Constitutional approaches to gender and social and economic rights

Edward Elgar
Publication Type:
Constitutions and Gender, 2017, pp. 482-500
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The requirement that states contribute towards meeting the material needs of their citizens, in the form of social rights such as health, education, social security and housing, is frequently present in national constitutions. Economic rights such as the right to strike and form trade unions, that assist employees in the labour market, also appear in many constitutions. There is growing interest in the use of constitutional rights to address the persistent problems of poverty and inequalities of wealth in rich and poor countries alike (Thiruvengadam and Hessebon 2012). Poverty should not, however, be understood in gender-neutral terms since poverty and gender inequality are closely related. Gender inequality is multi-dimensional and is shaped by political, economic and cultural factors that interact in complex ways (Fredman 2011). It manifests within the labour market where male and female work is differently defined and unequally valued; in households in relation to choices over the allocation of resources and reproductive responsibilities; and at the level of the State where law and policy are influential on the spheres of work and home (UNRISD 2010: 108). Women are more likely to live in poverty than men in the majority of countries in the world and have fewer employment and economic opportunities. Only half of the world’s women are in the labour force compared to three quarters of the world’s men (UN Women 2015: 74) and their work is often located in the informal sector and in part-time and precarious work. In many parts of the world women have less access to housing, land and productive resources and face greater barriers to education. For example, in the Middle East and North Africa, ownership of property by women is frequently restricted (UN Women 2015: 32) while in Sub-Saharan Africa, even where women farmers have access to land, they are more likely to lack the capital to profit from the land (UNRISD 2010: 129). While there has been an increase in girls’ education worldwide, this has not translated into a reduction in the gender wage gap (UN Women 2015: 81). This pattern indicates the persistence of gender inequality related to social and cultural expectations that women perform the bulk of care and domestic labour that keeps them out of the labour market or limits their participation in it. These expectations also lead to women occupying forms of work that are lower paid. Violence against women and limited opportunities to influence public and private decision-making impact on women’s position in society and their access to the resources and benefits that contribute towards a dignified life (Brodsky and Day 2005: 162). The likelihood of poverty is further heightened for particular groups of women such as single mothers, women with disabilities, women migrants and refugees, and women in minority communities.
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