Women's economic, social and cultural rights in Scotland

The graphic shows a dark purple background with bright purple and white left-aligned text that reads "How can ICESCR improve women's lives in Scotland? READ OUR GENDER EDIT of the UN CESCR Committee's ‘List of Issues’ in relation to the UK’s seventh periodic report now.". In the top right-hand corner of the graphic there is Engender's logo, which is an equals sign in a white circle. In the bottom right-hand corner of the graphic there is an icon of an open book.

We recently submitted a shadow report, signed by 20 organisations, to the Seventh periodic report of the government of the United Kingdom on measures taken to give effect to ICESCR. In this blog, we share our gender edit of the List of Issues published by the CESCR Committee and take a look at some key issues raised.

The UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights is currently examining the UK on its performance under ICESCR (the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural, and Social rights). In 2022, the UK submitted its state party report (including input on devolved matters from Scottish Government), and the Committee received ‘shadow reports’ from civil society. Earlier this year we submitted a shadow report, co-signed by twenty organisations, which maps women’s rights in Scotland across the articles of ICESCR and highlights potential areas of focus for the Committee’s scrutiny. You can read more about our shadow report here.

On 8th March, we joined national human rights institutions and civil society organisations across the UK to give evidence to the Committee, to support development of its ‘List of issues’. This list requests further data from the UK Government and devolved administrations, and sets the Committee’s direction for its review. We've created a gender edit of the List of Issues, which you can read here, and are very pleased to see some of our key concerns reflected.

The right to health

Reproductive rights, and abortion law specifically, are covered under Article 12 of ICESCR on the right to health. For many years we have called for abortion to be decriminalised in Scotland, and we are delighted that the Committee is asking all jurisdictions of the state party whether legislative change is foreseen to improve access to reproductive health. Information on measures to increase access to reproductive and sexual health services is also requested from the UK Government and devolved administrations.

Abortion has not always been understood as healthcare by UN treaty bodies and it is extremely positive to see this framing by the CESCR Committee in this List of issues.

The right to just and favourable conditions of work

The Committee has also picked up on current inadequate responses to workplace sexual harassment across the UK. We are particularly pleased to see the request for intersectional data from all administrations – our recent report on tackling sexual harassment, Enough is Enough, highlights limited understanding on how sexist and sexual harassment is bound up with other forms of discrimination and harassment, including racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia.

The right to social security

In 2016, the CESCR Committee called on the UK to “review and reverse” cuts to social security in its Concluding Observations. The UK Government is now required to report back on this and to provide information on the impact of social security reforms on women, as well as disabled people, children and low-income families.

We are pleased to see the Committee also asking specifically for info on the impact of Universal Credit on women – we raised split payments and other sexist aspects of Universal Credit in our written and oral evidence to the Committee. The focus on uprating entitlements in line with inflation and the impact of the benefit cap is also very welcome.

Protection of the family and children

Childcare is covered under Article 10, with a welcome focus on accessibility as well as affordability and availability of services across all jurisdictions of the UK. The inadequacy of social care provision “for older people” is also covered here, with a request for all state party jurisdictions to set out action taken in response to the Committee’s 2016 recommendations.

Sex-disaggregated and intersectional data

It is also extremely helpful that the Committee has requested sex-disaggregated data on a wide range of issues across the articles, in line with our calls for much improved gathering of gendered evidence and data. These issues include in-work poverty, the impact of Covid-19 on job losses and underemployment, precarious work and zero-hours contracts, and intersectional information on representation in politics and public life, the gender pay gap, and ethnicity and disability income gaps.

The next step in the examination process is for all governments of the UK to respond to the List of issues, providing the data requested. This must be submitted by the end of March 2024, ahead of the UK’s review in Geneva, expected next summer. Engender and our partners will also be submitting an updated shadow report ahead of the review, and will keep you updated on our work around this as it progresses.

See our full gender edit of the List of Issues online here, and read our shadow report here.

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