Many factors contribute to economic inequality within societies, including discrimination based on gender, age, and other factors.
Of particular concern for a post-2015 development agenda should be addressing structural inequality and discrimination against women and youth through the promotion of legal measures, policies and programs that expand equality of economic opportunities, from a rights-based and environmentally-sustainable approach, especially for those living in poverty and from marginalized communities.
Across the world, gender discrimination is reflected in women’s unequal economic rights and opportunities. These inequities must be addressed in a post-2015 world, not only as part of women’s equal economic rights, but as a cornerstone of their enjoyment of all other human rights for their personal security, autonomy, health and well-being; as well as for countries’ prospects to eradicate poverty and fuel inclusive and environmentally-friendly economic growth. Economic insecurity and inequities is a major factor underpinning the systematic physical and emotional violence, exploitation and trafficking of women and girls, as well as their heightened risks and exposure to HIV.
Crucial to rectifying problems of economic inequality is addressing sexual and reproductive health and rights and related gender discrimination and violence, since these aspects of women’s lives and rights are essential to advancing women’s equality overall as well as their economic empowerment more specifically. And the process of rectifying the root causes of economic inequity for women needs to start early on in the life-cycle. Discrimination against girls will have repercussions on their economic opportunities later in life – closing gender gaps in education is a first step toward leveling the playing field. So is protecting the human rights of girls in other key areas: for example, girls who are child brides are more likely to be forced to abandon their schooling, be pressured to have children early and face limited income-earning prospects. Similarly, adolescent girls who are denied access to sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services to avoid early and unwanted pregnancies will face challenges to finish school and acquire the skills to enter the workforce as effectively. Young and adult women alike who have children, especially if they are single mothers, may find it particularly difficult to find a non-discriminatory, supportive and flexible work environment to balance childrearing and work in the many settings where gender biases and their reproductive rights to non-discrimination in the workplace due to pregnancy and childrearing are not protected. Women living in situations of domestic violence, including those with children, and/or who live in poverty and face limited opportunities for earning an income independently of their abusive partners, may find it especially daunting to leave such situations or feel compelled to return to a violent household in the absence of effective State solutions and responses that take into account the centrality of their economic security.
The world over, the ability of women to determine the number, timing and spacing of children is fundamental to their equal economic opportunities and rights, including to balance their reproductive and productive roles and to seize opportunities for economic advancement. The lack of information and access to sexual and reproductive health services that allow young people and adults of all ages to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is another cause of economic inequity. HIV and sexually transmitted infections can have tremendous negative effects on people’s health and quality of life, with impacts on their productivity and economic opportunities as a result, especially in the face of stigma and discrimination for those known to be living with HIV. Economic insecurity is an important factor fueling the HIV/AIDS pandemic overall.
These are just some illustrative examples of how issues of equal rights to education, economic empowerment and sexual and reproductive health and rights are inextricably linked and mutually-reinforcing. These are not only issues of human rights and dignity, but also at the core of poverty and economic inequality.
To lay the foundations for more inclusive, economically-just societies, the post-2015 development agenda should prioritize:
- Fulfilling the right of all girls and boys to comprehensive and quality education, with particular attention to getting girls through secondary school (including special protections for the equal rights of pregnant or married girls and young mothers);
- The protection and fulfillment of sexual and reproductive rights as human rights, through policies, laws and public education, especially to ensure women’s and girls’ ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.
- Accelerating universal access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, and to comprehensive sexuality education, by removing legal, policy, administrative, economic and physical barriers and affirming rights to equal access, especially for women and adolescent girls and young people generally.
- Ensuring women and youth have equal economic opportunities and rights for decent work, equal pay, access to productive assets, and rights to land, property, inheritance, banking and financial services, technology and training.
Establishing effective accountability mechanisms that track and ensure progress in the fulfillment of these human rights with particular attention to equity issues, and that are transparent and participatory, involving civil society and the engagement of women, youth and communities living in poverty and otherwise excluded and discriminated against in decision-making processes. Effective monitoring is one key component of accountability, and measures should capture progress for groups facing the greatest economic and related inequities; as well as ensure, from a holistic approach, that key enabling and inter-related investments in the empowerment of women and young people are being made (e.g. education, training, sexual and reproductive health, etc.) that can in turn trigger progress in eliminating economic inequities and spur inclusive economic growth.