The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice just completed its ten-day mission and first visit to the US. Despite the progress that has been made toward equality in the workplace, the Working Group identified many areas where the US is in need of improvement, and some areas where it falls behind international human rights standards.
The Working Group was invited to the US based on a mandate that includes reporting on political and public life, economic and social life, family and cultural life, and health and safety in order to identify the best practices to eliminate discrimination against women.
During the visit from November 30th through December 11th, A Better Balance presented twice to the Working Group about issues facing caregivers and pregnant workers in employment and advised on policy solutions. Sherry Leiwant, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance presented to the Working Group in Washington DC about the need for policy changes that support caregivers who work such as paid family leave, flexible scheduling, and the need for access to paid sick time. In addition, Hillary Scrivani, Kennedy Fellow at A Better Balance, presented to the Working Group in Montgomery, Alabama on how women in Alabama, with a focus on women of color, are affected by poor employment and leave policies, and a lack of pay equality. The presentation in Alabama was based off of research that Hillary conducted with the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic.
In its report that makes recommendations to the US based off of information gathered, the UN Working Group stated, “we are shocked by the lack of mandatory standards for workplace accommodation for pregnant women, post-natal mothers and persons with care responsibilities, which are required in international human rights law.”
The Working Group also highlighted how the gender wage gap takes a toll on women’s economic security, particularly women of color, and called for paid maternity leave and a public budget that provides “childcare, after-school and also elder and disabled facilities, which are affordable and accessible, to allow adults with care responsibilities, women and men, to work in full time employment.”
Over all, the Working Group was taken aback by how hostile the US workplace is to women workers, particularly pregnant workers and workers with caregiving responsibilities. The Working Group related its findings to how the US is one of only seven countries that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All of Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), noting that “ ratification is essential in order to provide all US women with rights and protections guaranteed under CEDAW.” The Working Group continued that “[t]here is a myth that women already enjoy all these rights and protections under US law. However, there are missing rights and protections such as universal paid maternity leave. . . .”
We hope that this additional voice from an international chorus of peers leads to better policy for workers in the US who need to take care of themselves and their families while remaining employed.