The Women’s Economic Equality Project

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Women of all ages experience gender inequality within and outside the home. Women are denied access to basic healthcare, housing, education, and work. Even when they are employed, women’s wages in industrialized countries are only 60-75% of wages of men. In today’s global economy, gender inequality is increasing, as evidenced by the increasing poverty of women, and the re-emergence of sweatshops and other forms of economic exploitation, including trafficking in women.

It was in response to this reality that the Women’s Economic Equality Project (WEEP) was established in early 2000. WEEP is a joint initiative of the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL, Ottawa), the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA, Toronto) and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR, New York). The goal of WEEP is to improve understanding, recognition and implementation of women’s right to equality, as a right that encompasses economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights, and to introduce a gender perspective to economic and social rights.

WEEP commenced its activities in December 2000 in Capetown, South Africa where we hosted a Consultation involving 30 women activists, researchers and academics from around the world with experience and expertise in the area of economic and social rights. Consultation participants spent three days discussing conceptions of women’s equality, the impact of globalization on women, how specific economic and social rights could be engendered, and strategies for enforcing women’s equality with respect to economic and social rights. WEEP commissioned a number of background papers for the Consultation and it is hoped that some of these will be published in an upcoming volume of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law.

WEEP has also been actively involved in lobbying the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (” the Committee) 1 to adopt a General Comment 2 on women in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). To this end, WEEP attended the 25th Session of the Committee in Geneva (May 2001) where we made an oral presentation to the Committee regarding women’s inequality with respect to economic and social rights, urging Committee members to take seriously the adoption of a General Comment. Together with the South African Consultation participants and a number of Canadian feminist academics, WEEP has prepared a draft General Comment that we will submit to the Committee once it has been further commented upon by women advocates in Latin America, Asia and Europe. We hope to undertake these consultations over the course of the next year.

In the meantime, WEEP representatives will return to Geneva in August 2001 to present the proceedings from the South Africa Consultation to the Committee, to further discuss the adoption of the General Comment with Committee members, and to participate in a day-long meeting on women’s economic, social and cultural rights.

If you have any questions about WEEP and our various activities please contact:

Shelagh Day: sheday@interchange.ubc.ca
Leilani Farha: leilani@equalityrights.org
Sarah Zaidi: szaidi@cesr.org

To read or download a copy of the Proceedings from the South Africa Consultation go to the Women’s Programme on CERA’s website: www.equalityrights.org/cera

Leilani Farha is the Women’s Programme Coordinator and Staff Lawyer at CERA — the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation. For the past six years her work has focused on advocacy, research and publications related to women’s housing, land and property rights at the international level.

Shelagh Day is a human rights advocate in Vancouver, President and Senior Editor of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter, who has been active in taking women’s equality claims to the United Nations and other international fora. Shelagh is a Human Rights Advisor to NAWL.

References

1 The Committee is responsible for monitoring State Party compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Canada ratified the ICESCR and thus is a state party to it. Canada was reviewed by the Committee in November 1998 and the Committee’s Concluding Observations on Canada can be found at: www.unhchr.ch.

2 General Comments are legal interpretations of rights contained within treaties. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has yet to adopt a General Comment related to women.