Women’s unequal access to employment and decent work in Africa and Latin America” – takeaways from the HIC CSocD Side Event


Report on the HIC CSocD Side Event that took place on Tuesday, the 14th February 2023 from 9.45-11.00AM NY time: ‘Unequal access to employment and decent work: The case of women in Africa and Latin America,’

A Side event at the 61st  Session of the UN Commission for Social Development 2023, organized with the collaboration of the HIC Women and Habitat Africa Working Group (WHAWG) and the NGO Working Group to end Homelessness.


The Commission for Social Development (CSocD) is one of the eight functional commissions established by the initial meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC in 1946, originally called just the Social Commission. Its purpose was to advise ECOSOC on social policies of a general character; to oversee the wide range of social issues not captured by other more specific commissions that ECOSOC had developed. The Commission reached a pivotal moment when it convened the 1995 Copenhagen Summit, which was the largest gathering of world leaders at the time.The Declaration adopted at the Summit placed poverty alleviation, full employment, and social integration as the highest global development priorities. 

Since the convening of the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, the commission has taken up key social development themes as part of its follow-up to the outcome of the Copenhagen Summit. In 2023, the priority theme adopted for the year’s 61st session was ‘Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,’. The 61st Session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development (CSocD61) took place from 6 to 15 February 2023 both virtually and in-person at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Guided by the priority theme, HIC together with the Women and Habitat Africa Working Group (WHAWG) held its virtual CSocD side event, titled ‘Unequal access to employment and decent work: The case of women in Africa and Latin America. The virtual side event was well attended with over 50 participants from across the globe. The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Iffy Ofong and moderated by Mr. Andrew Allimadi, UN DESA with a cross regional panelist composed of Dr. Priscilla Izar, Olga Luisa de Queiroga, Lydia Stazen and Diana Wachira. (See the agenda at the annex). 

Full employment and decent work are fundamental to achieving the broader goals of human development and delivering on the SDGs. Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals on decent work and economic growth encourages governments to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Gender equality is at the heart of achieving this goal.  However, there has been a persistent gender divide in accessing full and productive employment in countries all over the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America. The HIC side event made a case for Decent work from a feminist perspective, particularly in the intersection and implications of women’s use, access and control of land rights and decent work, differentiated access to productive resources, equal pay for work of equal value, inclusion of women in all growth sectors of the economy, safe and healthy working environment for women, promoting social dialogue and enhancing access to social protection for women working in formal, informal and the care economy. This also entailed making the link between persistent inequalities across the productive and reproductive spheres and different initiatives to address the issue from a habitat rights perspective.

Opening Remarks, Dr. Iffy Ofong, Representative to the United Nations, Convener, Women and Habitat Africa Working Group. 

Dr Ify Ofong opened the side event by welcoming participants and introducing the Habitat International Coalition (HIC), the HIC Women and Habitat Africa Working Group (WHAWG) and the NGO Working Group to End Homelessness. 

  • The WHAWG aims to, individually and collectively with other HIC Members and Allies, tackle historical challenges related to habitat facing women and girls in Africa. These include: Women’s right to adequate housing, land and inheritance rights, full and equal access, use and control of natural and economic resources and equal representation and participation of women in decision making spaces
  • The NGO Working Group to End Homelessness- advocates at the United Nations in pursuit of adequate housing for all,  an end homelessness,  a future in which everyone has the dignity of having a safe, habitable, affordable, secure home, safeguarding human rights and supporting policies and programs end homelessness. 

The side event  raises awareness on the critical issues affecting women and girls in Africa and Latin America. Particularly in respect to access to full and productive employment and decent work. . 

Mr. Andrew Alimadi, Moderator, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 

Mr. Alimadi highlighted  that the Commission on Social Development has its origins in the World Social Summit (WSS) in Copenhagen in 1995; the summit was concerned with the over emphasis on profit maximization and short term growth at the exclusion of social policies, entrenching of discrimination and poverty  The WSS placed the issue of social policy back on top of the international agenda. It resulted in a period of structural adjustment  with a human face, including the development of the millennium development goals that would be seen as an attempt to address social issues  among others. 

Currently, the world is again facing different kinds of crises including cost of living, climate change among many other issues, so it’s once again, a time to reconsider social policy as a very important component of international growth and development. 

The United Nations Secretary General has proposed to member states, another World Social summit in 2025. This is because poverty has increased for the first time in a generation during the period of COVID, and there is a need to ensure that growth is of benefit to humanity. Therefore, we need to come back to focus on human beings and focus once again on social policies. 

A key resolution to keep in mind from the 58th Session of the Commission for Social Development is found in Paragraph 44:, ‘invites all relevant stakeholders, including the United Nations system and civil society organizations to continue to promote the exchange of information and good practices and programs, policies and measures that successfully reduce inequality in all its dimensions, address challenges to social inclusion and address homelessness through affordable housing, political, social protection policies, with the aim of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Women in formal and informal sectors: Challenges, opportunities and solutions for productive employment and equal pay, Dr. Priscila Izar, School of Architecture and Planning, CUBES, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Priscilla’s discussion focused specifically on peripheral territories and communities. She looked at intersectionality, i.e. how the uneven distribution of power in terms of  gender, sexuality, religion, and where people live, disproportionately affects poor and non-white women. Addressing these issues transversely means that when we look at initiatives by women, or that seek to support women, we need  to consider a cross-sector approach, e.g. housing and infrastructure, health, education, employment, and so on.

In Sub Saharan Africa, almost 90% of all women are employed in the informal sector; in Latin America the figure is 75%. Men and women working in the informal sector  experience stigmatization and vulnerability in many ways. For example, waste pickers are among the most vulnerable of informal workers. Women are worse off than men because they earn less and are more vulnerable to violence. 

