 25

"The States Parties ... recognize the right to work, ... the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses.... The steps to be taken ... shall include technical and vocational guidance and training programmes.... States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... just and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind...; a decent living ...; safe and healthy working conditions; equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted ...; rest, leisure, and reasonable limitation of working hours .... the right of everyone to ... join the trade union of his choice...; the right to strike... the right ... to social security.... Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth. During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits.... Children and young persons should be protected from economic ... exploitation. Their employment in work harmful to their morals or health or dangerous to life or likely to hamper their normal development should be punishable by law.... States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family...."
-- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

"No one shall be held in slavery .... No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.... The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized.... Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association ..., including the right to form and join trade unions...."
-- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 8, 21, and 22

"States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination ... and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction..., to equality before the law ... in the enjoyment of ... the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association...; the rights to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to just and favourable remuneration; the right to form and join trade unions...."
-- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5

"States Parties recognize the rights of the child ... to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.... the right ... to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.... States Parties shall ... provide for a minimum age ... for admissions to employment.... provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment.... States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation...."
-- Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 27, 32, and 34

"Each Member shall ... ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value."
-- ILO Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), Article 2

"Each Member ... undertakes to declare and pursue a national policy ... to promote ... equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating any discrimination.... Each Member ... undertakes ... to promote such educational programmes as may ... secure the acceptance and observance of the policy...."
--ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), Articles 2 and 3

"[E]ach Member shall ... promote full, productive and freely chosen employment.... The ... policy shall aim at ensuring that: ... There is work for all who are available for and seeking work; ... There is freedom of choice of employment and the fullest possible opportunity for each worker to qualify for ... a job ... irrespective of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin...."
-- ILO Employment Policy Convention (No. 122), Article 1


Human Rights & the Economy | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Work

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Work?

Includes excerpts from the ILO Declaration of Philadelphia, and commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

"... labour is not a commodity; freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress; poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere;... All human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity.... The attainment of the conditions in which this shall be possible must constitute the central aim of national and international policy...."
-- ILO Declaration of Philadelphia

"We are determined to ... promote women's economic independence, including employment, by ... ensuring equal access for all women ... to productive resources, opportunities and public services;... ensure women's equal access to economic resources, including land, credit, science and technology, vocational training, information, communication and markets, as a means to further the advancement and ... empowerment of women and girls...."
-- Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 26 and 35

"A specific anti-poverty strategy is ... one of the basic conditions for ensuring sustainable development. An effective strategy for tackling the problems of poverty, development and environment ... should begin by focusing on resources, production and people.... Governments should ... implement ... programmes to support ... equal employment opportunities and ... remuneration for women ... with adequate economic, political and social support systems and services, including child care, ... equal access to credit, land...."
--Agenda 21, Chapter 3, para. 2; and Chapter 24, para. 3

"We commit ourselves to promoting ... full employment as a ... priority of ... economic and social policies, and to enabling all men and women to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods.... We will ... put ... creation of employment, ... reduction of unemployment and ... promotion of ... adequately remunerated employment at the centre of strategies and policies of Governments, with full respect for workers" rights...."
--Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 3

"The eradication of poverty is essential for sustainable human settlements. The principle of poverty eradication is based on ... the objective of meeting the basic needs of all people ... as well as the objective of enabling all women and men to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen and productive employment and work."
-- Habitat Agenda, para. 28


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org