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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ADVISORY COMMITTEE TAKES UP THE RIGHT TO FOOD OF URBAN POOR AND RURAL WOMEN
8 August 2012

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee today continued its consideration of requests addressed to the Advisory Committee stemming from Human Rights Council resolutions and discussed the right to food of the urban poor and rural women.

Chinsung Chung, Committee Expert and member of the Drafting Group on the right to food, introduced the final Study on the Promotion of Human Rights of the Urban Poor: Strategies and Best Practices, which explained the situation of vulnerable groups such as women and girls, children and youth and other minority groups.  The study focused on the main causes of urban poverty and analysed the poor conditions and the human rights of the urban poor.  It also presented good practices collected from Governments, civil society and the private sector and others and provided a set of recommendations on how to address the challenges that urban poverty posed to a growing population on a global scale.

Commenting on the study, Committee Experts noted the global dimension of hunger and food and nutritional insecurity and the insufficient progress made in addressing them.  The Committee had an obligation to state the lack of political commitment to address the problem and remind the international community that a real and lasting solution for poverty must be found, because poverty was not a destiny of humankind.  Experts suggested that the study also address the impact of poverty on human dignity and freedom, explore aspects of enforcement of the second generation of human rights and include climate change as another important cause of urban poverty with a direct impact on the enjoyment of the right to food.

The United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition said that malnutrition and under nutrition were rampant in the world and that more than one third of children who died under the age of five died because of hunger and malnutrition; the world could and must do better. 

The Committee Experts who took floor in the discussion on the right to food of urban poor were Halima Embarek Warzazi, José Antonio Bengoa Cabello, Coco Quisumbing, Anantonia Reyes Prado, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, Shiqiu Chen, Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes and Vladimir Kartashkin.  Also speaking was the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition.

Concerning the right to food of rural women, Mona Zulficar, Committee member and member of the Drafting Group on the right to food, introduced the preliminary study on rural women which examined the situation of two specific groups, female headed households and seasonal workers.  Women produced 50 per cent of the world’s food and made up 70 per cent of the world’s hungry and suffered discrimination in access to land, water, credit and markets.  The study made a number of recommendations to States to eliminate discrimination against rural women in law and practice, including though the ratification of international instruments and the provision of foreign aid, international cooperation and solidarity.

Experts noted the irony in the fact that women produced most of the world’s food and yet represented the majority of the hungry and said that the food crisis was a bureaucratic term for the massacre the world was witnessing.  The problem was not the food production, the food produced globally was sufficient to feed all the world population; the problem was in access to the food.  At the same time, discussions by States focused on increasing food productivity, which was an inappropriate solution to the problem.  The liberation of women from the land and rural areas, or in other words from heavy burden of labour, could be possible through development and an increase in agricultural productivity in rural areas. 

The following Committee members spoke: Jean Ziegler, Coco Quisumbing, José Antonio Bengoa Cabello, Alfred Ntunduguru Karokora, Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, Shiqiu Chen, Vladimir Kartashkin and Halima Embarek Warzazi.

The next public meeting of the Advisory Committee will be held on Thursday, 9 August at 10 a.m., when it will discuss follow-up to reports of the Committee submitted to the Human Rights Council and discuss its agenda and annual programme of work, including new priorities.

Promotion of the Human Rights of the Urban Poor (A/HRC/AC/9/3)

CHINSUNG CHUNG, Committee Expert and member of the Drafting Group on the Right to Food, introduced the final Study on the Promotion of Human Rights of the Urban Poor: Strategies and Best Practices.  The study contained an explanation of urban poverty and the situation of vulnerable groups such as women and girls, children and youth, and other minority groups.  The study also contained a section on good practices.  Urban poverty had various causes, but the focus in the study was on the rapid rate of urbanization and the lack of the capacity of cities to provide infrastructure and services; adverse effects of globalization and dislocation of rural communities; and poor urban planning and lack of good governance.  The study provided an analysis of the poor conditions and human rights of the urban poor, in which it addressed food insecurity and low food quality and the right to food; limited employment opportunities and the right to work; unequal opportunities of education and the right to education; poor housing and the right to adequate housing; poor sanitation and the right to health and the right to drinking water; and insecurity, exclusion and discrimination and the right to political participation.  The good practices were collected from Governments, civil society and the private sector, and others.

