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Women are often hit harder by austerity and cuts: UN expert says

Austerity measures and budget cuts in the social sectors are hitting women the hardest, a UN human rights expert said today, with an increasingly disproportionate amount of unpaid care work falling on the shoulders of women.

“Austerity-driven measures and economic reforms tend to negatively affect women more than men,” the Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, said in a report to the UN General Assembly.

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina) was appointed as Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 8 May 2014.  He has previously worked as a Sovereign Debt Expert for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) where he coordinated an Expert Group on Responsible Sovereign Lending and Borrowing. He is independent of any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. 

“Discriminatory economic policies cannot be justified on the basis of the need to achieve macro-economic targets and without regard to the human rights of women and gender equality. Of the various forms of inequality in the labour market, women’s unpaid care work is often neglected in the design of policies and economic reforms,” he said.

The UN expert said mainstream economic thinking does not take into account the value of domestic and unpaid care work, and its significant contribution to the economy. “Women carry out the bulk of that work, which underpins economic growth”, said Bohoslavsky.

Austerity and fiscal consolidation policies hit the most vulnerable groups within a given population, among whom women are overrepresented and the most exposed. In addition, these measures exacerbate discrimination and inequality.

Among the women who are most exposed are single mothers, young women, women with disabilities, older women, refugee and migrant women; LGBTI women, those women who belong to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, women in rural areas, and women who live in poverty or extreme poverty.

The report is a building block for the finalization of guiding principles to assess economic reform policies from a human rights perspective.

“Human rights impact assessments, with a clear gender focus, can and should assist in addressing structural barriers,” the UN expert said. “Some advances may look well in terms of overall social indicators, but might not be as fair for women. In Latin America, for example, while overall income inequality seems to have decreased, less than 50 per cent of women over age 15 have income of their own, as opposed to just 20 per cent of men. Also in this same region, women’s labour income is equivalent to 70 per cent of men’s.”, he concluded.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.