Zika looms on the Rio Olympics, but sheds light on an even larger issue – women’s rights

By Alexandra DeMatos

Summer 2016 – Communications Intern

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Tomorrow the 2016 Summer Olympics will begin in Rio, Brazil. The country will be the host to countless visitors and the world’s best athletes – if they choose to attend. Many have decided to opt out of this summer’s Olympics due to the looming threat of the Zika virus throughout South America, which is extremely prevalent in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, home of the Olympics, is the area that is the most plagued with the virus.

In late April, Brazil released a report that analyzed the statistics of the Zika virus all throughout Brazil, with Rio housing the worst concentration of Zika cases in the country – more than 1 in 4 of the 90,000 reported cases in the first quarter of the year. With 157 per 100,000 people in Rio being infected with the virus, Rio has three times the national average. The threat for outsiders and athletes is easily avoidable, but for the poor residents of Rio leaving is not necessarily an option. For women, the threat is even greater.

The Zika virus is most often spread in one of three ways: the bite of an infected mosquito, sex with an infected man or childbirth. While infections in adults often show no symptoms, if a woman is infected while pregnant, there can be severe consequences. Children born from a mother that is infected with the Zika virus may have a serious birth defect known as “microcephaly,” which results in the baby having a smaller head and brain than expected due to improper development, along with seizures, developmental delay, intellectual disability, hearing loss, vision problems and so on. As the link between the two became more obvious the government of Brazil shared its words of wisdom: don’t get pregnant.

To many, this piece of advice is incomprehensible. Brazil has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, is extremely lacking in sexual education and lacks contraceptive access, particularly for the poor. Abortion is allowed only in cases of rape, a threat to the mother’s life or in cases of anencephaly (when the fetus is missing parts of the brain). This issue of microcephaly has become so profound that even Pope Francis was swayed into saying that contraceptives would be the “lesser evil” in the fight against Zika.

The women who live in “favelas,” referred to as “impoverished or overcrowded areas” by the World Health Organization (WHO), are at the greatest risk of having a baby born with microcephaly. One in 5 of the residents in Rio live in favelas, which lack basic sanitation, which Marcelo Firpo of Brazil’s National School of Public Health says is the number one factor behind the spread of the mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which spreads Zika (as well as chikungunya and dengue fever). Unlike favelas, which are often riddled with garbage dumps and raw sewage, the well-off cities and neighborhoods in Brazil have an exponentially lower number of cases of Zika, and little to no cases of microcephaly. Highlighting severe economic disparity in the country and a difference, which can also be contributed to the better health care available to those of better means.

As long as Zika thrives in Brazil, poor women will be disproportionally affected and many women will continue to desperately search out methods of avoiding pregnancy. As the concern over the wellbeing of the athletes and visitors rises, we cannot forget the residents, women in particular, that are being left behind.

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CWGL at HLPF

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“Accountability won’t happen unless we demand it.”

This week, CWGL joins hundreds of other civil society organizations monitoring the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) for Sustainable Development in New York. Consisting of a Ministerial Declaration, thematic sessions and 22 voluntary country reviews, the forum is the official platform for follow-up and review of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

As we fight for gender equality and the full realization of human rights we must remember: The development agenda is, at its core, about human rights. Poverty. Inequality. Conflict. Climate change. We need a holistic approach grounded in policy: Fiscal policy, tax policy, labor policy are all critical, with the power to further entrench discrimination, or to tackle inequality. At the national level –both in the United States and abroad–we must ensure they fulfill rights for all.

To move the HLPF beyond rhetoric to strong accountability, it will require space for civil society, support for social movements and active inclusion of those often left behind, with member states capable and willing to engage in a human rights based approach to the 2030 Agenda.

By Rachael Wyant

Program Coordinator – Economic and Social Rights

Addressing the Gender Pay Gap & Inequalities

By Rachael Wyant

 

There’s been a lot of attention to the gender-pay gap recently in mainstream media. From Jennifer Lawrence and Robin Wright demanding more transparency and equality in high paying entertainment roles, to the U.S. Women’s Soccer team filing a lawsuit, citing the discrepancy between their contributions to the success of the organization relative to the men’s team including gap in compensation and bonuses.

These stories are found across all sectors today; female CEOs, who make up a mere fraction of leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies, make significantly less than their male counterparts, and are penalized to a greater degree with fluctuations in stock prices and revenues for their companies. We see this with women in academia: women are less likely to receive tenure-track positions, and are paid less than men of the same academic standings.