HALIMA EMBAREK WARZAZI, Committee Expert, said that the most disquieting element was the delinquency of children and the large number of young offenders, making some urban neighbourhoods unsafe.  The current global economic and financial crisis, according to a recent study conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund, was an opportunity for Governments to rethink investments into the improvement of the lives of children and vulnerable groups. 

JOSÉ ANTONIO BENGOA CABELLO, Committee Expert, said that the problems of hunger and food and nutritional insecurity were global and the progress made in addressing them was insufficient.  Hunger could become an even graver problem if urgent decisions were not taken to address it.  The Human Rights Council’s resolution on the right to food spoke of desertification, climate change, natural disasters, lack of development, distortions in the agricultural production system, decline in agricultural assistance in real terms and so forth.  It presented a doom and gloom scenario of the world and was so overwhelming that many felt unable to take action and implement some of the 60 measures advocated to address this catastrophic situation.  There was no compliance with commitments made during the World Food Summit or with the Millennium Development Goals related to hunger and food security.  There was no political commitment to address the problem and the Advisory Committee should state things as they were.  The study was very well done and figures on urban poverty provided therein were brutal, said Mr. Bengoa Cabello, commenting on the two waves of migration described in the study.  He also suggested the inclusion of bad practices in the study.  There were ways of overcoming poverty; poverty was not a destiny of humankind.  The principal instrument was human rights, indivisible and global, the rights that could be demanded and that could improve the world.

COCO QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, proposed that the impact of poverty on human dignity should be included in the paper and noted the extreme vulnerability to sexual exploitation and abuse of poor women and children and their lack of access to social safety and security networks.  Further, the study should contain a subsection on the extreme vulnerability of the urban poor children and youth to human rights violations and the human rights violations committed by them.

ANANTONIA REYES PRADO, Committee Expert, said that another question to be asked was how poverty was affecting freedom and how the millions living in poverty could experience dignity and freedom.  A real and lasting solution for poverty must be found.

DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, spoke on the issue of food for the poor, noting its low quality, and about constitutional guarantees of various social and economic rights, such as the right to life, safe water and sanitation and others, in South Africa and India, forcing the authorities to give those rights to people.  The study could include some aspects of enforcement of the second generation of human rights, especially in the case of the urban poor. 

SHIQIU CHEN, Committee Expert, welcomed the study, spoke of the causes of urban poverty that it explored, and suggested the inclusion of climate change as another important cause resulting in the displacement of people, food shortages, health risks and others.  Those causes had a direct impact on the enjoyment of the right to food.  Turning to long-term strategies to deal with the enjoyment of this right, Mr. Chen agreed that everybody should have adequate and sufficient food and that its safety and nutritional value needed to be considered.

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Committee Expert, referred to cash transfers to the poor and asked to hear more about this practice, which was considered inherently bad by some Committee Experts.

JOSÉ ANTONIO BENGOA CABELLO, Committee Expert, said that cash vouchers given to persons living in extreme poverty would solve problems in the short run, but poverty was underpinned by many factors.  It was not just a question of income but also capabilities to deal with socio-economic elements.  Cash vouchers could be used by Governments to improve their ranking on the poverty scale, creating political and statistical problems.  Cash vouchers created the mentality of dependency and created requests for handouts.

ANANTONIA REYES PRADO, Committee Expert, said that viewing the poor as clients perpetuated the situation of poverty; the money was often used for other purposes and instituted consumerism.  Vouchers did not lift people out of poverty unless coupled with other strategies.

