The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides in article 9 that “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance”, a provision that implicitly includes recognition of the right to old-age benefits. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has declared, in general comment No. 6, that “in so far as respect for the rights of older persons requires special measures to be taken, States parties are required by the Covenant to do so to the maximum of their available resources.”
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in its general recommendation No. 27 on older women and protection of their human rights, includes a specific section on “Work and pensions entitlements”, in which it declares the following: “States parties have an obligation to facilitate the participation of older women in paid work without facing any discrimination based on their age and sex. States parties should ensure that special attention is paid to overcome problems that older women might face in their working life and that they are not forced into early retirement or similar solutions. States parties should also monitor the impact of gender pay gaps on older women. States parties have an obligation to ensure that retirement ages in both the public and private sectors do not discriminate against women. Consequently, States parties have an obligation to ensure that pension policies do not discriminate against women, even when they opt to retire early, and that all older women who worked have access to adequate pensions. States parties should adopt all appropriate measures, including, where necessary, temporary special measures, to guarantee such pensions. States parties should ensure that older women, including those who have responsibility for the care of children, have access to appropriate social and economic benefits such as childcare benefits, as well as access to all necessary support when caring for elderly parents or relatives. States parties should provide adequate non-contributory pensions on an equal basis with men to all women who have no other pension or insufficient income security and State-provided allowances should be available and accessible to older women, particularly those living in remote or rural areas.”
This priority measure is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and their targets, particularly target 1.3 (“Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable”) and target 5.4 (“Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies, and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate”).
Possible lines of action
1. Ensure that the objective of gender equality is a special motivation in the process of reforming and extending social protection and social security systems. 2. Adopt special programmes to guarantee coverage for women who have devoted their lives to productive work, as domestic workers, women in rural areas or informal workers. 3. Assess the impact on women of pension re forms that have reinforced the link between benefits received by contributors and their working life. 4. Promulgate legislation to guarantee that time taken away from the labour market to provide care services is properly credited in pension systems. 5. Promote legislation to ensure that divorce and separation do not penalize women in the social protection and social security systems.