This says a lot about how far we’ve come societally. The Equal Pay Act was signed into law on June, 10 1963, yet women across the board perform work of greater or equal value to men and are still compensated poorly. What norms does this reflect about the intelligence, voice, efforts, time, and bodies of women in our culture? And if it’s so pervasive—and well documented– in the top 1% of female earners, what’s the situation of everyone else?

The “gender-pay gap”—as well as discrimination and unequal access to social protection—goes beyond discrepancies between men and women. If we are to truly address inequality and poverty, we must look to gaps among women themselves.

Female CEOS make an average annual salary of $18.8 million. The top paid female soccer players are raking in between $450,000, plus some bonuses. Women in large corporations have access to human resources and legal representation when faced with harassment and discrimination. They often receive benefits for themselves and their families with health insurance, paid leisure time and employer contributions to pensions.

A wider view of the labor market tells a much different tale. 26.8% of women work in low-wage jobs in New York; for example, women dominate service and care industries, with average annual wages of $ 26,200 (2014) and $20,490, respectively. The median income for women in the state is $43,800–and they’re making less than 88% of what men make. And within these low-wage sectors, there’s incredible racial disparity: African American child care workers make almost twice what Latina childcare workers earn ($21,400 compared to $11, 200).

And wages are only the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the situation of women at work-harassment, discrimination, lack of long-term job security and unregulated working conditions threatening the livelihoods and security of thousands of women. These issues have been gaining more mainstream attention, many based in New York, such as the Fight for $15 and Fast Food Forward, strong worker organizing through the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Urban Justice Center, and outreach and education initiatives like the Nanny Van.

This is reflected in the recent Women’s Equality Agenda passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo for New York State, which address some of these critical issues: including violence against women in the work force, pregnancy protection, paid family leave, bringing an end to familial status and employment discrimination, and strengthening human trafficking laws.

The recently approved state budget for 2016 has also attempted to include some of these pressing priorities. Estimated at $150 billion, Cuomo had wins with high-profile policy measures such as New York City’s $15 incremental minimum wage increase and 12 weeks of paid time off.

As austerity cuts to social protection programs, job training, health insurance and housing subsidies disproportionally impact women, the budget also looks to residents’ abilities to earn an adequate standard of living. It contains income tax cuts beginning in 2018 for those making below $300,000, and takes measures to increase budgets for local school districts. $20 billion will be going toward homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.

If we’re serious about closing the gender-wage gap, and coming together to address severe levels of inequality in this country, we’ve got to do better than just budget allocations.

As the presidential elections approach, it is essential that we begin to change the conversation around women’s work and our economy: paid family leave, violence in the workplace, and flexible scheduling for care giving aren’t just “women’s issues. They are issues that deeply impact our society as a whole and prevent cities and neighborhoods from flourishing. Recognition of the problems is only the first step: the real work begins when we assess and improve the impacts of these services on the everyday lives of people.

When 50 million people in the U.S. do not have enough food to eat….

For the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, October 17th, I want to raise the issue of food insecurity in the U.S.

Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living which includes food and health, but has the U.S. government ensured the right to food? I don’t think so and here’s why. In 2007, 11 percent of households were food insecure. Since 2008, this number has steadily increased and in 2011 50 million people were living in food insecure households. As the top one percent seemingly go unscathed by the economic crisis, many people are facing a deterioration in basic human rights as shocks from 2008 continue to reverberate across the country.

Food insecure households are those that do not have access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times.” Adults living with limited financial resources are running out of food to eat which impairs the health and well-being of their diet and their family’s. Clearly, the U.S. government has insufficiently guaranteed the right to food and this has severe implications for the most vulnerable populations in society, including female-headed single households, households with children under the age of six and households headed by people of color. Whereas the 2011 national average of household food insecurity was at 14.9 percent, the rate of households with children headed by a single woman was 36.8 percent, households with children under age 6 was 21.9 percent, black households was 25.1 percent, and Hispanic households was 26.2 percent.  

The U.S. has failed to comply with human rights obligations of non-discrimination and equality and failed to guarantee the right to food and the right to health. Obviously, the current food programs are lacking and are not effectively addressing this pervasive problem. When will the U.S. take seriously its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of persons living in poverty within its own borders?

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator,  Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University