U.S. Promises to Study U.N. HRC Views on Sex Discrimination

NOW and other women's rights organizations plan to follow up on the U.N. Human Rights Committee (U.N. HRC) recommendations concerning sex-based employment discrimination in the United States, and the U.S.'s expressed interest in studying those recommendations. Representatives of NOW will be meeting with various governmental officials to discuss ways to address the widespread employment discrimination that underlies the gender wage gap.

In a report to the U.N. HRC, NOW Foundation observed that, contrary to a human rights treaty mandate, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the U.S. government has taken virtually no steps to remedy sex-based discrimination and has even undertaken a dismantling of policies and programs meant to reduce and prohibit sex discrimination. Jan Erickson, NOW Foundation's Program Director, attending the U.N. HRC meeting in Geneva, urged them to take the U.S. to task on this point—and our efforts may be paying off!

The U.N. HRC recently concluded its review of U.S. compliance with the ICCPR, which mandates that treaty signers prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and take all steps necessary to end discriminatory action, in both public and private sectors. In its conclusion, the U.N. HRC recommended that the U.S. "should take all steps necessary, including at the state level, to ensure the equality of women before the law and protection of the law as well as effective protection against discrimination on the ground of sex, in particular in the area of employment." The full text of the recommendations is available online.

The action marked an important outcome for NOW Foundation and was largely due to the detailed documentation of deep and pervasive sex discrimination in employment that the Foundation submitted to the U.N. HRC in June.

The U.S. Mission in Geneva (on behalf of the U.S. government) responded to the recommendations of the U.N. HRC, as follows: "...the Committee has made recommendations in matters under its competence, including efforts to address race and sex discrimination, capital punishment, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and voting rights. Many of these suggestions appear to address matters that are under active consideration by federal and state courts under U.S. law, and by state and federal agencies. We are an open society, accustomed to robust public policy debate, and will be happy to examine the Committee's views closely and draw any appropriate conclusions from them."

Women's rights advocates will press for further action by the U.S. government to undertake policy and legislative initiatives that would bring the country into compliance with the ICCPR's provisions on equality and other matters. In testimony prepared for the U.N. HRC, NOW Foundation recommended that the U.S. conduct a comprehensive review with intent to repeal and modify laws and policies which limit or deny equal protection for women.

Other recommendations in the testimony urge the U.S. brings its laws and policies on reproductive health care into accordance with ICCPR provisions, noting the crisis in access to abortion and reproductive health care services for low income women that currently exists in this country.