Ecuador fails to address the impact of unpaid care work on women’s social security access

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Last October, members from the Strategic Litigation Working Group and Women and ESCR Working Group submitted a collective third party intervention to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) concerning a case in which a woman in Ecuador had been denied her retirement pension request due to a small pause in her social security contributions, which had the impact of nullifying years of subsequent contributions. The nullification was triggered by a time when she had been engaged in unpaid care work at home and unable to make regular contributions for eight months.

ESCR-Net members leading on the intervention included Amnesty International, Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ), Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Economic and Social Rights Centre – Hakijamii, Foro Ciudadano de Participación por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos (FOCO), Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP), Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC) and individual member Professor Lilian Chenwi (of the School of Law, University of Witwatersrand).

ESCR-Net members' intervention encouraged the Committee to apply a substantive equality perspective to its interpretation of the facts and highlight the impact of unpaid care work on access to social security – a widespread global issue predominantly affecting women who continue to undertake the majority of such work. In particular, we provided comparative materials and recommendations to support the following points:

  1. States must ensure that existing social security systems are enjoyed without discrimination, including for women who undertake unpaid care work
  2. States should take positive measures to ensure social security protections for persons unable to access or benefit from existing social security systems, particularly for older women
  3. States must ensure that existing social security systems facilitate access to information and are subject to due process, including the right to an effective remedy

Our voices were heard!

CESCR found that Ecuador had violated the ICESCR – specifically article 9 (right to social security) and also articles 2(2) (non-discrimination) and 3 (equality between women and men) in conjunction with article 9. This was because state authorities had failed to provide adequate and timely information about the requirements for participation in the relevant social security system and because the impact of not meeting these requirements – a complete loss of pension despite years of contributions – was clearly disproportionate. Significantly, CESCR also found that the situation constituted indirect discrimination on the basis of gender given that women who engage in unpaid care work were likely to be affected disproportionately, without reasonable justification, with potentially devastating impact on their ability to enjoy an adequate standard of living during old age.

See CESCR’s press release (with links to the full decision currently available in Spanish only).

Look out for more news from ESCR-Net and subsequent case summary for our caselaw database. We are also continuing to explore possible next steps, including follow up strategy discussions to consider the broader implications of the case and ways in which we can connect this development with other collective action across the network, for example, the Women and ESCR Working Group project on women and work.

As we process the case implications and think about next steps, it will be great to get your reflections and ideas about how we can use this decision in different ways to reiterate the need for states to take full account of women’s lived experiences and the impact of unpaid care work on the enjoyment of ESCR.

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