The Sustainable Development Goals: An Opportunity for the Advancement of Women’s Economic and Social Rights?

Prof. Nazila Ghanea
Associate Professor – University of Oxford

Dr. Kamiar Alaei
Distinguished Visiting Global Health Scholar – School of Public Health – Drexel University


This paper examines the topic of women’s economic and social rights under the umbrella of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and human rights law. Our findings demonstrate discrepancies across countries with respect to the enjoyment by women of economic and social rights.

SDG goals are part of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution 70/1 ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. SDGs 1, 3 and 5 address economic growth and poverty, health and gender equality. All these themes are captured in the UN’s standalone treaty addressing women’s rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and in its treaty addressing economic and social rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

State ratification of CEDAW requires states to ensure gender equality in their legislation. This paper will examine the situation of States Parties which highly respect economic and social rights (ESR) while their women’s economic and social rights (WESR) are poorly or moderately respected despite their ratification of CEDAW.

The paper uses data from the Social and Economic Rights Fulfillment (SERF) index and the Cingranelli-Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Dataset. The paper finds that CEDAW ratification does not necessarily result in full implementation of women’s rights. Despite high levels of ESR, respect for women’s rights is low for some countries. Thus, CEDAW has not shown to be very successful in altering the disparity in the country case studies with respect of WESR.

These States Parties have high respect for ESR yet fall short in WESR despite their ratification of CEDAW, we propose that the SDGs 2030 give a further opportunity to return to the core challenges of gender equality, health and economic growth, and to ensuring a more harmonised respect of all of these concerned rights.

Key Words:

Women’s economic and social rights; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); Sustainable Development Goals

CV / Resume

Prof. Nazila Ghanea

Associate Professor – University of Oxford

Nazila Ghanea (BA, Keele University – First Class, MA University of Leeds – Distinction, PhD Keele University) is an Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford and serves as a member of the OSCE Panel of Experts on freedom of religion or belief. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute of International Health and Education, the Board of Governors of the Universal Rights Group and is an Associate of Oxford Human Rights Hub. She previously taught at the University of London and in China.

She has authored, co-authored and edited a range of academic publications. Her recent monographs and reports include the following:
Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Commentary, (co-authored with Professor Dr Heiner Bielefeldt, and Dr Michael Wiener, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016)
Religion or Belief, Discrimination and Equality: Britain in Global Contexts, (co-authored with Paul Weller, Kingsley Purdam and Sariya Contractor), (London and New York: Continuum, 2013)
She has also published reports for, acted as consultant, and presented at a number of UN fora relating to Faith for Rights, women’s rights, minority rights and religious minorities, combatting intolerance and incitement, freedom of religion or belief, and preventing and countering violent extremism from a human rights perspective.

Dr. Kamiar Alaei

Distinguished Visiting Global Health Scholar, School of Public Health, Drexel University
Visiting Academic (professor), St Antony’s College, University of Oxford

Professor Alaei is a Distinguished Visiting Global Health Scholar at the Dornsife School of Public Health and also a visiting academic (professor) at St. Antony College at University of Oxford. He is an award winning human rights advocate and social entrepreneur. He is co-President of the Institute for International Health and Education, (IIHE) and was formerly the founding director of the Global Institute for Health and Human Rights at SUNY.

Dr. Alaei was selected as a 21st century young leaders in Asia in 2008 by Asia Society. Among several awards, he received the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award from the New York Academy of Science (2009), the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights from the Global Health Council (2011), the Inaugural Award for Leadership in Health and Human Rights from PAHO/WHO (2011), and the Inaugural Elizabeth Taylor Award in Recognition of Efforts to Advocate for Human Rights in the field of HIV from AMFAR (2012) and Ellis Island Medal of Honor by the NECO (2015), some of the previous awardees include seven U.S. Presidents, as well as Nobel Prize laureates.

He has led several interdisciplinary research projects on stigmatized health issues among neglected populations in understudied conservative social settings in the Middle East and Central Asia such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey.

His diversified research interest includes health rights and HIV law; infectious chronic disease epidemiology and prevention; social and behavioral studies on people who inject drugs (PWID); health care delivery for PLWH; health economics and social rights; health devolution; global health and HIV policy; immigrant health; and health disparities among vulnerable populations such as PWID, sex workers, LGBTI, gang members and prisoners.

This Year Publications

Kamiar Alaei, Sedef Akgüngör, *Sayyida Hassan, *Allyson Marshall, *Weng-Fong Chao, Arash Alaei. “Women’s Rights, Health and Development: An Analysis of the Correlation between the Protection of Women’s Economic and Social Rights, with Health Improvement and Sustainable Development”. British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open (In Press) February 2019.
Akgüngör S, Alaei K, Harrington A, *Chao W, Alaei A. “Human Rights Promotion on Protection of Health: A Cross Country Analysis”. International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare (Recommended for Publication) February 2019.