Think the US Leads on Women's Rights? UN Experts Say Think Again

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Think the US Leads on Women's Rights? UN Experts Say Think Again

When it comes to women's equality in the U.S., "we regret to observe a gap between rhetoric and reality," says UN Working Group

The UN Working Group also said it was "shocked" by the lack of mandatory standards for workplace accommodation for pregnant women, post-natal mothers, and persons with care responsibilities, which it noted "are required in international human rights law." (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

A 10-day United Nations fact-finding mission in the U.S., which took a group of experts to Alabama, Oregon, Texas, and Washington, D.C., paints a dismal picture of "women's missing rights" in critical areas including healthcare, political representation, reproductive rights, and economic well-being.

"The United States, as economic leader of the world, lags behind in providing a safety net and a decent life for those of its women who do not have access to independent wealth, high salaries or economic support from a partner or family."
—UN Working Group

"While the current administration has consistently expressed its unconditional support for the cause of women's equality, we regret to observe a gap between rhetoric and reality," the UN Working Group wrote in a statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What's more, the group warned, the "extreme polarization of politics" on Capitol Hill and across the country is profoundly affecting the U.S. government's ability to ratify the global women's anti-discrimination treaty known as CEDAW and more generally to guarantee women's human rights. "We understand the complexity of federalism but this cannot be regarded as a justification for failure to secure these rights," the group said.

"While all women are the victims of these missing rights," the statement continues, "women who are poor, belong to Native American, Afro-American and Hispanic ethnic minorities, migrant women, LBTQ women, women with disabilities, and older women are disparately vulnerable."

Over the course of their visit to the U.S., which took place between November 30-December 11, human rights experts Eleonora Zielinska, Alda Facio, and Frances Raday specifically observed:

  • "ever increasing barriers" to reproductive healthcare, including abortion;
  • a low level of representation for women in elected political posts, which the authors attribute in part to "the greater difficulties women face in fundraising for campaigns;"
  • cuts to critical social safety net programs, which have "a disproportionately negative impact on minority women and single mothers;" and
  • a 21 percent gender wage gap, "affecting women’s income throughout their lives, increasing women’s pension poverty."

The UN Working Group also said it was "shocked" by the lack of mandatory standards for workplace accommodation for pregnant women, post-natal mothers, and persons with care responsibilities, which it noted "are required in international human rights law."

"International human rights law requires the establishment of social protection floors for core economic and social needs, provision for paid maternity leave, and the taking of all appropriate measures to produce de facto equality between all women and men in the labor market and in women-owned businesses," the statement reads.

"It is not for our group to suggest how these minimum standards should be achieved," it continues, "but only to point out how the United States, as economic leader of the world, lags behind in providing a safety net and a decent life for those of its women who do not have access to independent wealth, high salaries or economic support from a partner or family."

Noting that the experts visited the Rio Grande Valley in Texas—where they met with and toured Whole Woman's Health, the last remaining abortion clinic in the area—the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) on Tuesday said the UN Working Group's findings affirm that women in Texas are facing a "reproductive healthcare crisis." 

Said Nancy Northup, CRR president and CEO: "It is simply unacceptable that Texas women are facing a reproductive rights crisis so dire that the global community is calling attention to it as a human rights violation." 

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