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Human rights in the age of globalisation and democracy

By Dr Renu Agrawal

The international protection of human rights has come a long way in the age of globalisation. It has been put in an increasingly prominent position around the globe and international organisations like that of the United Nations and regional organisations especially in Europe, Africa and America. It was in Vienna in 1993 where a declaration and programme of action was adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights.

According to it, “The promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms must be considered as a priority objective of the United Nations in accordance with its purposes and principles, in particular, the purpose of international cooperation. In the framework of these purposes and principles, the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community.

The organisations and specialised agencies related to human rights should therefore further enhance the coordination of their activities based on the consistent and objective application of international human rights instruments. Globalisation has brought a paradigm shift from which there is no escape. This needs to have changes in lifestyle, value system, cultural and mental attitudes toward local, national and the universe. This will permit the individuals and the societies around the world to uphold both cultural diversity and global norms, such as human rights and democratisation.

Any human right defender and those participating in various protests which denounce corporate abuse are given punishment. Communities struggle to obtain justice for violations against economic, social and cultural rights. International multinational companies need to be upright in human rights. The question is can the powerful corporate and the private sector become a force of empowerment for women, working in favour of women in a climate of free-market economies?

Women’s empowerment, gender equality and human rights are prerequisites for sustainable development. The post-2015 Development Agenda has not done much to address the large inequalities and discrimination against women. This is especially for decision making and financial systems.

Globalisation defines a new process of economic integration which is fuelled by neoliberal ideas claiming that an unregulated market economy maximizes economic efficiency and growth. Apart from inequality, globalisation means attacks on welfare and weakening of trade unions, tax breaks for the rich and corporations, privatisation and deregulation. Many government agencies have come forward to study the effects of globalization on women who make up a disproportionate percentage of the global poor.

Women’s empowerment in the corporations, the private sector and development of stakeholders can be done through the use of microcredit and other interventions which will lift the women along with her children and families out of poverty. Therefore, individual empowerment has been substituted in order to achieve collective empowerment.

This can come with government level development programmes which will be the key to eliminate poverty in the third world. Governments around the world must set a clear vision for connecting the increasing role of the private sector and business in development with accountability and agreed with standards for business practices aligned with human rights, thus creating an enabling environment for women’s empowerment.

Women’s NGOs must take an active part to know the accountability of the private sector and corporations for women’s human rights. Innovative opportunities for advocacy and partnership towards the advancement of women’s economic and social rights should be looked into in a global climate of free market economies and to make corporations work for the empowerment of women and girls in a meaningful way.

Today, with globalisation, there is an increasing number of UN specialised agencies, funds and programmes which are putting more emphasis on human rights in their activities. These include the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). UN Development Programs have come nearer to human rights. The divide between the human development agenda and the human rights agenda is becoming less.

The legal significance of women’s human rights can further be expected to increase through the individual complaint procedure. This can be done under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of  Discrimination against Women which entered into force on 22 December 2000. Economic integration, free trade, deregulation and privatisation are challenges to the international protection of human rights, especially for economic, social and cultural rights.

Information technology is the main area of globalisation. The economic integration includes trade liberalisation, privatisation of state functions, and deregulation of various activities and the emergence of new powerful partners in the economic field. It is important to know that globalisation is not a focus on neo-liberal economic policies. The economic globalisation affects the lives of women worldwide. It is important to understand the factors which are linked to the globalisation process which causes changes in the position of women, thereby excluding the possible factors which affect women’s position.

Areas which have been identified towards women are employment, poverty and trafficking. Another major point is the employment opportunities along with inferior working conditions and low remuneration. For the women who are living in countries at the margin of the globalisation process the employment opportunities are very less. This makes them work in the informal sector with poverty. Sometimes, it is linked with sexual exploitation of women in the form of trafficking for prostitution. Present globalisation trends and policies influence a number of human rights like civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

International financial institutions, like the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are reluctant to accept the international human rights norms. There is no formal connection of WTO to the UN. This makes it difficult and the possible relationship between WTO and human rights should be determined on the basis of the agreement under the rules of international law. The obligation to respect requires the state to abstain from doing anything that violates the integrity of the individual or infringes on her or his freedom, including the freedom to use the material resources available to that individual in the way she or he finds best to satisfy basic needs.

For protection, it is necessary to prevent other individuals or groups from violating the integrity, freedom of action, or other human rights. The employment-related right which refers to the most fundamental labour rights and includes the freedom from slavery and similar practices, the freedom from forced and compulsory labour, the freedom to work, the right to free employment services, the right to employment, the right to protection of employment and the right to protection against unemployment. In this category, the most pressing right for women is the right to protection of employment; meaning the right to stay in employment in the consequence of pregnancy.

Secondly, employment-derivative rights refer to rights that become operational when a person has an employment, that is, rights which first and foremost deal with different aspects of the employment relationship. These include especially the right to justified conditions at work, the right to safe and healthy working conditions, the right to fair remuneration, the rights to vocational guidance and training, maternity protection and the right to social security. These rights seem to be the most crucial when addressing the rights of women in export industries. The rights of equality of treatment and non-discrimination are relevant both as independent rights and in conjunction with the application of other rights.

The foremost should be the rights of equal treatment and non-discrimination. The instrumental right refers to rights that are required in order to safeguard the work-related rights. The most important right is the right to organise, the right to collective bargaining, the right to protest and the right to effective remedies. Other important rights are the freedom of expression and assembly, property rights and security. Effective remedy together with the rights of the trade union is most relevant for women in the globalised economy.

Moreover, there are a number of other questions of female workers from different perspectives – women working at night and maternity protection. The fundamental human rights conventions received many ramifications with particular importance to women.  (To be concluded).

(The writer is former Chief Scientist, CFTRI and Rural Program Coordinator)

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