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Committee Expert, thanked the colleagues for the clarification and said that the cash transfers were an important feature of social democracy.  Mr. Okafor agreed that cash transfers needed to be coupled with other strategies such as employment, education, poverty alleviation and others, but noted that in some instances, those transfers and vouchers meant a great difference for the extremely poor.

LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, thanked the Drafting Group for the very comprehensive report which was a reminder to Governments about their obligations towards the poorest categories of the population.

HALIMA EMBAREK WARZAZI, Committee Expert, said that poverty could open up new horizons and that the poor often found ingenious ways to help themselves, such as small-scale and group-based saving schemes. 

VLADIMIR KARTASHKIN, Committee Expert, said that the Committee had not yet discussed another extremely vulnerable group of people, i.e. non-citizens who in some cases did not enjoy the same social, economic and cultural rights on a par with citizens.

United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, called the attention of the Advisory Committee to the latest report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, which noted that the right to food encompassed also nutritious food.  Malnutrition and under nutrition were rampant in the world, with the vicious cycle of under nourished mothers giving birth to undernourished babies.  The Committee on the World Food Security was preparing for its Summit this fall in Rome in which it would recommend using social protection to address food and nutritional security, particularly of the poor.  More than one third of children who died under the age of five died because of hunger and malnutrition; the world must do better.  The United Nations Secretary-General had recently launched the Zero Hunger Challenge to all nations to achieve the zero stunted children under the age of two.  Other issues that needed addressing were childhood obesity, and the impact of climate change on food security, particularly of the urban poor.

CHINSUNG CHUNG, Committee Expert and member of the Drafting Group on the right to food, in her closing remarks thanked the speakers for their valuable suggestions and comments and said that she would be adding several of those to the report, including consideration of climate change and industrialisation and related migration.  Several members emphasized the issue of the quality of food and more elements on this topic would be added to the study.  The report should provide a value-added to similar reports in the field and this could be achieved through emphasizing its human rights dimension; therefore aspects such as dignity, freedom, human rights of the urban poor and State responsibility would need to be discussed further.  Ms. Chung would take under consideration how to include bad practices in the report and would also discuss the important issue of the rights of non-citizens.

Preliminary Study on Rural Women and the Right to Food (A/HRC/AC/9/5)

MONA ZULFICAR, Committee Expert and member of the Drafting Group on the Right to Food, introduced the preliminary study on rural women and the right to food and said that discrimination against rural women was a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, in which the many faces of discrimination crystallized in the right to food of rural women.  Women produced 50 per cent of the world’s food and represented 70 per cent of the world’s hungry.  Women across the world were more likely to go hungry than men.  The 2011 report of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations claimed that if women had equal access to productive assets, the food production would increase by 20 to 30 per cent, and that the number of hungry persons in the world would be reduced by around 115 million.  The question was why this was not happening, even though key human rights instruments to eradicate discrimination against women were in place, together with a clear statement of the obligation of States to provide the right to adequate food, and to ensure full and equal access to productive sources, equal wages and equal access to productive assets and markets.  Customary law and practices had more influence in rural areas, resulting in discrimination against women and girls, including in access to food and their food security.  Women were discriminated against in access to land, water, credit and markets, while many financial services were not tailored to the needs of women, and in particular rural women.  Rural women throughout the world were unpaid workers working in unsafe conditions, without social protection and without recognition by the labour laws.

The study examined the situation of two specific groups of rural women, female headed households and seasonal workers.  There were many forms of female headed households, but what they all had in common was the higher level of vulnerability, with children being particularly at risk.  Rural women migrated to cities looking for food security or escaping maltreatment and were often employed in the entertainment of garment industries, which were badly paid and did not provide any social security.  The study made a number of recommendations for States to eliminate discrimination against rural women in law and practice, including the ratification of international instruments and the provision of foreign aid, international cooperation and solidarity.

