53rd Session of the Human Rights Council - Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women

53rd Session of the Human Rights Council - Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women
Photo Source: GHRD Staff


Reva Kulkarni, Shruti Lal

Team UN Geneva Researchers,

Global Human Rights Defence.


On the 22nd of June, 2023, the 53rd Session of the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue with the working groups on the discrimination against women and girls. The event was chaired by Ms. Dorothy Estrada-Tank, who opened the meeting by highlighting poverty as a gendered phenomenon, noting that poverty is not an inevitable issue, but something that is caused by structural and institutional factors. Thus, her report called for a feminist human rights-based economy, and how attention should be given to feminist political perspectives, due especially to pervasive inequality under patriarchal structures. She emphasised the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically - 1 (No Poverty), 5 (Gender Equality), and 10 (Reduced Inequalities) - and that less progress has been  made in these areas considering the approaching deadline in 2030. Subsequently, she brought forth highlights from the working groups that were conducted by the Human Rights Council in Kyrgyzstan and the Maldives. In Kyrgyzstan, she noted both positive and negative developments, the former being maximum cooperation in terms of achieving gender parity in the parliament, high level of literacy as evident in academic curricula, and universal natal and post-natal care. Nonetheless, she raised concerns over a hostile environment for civil society and female groups. Turning to the Maldives, she welcomed the introduction of minimum wage, extension of maternity leave in public employment, and a universal health coverage scheme, but resoundingly emphasised that these developments do not cover migrants and those with special needs. It was also observed that women are underrepresented in national and local level politics, coupled with rising fundamentalism, and a shrinking civic space. 


In response to the highlights of the report, both Kyrgyzstan and the Maldives responded to the observations. The delegation of Kyrgyzstan made a vague statement, remarking the tragic situation that persists in the civilised world, making note of the country’s transition from its Soviet heritage, but made no mention of any actions to combat the challenges that lay before them. The Maldives, on the other hand, stipulated the launch of a framework that guides gender equality for a five year period, with a focus on SDG 5. They were pleased to share the elimination of taxes for menstrual products and indicated the sociocultural challenges present in the country, for which the government was reviewing family laws. They also brought to notice the climate crisis that disproportionately affects women, since the Maldives is a small island developing nation. 


Some of the highlights from the countries’ responses towards discrimination against women and girls include a criticism from the Russian Federation, proclaiming that the working groups did not provide constructive solutions and that their reports were based on opinions of individual experts who could not impose their ideas on countries, reflecting unlawful sanctions from the collective West. Cuba, in turn, noted that gender discrimination was a product of capitalism, with heavy influence from (neo-) colonisation, along with the plundering of resources under neoliberalism. China, in turn, referenced a famous quote by Mao Zedong, declaring that “women hold up half the sky”, boasting their country’s accomplishments in uplifting millions of rural women out of poverty and thus being 10 years ahead of the SDG schedule. Iran refuted the 2022 ECOSOC resolution, which removed Iran’s membership from the same council, and how this act in and of itself was a form of discrimination against Iranian women. Sudan highlighted the impact and consequences of war, such as displacement and how women face the brunt of such consequences. Other      countries such as France and Timor-Leste encouraged the use of micro-financing to help female entrepreneurs, and Malta called for encouraging women’s economic development and autonomy. Lastly, the Syrian Arab Republic emphasised the aggravation of poverty in women’s rights, resonating with the chair’s comment by saying that “poverty is a holistic phenomenon that affects all human rights”, and thus also impacts women.  


UNICEF noted the gravity of children being twice as likely to be compared to adults, especially adolescent girls being exposed to partner violence, calling for inclusive social protection. UN Women appreciated the strong feminist intersectional lens of the report, and shared the same concerns for structural inequality with countries like Mexico, Turkey, Costa Rica, Togo, and members of the European Union. Ms. Estrada-Tank appreciated the concerns and further illuminated debt relief, investments based on feminist approaches, micro-financing for women, supporting women-led initiatives, zero taxes for menstrual products, and supporting men in private life as the way forward. Ukraine advocated for the rights of women migrants, internally displaced women, and enterprises that have been destroyed due to the Russo-Ukrainian war, further promoting economic opportunities for women during wartime. Belgium’s weighty statement, “poverty is not inevitable; they are made by design of law and can be undone” gave value to the convergence of the link between women and business made prior by many countries. This list statement includes Burkina Faso, which allowed for the strengthening of the rural economy for women with their gender responsive budgeting, French support given to francophone women programs, Bangladesh’s special credit schemes for women, Namibia’s economic opportunities for women in small businesses, and Malaysia’s tools for employing feminist strategies for women in business that redistribute household work, among others. Some interesting mentions include Georgia’s first ever library on gender equality and Ecuador’s launch of the purple economy. 


A diverse group of non-governmental organisations also provided statements, including the National Human Rights Institution of Mexico and Burundi, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Group, Action Canada for Population and Development, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Choice for Youth Sexuality, Latin American and Caribbean Ecological Movement, Choice for Youth Sexuality, and Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW). The Centre for Reproductive Rights highlighted States’ obligations to make sexual and reproductive information more accessible and of high quality, thus also calling for the decriminalisation of reproductive rights such as abortion. On a similar note, the Sikh Human Rights Group said that taxing menstrual products was an example of gender discrimination and the world should follow along the footsteps of Kenya and Scotland by providing free menstrual products on a large scale to help reduce stigma around menstruation. In terms of intersectionality of discrimination, the International Lesbian and Gay Association highlighted how LBTI women experienced heightened levels of poverty due to factors such as race, class, and gender, among others. Lastly, the Latin American Caribbean Ecological Movement noted the use of digital technologies in harming the right to food and argued that digitalisation encourages non-access of natural resources.


In her closing remarks, Ms Estrada-Tank quoted one of the women she interviewed for the report, who remarked: “we are not poor, we are being impoverished”. Once again, the intersectionality of gendered socioeconomic inequalities and the dire consequences of overlooking them was underscored. Urging the council to “address[ed] the glass ceiling and the class ceiling”, because one can't “entrepreneur [our] way out of extreme poverty”, she brought forth macroeconomic restructuring through a feminist lens and human rights obligations, calling on international corporations, regulation by business actors and other stakeholders. The roles of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were also brought to the forefront, being provoked to raise women’s voices in creating social strategies. Ms, Estrada-Tank ended on a strong note, urging the Council to place women's voices at the very centre. 


Sources and further readings:

United Nations (2022, December 14). Economic and Social Council Adopts Controversial Draft Resolution to Remove Iran from Commission on Status of Women, Emphasizing Lack of Rights in Country | UN Press. Meetings Coverage and Press Releases. Retrieved June 24, 2023, from https://press.un.org/en/2022/ecosoc7109.doc.htm 

United Nations (n.d.). THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Retrieved June 24, 2023, from https://sdgs.un.org/goals 

Zhong, Xueping (2010, October 5). Women Can Hold Up Half The Sky. In Ban Wang (Ed), Words and Their Stories (227-247).  https://doi.org/10.1163/ej.9789004188600.i-342.43