Upcoming elections! UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights

On April 9 2024 States Parties to the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights will elect 9 of the 18 members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). The CESCR is a key United Nations Treaty Body in charge of protecting fundamental human rights related to health, education, food, water, housing, social security, work, and more.

States Parties to the ICESCR have until November 23, 2023 to nominate candidates to fill in these vacancies. The available positions are distributed across UN regional groups as follows: African States (2 seats), Asia Pacific (2 seats), Eastern Europe (2 seats), Latin American and Caribbean) (1 seat), and Western Europe and Others (2 seats). This allocation ensures fair representation from various regions across the globe, thereby enhancing the committee’s diversity.

At the same time, membership needs to reflect gender balance. However, women represent only 33% of its current membership and the #CESCR has never achieved gender parity in its 38 years of existence.  As concluded by the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee in its report on gender balance in UN human right bodies presented to the HRC on 21 May, 2021, the lack of gender balance in international bodies not only affects women’s right to equality, but it also erodes the effectiveness of the institutions and limits the range of issues and perspectives that should be part of their legal and political agenda. This is particularly key in the CESCR considering the particular impact that violations of the rights protected by the Committee have on women in all their diversity and the critical role that women play in ensuring equal and sustainable development and prosperity for all.

State Parties could #ChangeThisPicture in this election by ensuring that gender parity is taken into account when nominating and voting for candidates. This election presents an opportunity to reshape the committee to better reflect the diversity of the individuals it serves.

Call to Action

Achieving gender parity in the UN Treaty Bodies was highlighted as a specific objective by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk in an open letter published on June 9, 2023. To achieve #GenderParity in the CESCR, States need to ensure a balanced and diverse pool of candidates and consider gender balance as a specific objective at the voting stage.

In order to do so, States should consider the specific recommendations put forward by the UN HRC Advisory Committee in its 2021 report, including:

1) Ensuring that more female candidates are identified and nominated by:

– Working with relevant civil society organizations and other non-State actors to collect profiles of qualified women for United Nations human rights positions.

– Disseminating information regarding vacancies, being proactive to ensure that such information reaches qualified women.

-Developing and adopting formal, open and transparent national nomination procedures

– Including gender parity as a specific selection criterion and goal

– Considering the actual and historical gender composition of the respective UN body and committing to nominate an independent and qualified expert of the underrepresented gender

2) Ensure that more women are elected or appointed by:

– Undertaking firm commitments to guarantee gender parity in the election of candidates

– Incorporating gender parity in voting practices

– Implementing target measures, such as encouraging States to commit to electing independent and qualified members of the gender that is underrepresented in that body

– Voting for women candidates in consecutive voting rounds if the minimum targets for parity are not achieved in the first round of votes

The 2024 CESCR elections are an opportunity for change and a tangible step towards a future in which gender parity is not just an ideal, but a concrete reality. #ChangeThePicture