A study by WIEGO explains why women are more vulnerable: they earn less because they spend more time in unpaid hours. They are in charge of sorting waste which pays less while men are in charge of collecting. Because women are in charge of sorting they are more confined and vulnerable to oppression. Labor organization is more advanced in Latin America compared to Africa. There is a need for intersectional approaches, i.e. understanding and addressing issues transversally, focusing on peripheries and multi-directional marginalization. 

Desildad de acceso el empleo y al trabajo decente na America Latina, (Lack of access to employment and decent work in Latin America) Olga Luisa de Queiroga,  Social movements, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The political context of rights violations, dismantling of public policies in 2020 and 2022 in Brazil, added to the pandemic, are facts that present serious elements of social inequality and violence against women. In the context of unequal cities and territories, the peripheries are the most affected, and in times of Covid-19 , the pandemic opens up even more such situations. 

In terms of productive employment and women’s rights on the labor market,  the collective work of men and women building houses through self-management, Olga’s social movement  has managed to address gender and remuneration inequality. Everyone works together, men and women, and we have the same remuneration. Human beings, both men and women should have a happy and secure job position which includes equal compensation. 

Full productive employment and women’s land and habitat related rights: exploring the intersection and implications, Diana Wachira, Learning Officer, General Secretariat, Habitat International Coalition

Among other factors, lack of access to productive resources and services, differentiates how women and men access and benefit from employment opportunities.  Women globally continue to face discrimination in access to land, housing, property and other productive resources. Particularly in Africa and Latin America, women face economic, legislative, social and cultural barriers to equal access, use and control of land and habitat related rights This limits women’s capacity to ensure agricultural productivity, security of livelihoods and food security and is increasingly linked to migration, urbanization, increased risk of violence and poverty where millions of the world’s poorest workers remain trapped in precarious poverty by land inequality and insecurity. 

”Improving women’s access to, use of and control over land and productive resources is essential for ensuring women’s equality and enjoyment of human rights – especially their right to decent work. 

Creating productive employment and decent work for both men and women  is key to reducing inequality in a sustained manner. There are multiple economic significances and possibilities afforded by securing land and housing rights, particularly to women; and the reduction of inequalities. There is a need for interconnected interventions  towards reduced gender inequalities in the decent work agenda, namely enhanced access to productive resources, enhanced women’s access to, use of and control over land  ensure  gender equality by improving women’s social, economic and political power

Towards an inclusive, resilient, job-rich, and sustainable recovery: The role of gender equality in decent work, Ms. Lydia Stazen. Chair, NGO Working Group to End Homelessness & Executive Director, Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness, DePaul University, Chicago, USA.

Achieving SDG8 requires SDG5: Women at work means that women generate  economic security and mobility for themselves and their families, and opportunities for self-determination. This has positive ripple effects in terms of  inclusive, resilient, job-rich, sustainable communities. Ensuring inclusive economic opportunities for women requires sensitivity training for and flexibility from employers  and supportive services and policies at all levels, access to education and training, aligned with job demand and continued advocacy. 

Discussions and Key Takeaways. 

  1. Collective action; it is necessary to continue combating poverty, collective action is necessary and has to be continued to ensure decent work for all, particularly women.
  2. Alternatives processes of social economy and the solidarity economy. 
  3. Housing or land is important for the economic freedom of women, either if they work in agriculture or the worker in home based enterprises or even if they work on site, they need a different house to be able to work properly.
    • We need to explore this intersection further and understand these implications to inform our advocacy agenda. 
  4. World Social Summit 2025: How can we ensure that the outcome of the new social summit will improve the situation of women regarding rights and well being?
  • Voices of women and girls from Africa, Latin America, Asia must be amplified, they need to have the opportunity to be part of the planning, organization and deserving of this summit. The outcome of the summit needs to impact the lives of women and girls. 
  1. Women in Latin America and Africa need to have more opportunities to exchange ideas to improve their lives. 
  2. It is necessary to appreciate the intersection and implication of the issue of education, housing, land tenure, ownership in relation with decent work, because empowering women economically is linked with all these aspects
  3. Explore the aspects and occurrences of economic violence against women in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the MENA region. 
  4. Advocacy to inform state agenda in the provision of economic services for women such as reducing costs for the services for motherhood and children, as well as support for women facing violence and victims of violence as well as women’s employment. 
  5. We need to explore the creation of a strong feminist movement to overcome this crisis that is expected to go on for years in the future
  6. Focus on vocational education for girls is important because it may improve women’s opportunities in the work market and in the digital economy. It is very important on the government’s agenda.
  7. Conflict and the implications of the economic crisis on women, as a priority issue as well. 

Closing Remarks, Yolande Hendler, General Secretary, Habitat International Coalition. 

A central question that spurred the discussion among participants was: “How can we ensure that the outcome of the World Social summit impacts particularly the lives of women?

The various contributions came together in three key takeaways that were shared in the closing remarks:  

  1. There is a need to pursue alternatives to the current structure of labour through multinational corporations, such as the social and solidarity economies. The Governments of Spain and Senegal are submitting a resolution to the United Nations in 2023 on promoting the Social and Solidarity Economy. This needs to be supported collectively. 
  2. The interconnection between employment, work and land and housing is critical. The accounts of grassroots initiatives in the presentations of this side-event are evidence to arguments that need to be made at global fora.
  3. There is a need for a global binding treaty on violence against women and very stringent mechanisms for implementation. 


Concept Note- HIC CSocD Side Event- Unequal access to employment and decent work: The case of women in Africa and Latin America.

Agenda of the HIC CSocD Side event.