Women’s rights have been a concern of the United Nations (UN) since 1945, when the United Nations Charter promised in its preamble ‘to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.’ At the very first UN General Assembly meeting in February 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt, a delegate from the United States, made a statement calling upon all governments to encourage women to take a more active role in political affairs at both national and international levels. That same month, following through on its promise to promote equal rights for women, a sub-commission dedicated to the status of women was founded under the auspices of the Commission on Human Rights. After the international community recognized the increasing importance of global women’s rights, the sub-commission gained full commission status under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on 21 June 1946 through ECOSOC resolution 11(II), thus becoming the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The Commission’s original mandate was to ‘prepare recommendations and reports to the Economic and Social Council on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social, and educational fields’ and to ‘make recommendations to the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights.’
Topic A: The Disproportionate Effect of Natural Disasters on Women
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action explicitly identified that environmental disasters have a greater negative impact on women than on men, as systemic social and economic inequalities become amplified in the aftermath of natural disasters. Two instances in particular showcase this inequality. Women accounted for 70%’80% of the deaths following the 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. In 2008, women accounted for 61% of deaths caused by Cyclone Nargis in Southeast Asia. Women’s vulnerability during disasters can be attributed in large part to a lack of mobility imposed by cultural or societal norms. Even if they survive the immediate effects of the natural disaster, women suffer under unsafe conditions in shelters. Gender-sensitive responses toward issues of climate change are thus imperative for advancing gender equality worldwide. However, many opportunities to improve communities’ ability to recover following disasters are missed. As the CSW recommends, ‘women’s strengths in dealing with disasters and supporting their families and communities should be built upon following disasters to rebuild and restore their communities and mitigate against future disasters.’ To fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals, this gender gap must be acknowledged and addressed by the CSW to improve the status of women and promote equality across the globe.
Topic B: Addressing Occupational Segregation and Inequality in the Workplace
In many countries, structural barriers to gender equality exist in the workforce. These gender gaps are rooted in a mix of greater responsibilities of balancing work and family duties, historically unequal power structure between women and men, discriminatory laws, and social norms. In 104 countries, women are still prevented from taking certain jobs on the basis that they are women, and husbands are legally permitted to keep their wives from working. Although gender-responsive laws and policies are put in place to protect women, many public and private employers fail to get justice for working women. At work, women may face violence and harassment regardless of their location, income, age, or social status. This significantly impacts their physical and mental health, possibly resulting in ‘missed job promotions and job losses.’ No laws preventing sexual harassment in the workplace exist in 59 countries. The elimination of this violence is integral to providing women with economic empowerment. The CSW has a duty to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. One step towards doing so is achieving equality in the workplace.