Measuring Women's Economic and Social Rights Achievement
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Human Rights Quarterly 20.1 (1998) 139-172



Measuring Women's Economic and Social Rights Achievement

Clair Apodaca

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I. Introduction

In recent years empirical research in the field of human rights produced several different measures along with volumes of literature. 1 This scientifically oriented research has, for the most part, concerned itself with civil and political rights. Economic and social rights, due to the lack of sufficiently valid and reliable measures, have received far less academic attention. Similarly, although women's rights have been the focus of scholarly concern, scant consideration has been paid to empirical, cross-national studies on women's economic and social rights. Yet, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Committee) 2 recently noted [End Page 139] the importance, and relative absence, of disaggregated and precise indicators on the situation of women. 3 The Committee remarked that "statistical information is absolutely necessary in order to understand the real situation of women in each of the States parties to the Convention." 4

Although data analysis is important in evaluating the status of women's rights, aggregated data masks portentous differences in the realization of economic and social rights between males and females. Some examples will illustrate this point. In 1985, 60 percent of the developing world's adult population was literate; but disaggregating the numbers reveals that 70 percent of the males were literate while only 49 percent of the females were literate. 5 In 1990, 52 percent of all adults (fifteen years of age and older) were economically active; close inspection of the data indicates that while 67 percent of the males were gainfully employed, only 36 percent of the women held jobs that paid a wage. 6 Consequently, the Committee's General Recommendation No. 9 requests that states make every effort to collect and provide appropriate data on the situation of women. 7 Recommendation No. 9 confirms that sex differentiated data is extremely useful in assessing [End Page 140] compliance with clauses found in both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 8 and in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 9 that mandate nondiscrimination and equality of treatment.

This study is a beginning step in the long process of understanding women's situations in regard to the realization of economic and social human rights. Steven Poe, Karl Ho, and Dierdre Wendel-Blunt also have taken up the inquiry into cross-cultural variations in the realization of women's rights, by originating a coding scheme (Poe measure) that uses the US State Department's country reports to classify the economic and political situation of women in each nation. 10 This project, still in its initial stages, constructs the groundwork for the evaluation of women's situations throughout the world by establishing the validity and reliability of rights measures. 11 An additional tool to evaluate and analyze women's human rights status is the 1995 publication of the Human Development Report. 12 Subtitled "The Revolution for Gender Equality," the report is dedicated to the problem of women's political, economic, and social inequality. 13 The 1995 report introduces two new measures to capture sex disparities in the achievement of human rights: the gender-related development index (GDI) that measures achievement in the human development index (HDI) with regard to sex disparity, and the gender empowerment measure (GEM) that assesses women's participation in economic and political life. 14 The Poe measure and the new human development indexes are impressive scholarly endeavors on women's inequality, yet lack the time component of the Women's Economic and Social Human Rights (WESHR) achievement index introduced in this article. With the time extension (inclusion of 1995 data), the WESHR achievement index can be used in conjunction with the Poe measure, the GDI, and the GEM to reach a more conclusive understanding of women's human rights situations worldwide. [End Page 141]

II. Construction of Women's Equitable Human Rights Achievement Index

Despite the emerging recognition of the importance of economic and social rights, and the need to enhance women's enjoyment...