JEAN ZIEGLER, Committee Expert, welcomed the excellent reports presented today and said that 43 per cent of the world’s rural poor had to recourse to markets to buy food to cover for food shortages until the next harvest.  In Mali, because of maternal malnutrition, only 25 per cent of women were able to breastfeed, thus depriving 75 per cent of newborns of mothers’ milk and perpetuating the vicious cycle of hunger and malnutrition.  The food crisis was a bureaucratic term for the massacre the world was witnessing.  The problem was not food production, the food produced globally was sufficient to feed the world’s population; the problem was in the access to food.  At the same time, the G 20, which dominated the United Nations, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, insisted upon increasing food productivity, which was an inappropriate solution to the problem.  Biofuels and production of grains for fuels was aggravating access to food for the world’s hungry.  The world food market was controlled by 11 transnational corporations that were operating on the principles of capitalism and aimed to maximise the profits, and States were helpless to control them. 

COCO QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, noted the irony in the fact that women produced most of the world’s food and yet represented the majority of the hungry.  Women were in charge not only of gathering firewood, but also water which was essential to the food security of their families.  There was still inequality for women in access to justice, which was even more exacerbated for rural women because of distance, related financial costs and lack of access to information about the availability of remedies.  Ms. Quisumbing wondered whether it would be interesting to include in the study the consideration that most armed conflicts in the world took place in rural areas, and that most food went to men and boys and less went to women and girls.  One of the measures that could eliminate discrimination in access to markets for women was for States to provide incentives to agricultural buyers to encourage them to buy from women cooperatives. 

JOSÉ ANTONIO BENGOA CABELLO, Committee Expert, welcomed the excellent and interesting preliminary study and noted that many regions around the world shared the same problems.  The double role of workers and farmers that women played was well discussed in the study, said Mr. Bengoa Cabello, noting that the food security was discussed at length in the context of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants –Women and Men by La Via Campesina, International Peasant Movement.  There was a way forward in assisting women to produce food, for example through ensuring sustainable access to good quality seeds and tools, access to markets and others.

ALFRED NTUNDUGURU KAROKORA, Committee Expert, said that all the problems of rural women stemmed from the traditional supremacy of men at home in rural areas.  The food that was eaten or sold by rural families was mainly produced by women and yet the cash realised from the sale was taken by the husband who was traditionally head of the family and owner of the cash or of whatever the woman produced.

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Committee Expert, said that the problem of hunger was often the result of inadequate longer term food storage facilities which caused food losses, lack of appropriate channels to market the food at relatively good prices and the lack of resources to buy food to make up for food shortages. 

DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, noted the principle of equal pay for equal work contained in the related Convention of the International Labour Organization, and the responsibility of States to enforce this principle in practice. 

SHIQIU CHEN, Committee Expert, said that the report was very clear in describing the discrimination in the economic and social rights of rural women, but could be more specific in explaining discrimination in the sphere of political rights.  One solution to the problem was to realize the right to development because rural poverty could not be addressed in poor countries.  Liberation of women from the land and rural areas, or in other words from the heavy burden of labour, could be possible through development and an increase in agricultural productivity in rural areas.  Many United Nations documents had been formulated towards this goal, including the Millennium Development Goals.

VLADIMIR KARTASHKIN, Committee Expert, said it was very important to ensure the rights of rural women and their right to food was dependent on fair socio-economic policies of the State.  This could be included as a separate paragraph in the study.

HALIMA EMBAREK WARZAZI, Committee Expert, expressed lack of optimism about the change that could be achieved with the document and noted the need for empowerment of women to stand up for their rights.

MONA ZULFICAR, Committee Expert and member of the Drafting Group on the Right to Food, in her concluding remarks said that the comments and suggestions by the Committee Experts would be taken into consideration.  Ms. Zulfikar thanked all the Governments, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations that had commented on the draft study.  The solution was in the empowerment of women, particularly economically and within the family, they would then be able to organize and stand up for their rights.  This was the last study that the Drafting Group on the right to food would prepare, said Ms. Zulfikar and suggested that all the studies produced by the Drafting Group be put together and so offer a complete product to those interested in the right to food of the peasant population.


For use of the information media; not an official record

AC12/012E