Women, Human Rights & Poverty
What is the Human Right to Freedom from Poverty?
A life of dignity is every person's human right. This is true no matter where he or she lives or what his or her sex, race, or ethnic origin may be. And every woman, man, youth and child has basic needs that must be met if he or she is to live in dignity. A life of poverty means that basic needs go unfulfilled, and fundamental human rights are violated.
More than 1 billion people live in poverty around the world, and a great majority of them are women. Women's poverty results in widespread violations of their human rights. When a woman faces a lack of access to adequate housing, food, or health care, her human rights are violated. When she lives in an unsafe and unhealthy environment or lacks access to clean water, she is not enjoying her fundamental human rights to a life of dignity and to an adequate standard of living.
Poverty can also be caused by violations of human rights, particularly women's human right to non-discrimination. When women are denied equal access to employment opportunities, are paid less than men for equal work, or are prevented by law or custom from owning or inheriting land, they are made vulnerable to poverty. When women are denied equal access to education, when they do not have the equal right to decide on the number and spacing of children, or when they have an unequal share of the responsibility for raising children, their ability to earn an income and to be protected from poverty is greatly compromised.
The Human Rights at Issue
Human Rights relating to poverty are set out in basic human rights treaties and include:
- The human right to an adequate standard of living, including access to housing, food, clean water, and basic social services.
- The human right to a healthy and safe environment.
- The human right to primary health care and medical attention in case of illness.
- The human right to freedom from discrimination based on sex, in all aspects of life and work.
- The human right to equal access to education and training.
- The human right to equal access to productive resources, including land and credit.
- The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.
- The human right to equal pay for equal work, and to equality of opportunity in hiring and promotion.
- The human right to proper consideration of women's reproductive rights and sexuality, including job security during and after pregnancy, flexible working conditions, and access to child care.
- The human right to equality within the family and shared responsibilities for children's upbringing.
- The human right to social security in the event of unemployment, disability, old age, or other lack of livelihood.
- The human right to be treated with dignity, and to freedom from violence and exploitation.
- The human right to full and equal participation in shaping decisions of importance to women, their families and communities, including decisions relating to poverty eradication and development.
- The human right to sustainable development.
- The human right to peace.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom from Poverty:
What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Freedom from Poverty?
Includes excerpts from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- "States Parties shall ... ensure to women equal rights with men in ... education,.... the right to work.... access to health care.... bank loans ... credit.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure ... that they participate in and benefit from rural development and ... shall ensure to such women the right ... to have access to adequate health care facilities...; to benefit ... from social security programmes; ... to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14.
- "Everyone ... is entitled to the realization ... of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity .... Everyone has the right to work .... Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.... Everyone has the right to education...."
- --Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 22, 23, 25, 26.
- "States Parties ... recognize the right to work.... to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind.... a decent living for themselves and their families.... the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance.... the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.... the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.... to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.... to education...."
- --International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13.
- "States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination ... and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, ... in the enjoyment of ... the right to economic, social and cultural rights, in particular ... the right to work ... to just and favourable remuneration ... to housing ... to public health, medical care, social security and social services ... to education and training ...."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5
- "States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the childıs physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.... States Parties ... shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support..., particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing."
- --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 27
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom from Poverty:
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Freedom from Poverty?
Includes commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.
- "We are determined to ... eradicate the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women by addressing the structural causes of poverty through changes in economic structures, ensuring equal access for all women ... as vital development agents, to productive resources, opportunities and public services...."
- --Beijing Declaration, para. 26
- "More than one billion people in the world today, the great majority of whom are women, live in unacceptable conditions of poverty.... Womenıs poverty is directly related to the absence of economic opportunities and autonomy, lack of access to economic resources ... lack of access to education and support services and their minimal participation in the decision-making process...."
- --Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 47 and 51
- "A specific antipoverty strategy is ... one of the basic conditions for ensuring sustainable development. An effective strategy for tackling the problems of poverty, development and environment simultaneously should begin by focusing on resources, production and people and should cover demographic issues, enhanced health care and education, the rights of women, the role of youth and of indigenous people and local communities and a democratic participation process....
- --Agenda 21, Chapter 3, para. 2
- "We commit ourselves to... eradicating poverty.... We will ... Formulate ... policies ... geared to ... eradicating absolute poverty by a target date ... specified by each country...; address the root causes of poverty ... food security, education, ... livelihood,... health ..., shelter...."
- --Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 2
- "We ... are committed to a political, economic, environmental, ethical and spiritual vision of human settlements based on the principles of equality, ... human dignity, respect and cooperation.... Violations of human rights, ... economic imbalances, poverty ... are destructive to human settlements and should ... be denounced and discouraged by all States.... Promoting equitable, socially viable and stable human settlements is inextricably linked to eradicating poverty.... Poverty has various manifestations, including homelessness and inadequate housing.... People living in poverty must be empowered through freely chosen participation in all aspects of political, economic and social life.... Key elements of a poverty eradication strategy include policies geared to reducing inequalities, increasing opportunities, improving and providing ... access to resources, employment and income...."
- --Habitat Agenda, paras. 25 and 115
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;