Institutional targets and allies: where and how we will intervene

The injustices and inequalities surrounding women’s labour is being given new consideration whether in the context of austerity and cuts in social spending, the persistent and blatant gender gaps in pay and access to opportunities, or the kinds of violence womxn have to contend with in the world of work. It is clear, however, that there are actors who have and will hijack the conversation to further advance a failed economic model and undermine international efforts to formulate and implement agreements that are rights-based and redistributive.

There are several entry points for the campaign over the 2018-2019 period. These are spaces and processes[2] that safeguard campaign objectives around social protection, including universal public services, decent work, impact of austerity and other macroeconomic policies on womxn, and economic, social and cultural rights, more broadly. Simultaneously, there are institutions and processes that are threats to the campaign objectives. We will intervene both these spaces, however, the campaign will clearly target the IMF, the World Bank and blocs such as G20 as central battlegrounds. We will employ a two-pronged strategy: consolidate in allied and progressive spaces, and frontally challenge institutions and their policies that threaten campaign objectives.

Commission for the Status of womxn (CSW) 2019: the priority theme is social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of womxn and girls. Since the last Progress report, UN womxn has been advancing an agenda aligned to the campaign. The priority theme is critical to the campaign, and the alignments will become clearer once the UN SG’s report will be made public in December. In the meantime, we are aware that social protection has become a big priority for the entire UN system. Simultaneously, in bodies such as the Social Protection Inter Agency Cooperation Board battles between the World Bank and the ILO continue. We’re advised by allies that a big contribution of the campaign would be a clear anti-privatisation agenda which foregrounds a gendered analysis of privatisation and PPPs, which will not only serve well in the CSW, but also across the different multilateral and national spaces.

Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an opportunity for a renewed focus on women’s labour, particularly SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), although the combination of economic growth and decent work under one goal is problematic from a gender perspective. Economic growth does not automatically contribute to gender equality. In fact it can increase inequality. Growth that is predicated on enhancing global competitiveness by reducing costs can actually reinforce gender inequalities by lowering labour costs or transferring the costs of unpaid care and domestic work from the state to womxn, especially through social sector spending cuts and privatisation of public services. In addition the benefits of growth may be distributed in such a way as to reinforce the existing patterns of economic power, gender hierarchies in employment and patriarchal norms[6]. Still, the SDG process offers a crucial platform for questioning existing paradigms and shifting conversations around social protection, public services to redistribute unpaid care and domestic work as well as decent work for womxn from a rights perspective.

International Labour Organisation: there has been a consistent expansion of ILO instruments to meet changes in the labour market, particularly the informal economy, women’s increased labour force participation and the impacts of globalisation. The framework of decent work, since its inception 20 years ago has been renewed through its inclusion in the SDGs and has been a framework for dialogue between governments, trade unions and international organisations. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is leading a campaign for an ILO Convention on Gender Based Violence at Work. An initial discussion took place at the ILO Conference in June 2018 and the draft instrument will be tabled for adoption at the ILO 2020 Conference. From 2019 onward, the ILO’s programmes around the Future of Work, Youth, and Just Transitions are three forward looking programmes around which to engage governments around issues of youth employment, climate justice and the changing nature of work.
The ILO is a tripartite organisation, where we won’t play a prominent part but be led by our trade union allies. We will use ILO conventions and call for their adoption, ratification and implementation in our campaign as these are critical to our objectives both nationally and internationally.

Human Rights Council and the OHCHR[3] contributes significantly to strengthening the human rights aspects in relation to women’s labour, decent work and public services through the treaty bodies, special rapporteurs and various working groups. ActionAid is a member of the Treaty Alliance and the Feminists4BindingTreaty coalition, and has actively participated in advocacy around the negotiations for UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights. Aside from this, there are several campaign related actions that we will coalesce around, including resolutions on the Right to Work on which a report will be presented to it at its 40th session (March 2019) on relationship between realization of right to work and enjoyment of all human rights by young people, with an emphasis on their empowerment. A resolution of the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights in all countries asking the UNSG to submit an annual report to the HRC. Additionally, the work of the Independent Expert on Foreign Debt on gender and austerity and the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on calling out IMF and the World Bank on social protection, and privatisation are critical to the campaign.

IMF and the World Bank will be the campaign’s main targets. Lately, the IMF and the World Bank have both positioned themselves as leaders on women’s economic empowerment, however, their focus has been mainly to increase female labour force participation without any attention to women’s access to decent work or indeed advocacy for universal social protection, or public services to reduce and redistribute their unpaid and domestic work. On the contrary, both agencies continue to back and prescribe failed neoliberal policies of liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation. In particular, they are at the forefront of prescribing even further labour deregulation, the continued attacks on universal social protection, rampant and aggressive privatisation of all public goods and services, alongside prescription of regressive indirect taxes that demonstrably hurt womxn, especially poor womxn more. More generally, the body of evidence that macroeconomic policies such as austerity, structural adjustment and fiscal consolidation adversely and disproportionately impact womxn is growing.