Women scored an historic victory today as the international community agreed to count women’s unpaid work in their economic studies and valuations of the economies. Unpaid work performed by women has been estimated by a recent UNDP Human Development Report to amount to $11 trillion annually.
Although the language will not directly affect actual wages or pensions for women, it will count women’s unpaid work in measuring and valuation of labor. In a major coup, women’s advocates were successful in including the valuation of unpaid work in satellite and other official accounts in section 209 (f) (iii).
This issue is critical for women who labor in the home, performing unpaid and undervalued housework and child care services. It is also crucially important for rural women, particularly in poverty stricken areas of the globe, whose unpaid farm work is not valued in national and international statistics upon which aid and development policies rely.
Women’s advocates have worked for more than fifteen years to require economic analysis to include women’s unpaid labor.
Tensions rose at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing today, as negotiators maneuvered to recover positions lost in earlier rounds. A surprise revolt by the G77/China group derailed adoption of the mission statement, upsetting the proceedings.
Claiming that the Platform for Action ignores economic issues while stressing only the human rights aspects, the G77/China, led by the Philippines, sought to introduce new language into the already approved text. The Chair of the Main Committee, Patricia Licuanan, also of the Philippines, was clearly stunned. Other G77 nations did not appear to know in advance of the plan.
The G77 group pressured Licuanan to refer the issue to a new group of “Friends of the Chair”, consisting of people at the ambassador or minister level. The Friends had been organized earlier in the day to assist with the portions of the text still unresolved, such as the footnote on deferring to national law, religious and cultural customs.
After a tense recess and consultations, Licuanan held firm on the procedure. Explaining that language agreed on in the working groups could not be reopened at the eleventh hour as the Conference draws to a close, she clarified the role of the Friends of the Chair.
“This is not an appeals group. This group is organized only to assist the chair with language which has not yet been agreed upon in the working committees. It will not reopen agreed language.”
The Main Committee agreed to defer accepting the Mission Statement until Thursday.
In other developments, the Vatican attempted to recover lost ground on the key issues of “foeticide,” discrimination against females “from the moment of conception” and other anti-choice language. arguing that compromise language agreed in the health section should not apply to the same issues in the human rights section, the Vatican and its allies pressured the working group to accept weaker language. Chair Irene Freudenschuss of Austria held firm, and the sections were approved.
On the key issue of inheritance rights for women and girls, compromise language was reached which recognizes females’ “equal right to inheritance and succession.” This language steers a middle course between “equal inheritance” for boys and girls sought by Zambia and sub-Saharan Africa, and the “equal access to inheritance” proposed by Egypt and Islamic countries.
The language recognizes the principle that girls must be included in inheritance and may not be totally excluded in favor of boys. It leaves the question of amount open, however, thus accommodating Islamic countries which only require daughters to receive 1/2 of the amount left to sons.
Nils Daulaire of the U.S. Delegation emphasized the importance of this issue for girls and women. It is probably the single greatest factor contributing to women’s poverty around the globe, because without the capac