Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work. This is the priority theme the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will discuss the next two weeks during its 61st session (CSW61). As ARC’s Communications Officer, I have been investigating data for “talking points” and social media messaging around the theme for this year’s CSW. In compiling some of this research, some of the questions that I began thinking about included the following:
- To what extent is CSW considering the word “women”?
- How does this word include the enormous and rich variety of lesbians, bisexual women, trans and intersex persons (LBTI)?
- How do we ensure that no one will be left behind, as promised in the Sustainable Development Goals?
Trying to find out some answers, I started looking for specific information regarding LBTI persons in the world of work, and information more broadly related to economic empowerment. It would be an understatement to point out that there is very little data, and the data that has been published depicts a worrying situation and leaves out entire regions where we know there are huge barriers for the economic empowerment of our communities. What exists clearly shows alarming trends about discrimination linked to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. Here are just a few examples of what I found:
- In most countries trans persons are completely excluded from formal employment. This leaves few survival strategies, which inevitably increases their vulnerability.
- Social and familial violence hinder trans women’s possibilities in the formal labor market. About 90 percent of trans women in the Americas engage in sex work.
- Some lesbians face discrimination at work because they don’t look “enough feminine”. 
- A US study on queer female shows that those who apply for administrative jobs in the United States, are about 30 percent less likely to receive a callback compared with the straight female applicants of equal qualifications. 
- Within paid work spaces in Europe, an average of 26 percent of lesbians felt discriminated against or harassed based on their sexual orientation.
- An average of 23 percent of unemployed European bisexual people feel discriminated against or harassed for being perceived as bisexual. 
- A survey report of Australians born with atypical sex characteristics found that there are high rates of poverty: the majority earn an income 41 percent less than the average.
This panorama shows that there is a lot to be done to economically empower LBTI persons and leave no one behind.
It was also important in my data gathering to fully understand what economic empowerment means. In words of International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), “a woman is economically empowered when she has both the ability to succeed and advance economically and the power to make and act on economic decisions.” That means, “to succeed and advance economically” and “to have the power and agency to benefit from economic activities”.
To put it another way, in order to be economically empowered, lesbians, bisexual women, trans and intersex persons must be guaranteed their right to equal access to all opportunities – in this case related to work. Their human rights should be respected and promoted. Their freedom of expression, right to be free from discrimination, and many other human rights must be protected.
Very linked to economic empowerment, it was worth reminding myself what the right to work means. According to Yogyakarta Principles, “Everyone has the right to decent and productive work, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment, without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity”. States are required to take all necessary measures to prohibit discrimination on the basis of SOGI in public and private employment, and “ensure equal employment and advancement opportunities in all areas of public service”.
With that being said, there are needs that can’t be postponed any longer. States, institutions, UN agencies, and everybody involved in and with responsibilities towards the world of work must commit themselves to act right now and address the need to guarantee the right to work for Iesbians, bisexual women, trans and intersex persons.
Governments should make policies and laws that generate conditions for their economic empowerment. They should also address the need to improve collection and analysis of data on the economy and the world of work disaggregated by sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. This information must be considered and intersected with other data such as income, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, etc.
Last but not least, it is urgent for States and UN agencies, particularly UN Women given its role in CSW, to commit themselves to promote, fulfil and guarantee human rights for lesbians, bisexual women, trans and intersex persons.
These needs must be addressed right now. Quoting the former UN Secretary General, the time has (already) come.
NOTE: On March 13th, these and other related topics are going to be discussed in “Successes and barriers for LBT women’s economic empowerment”, a joint event by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, and ARC International on the occasion of the CSW61.
 Discrimination at work on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity: Results of the ILO’s PRIDE Project. International Labour Office (ILO) – 2012 and 2016.
 Inter- American Commission on Human Rights, 2015.
 Richard Howard, Stand up for Zero Discrimination against LGBT people at work. Work in Progress is the blog of the International Labour Organization (ILO), 2016.
 Discrimination against Queer Women in the U.S. Workforce. A Résumé Audit Study, Emma Mishel, 2016.
 European Union lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survey, FRA – European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2013.
 European Union lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survey, FRA – European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2013
 Intersex: Stories and Statistics from Australia” by Tiffany Jones, Bonnie Hart, Morgan Carpenter, Gavi Ansara, William Leonard, and Jayne Lucke, 2016