Business and Human Rights: A Gender Perspective
The Women 20 community is a sub-structure of the G20. The organisation members meet regularly to discuss ways to empower women economically. This time, the event took place online and brought together leading experts from different fields, members of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and those of the W20 Working Group chaired by Italy.
Considering the topic of business and human rights from a gender perspective is extremely important for not only women worldwide but also society as a whole. It is required to create a ‘healthy’ and ‘eco-friendly’ atmosphere in the economic environment. However, the participants of the online meeting emphasized: this year, such issues and many others can’t be solved in isolation from the rapidly changing reality. The crises that have taken place on our planet have seriously affected the situation. Today, humanity is experiencing three powerful challenges at once: the pandemic of a new coronavirus, climate change, and the technological revolution. All that contributed to the identification of new and aggravation of existing problems in business and human rights, particularly in the women’s agenda.
The high level of gender inequality has become even more evident in a crisis situation. That is why a new long-term strategy for governments and the private sector must be developed rapidly to address the problem, believes Linda Laura Sabbadini, one of the main speakers at the meeting.
“For the first time in history, the G20 has begun to create a roadmap for gender equality. The Women 20 is honoured to contribute to this important cause.”
Surya Deva, Vice-Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, shared his thoughts on the topic. According to him, when talking about equal opportunities, it is important not to limit oneself to one gender. However, the focus of this meeting was made on women and girls. In fact, they are statistically the most frequently discriminated on various grounds.
Unfortunately, even when discrimination is not part of the legislation, it often manifests itself in social norms. For example, there are still stereotypes in society about what professions and competencies women can’t master. The proportion of male executives of large structures and corporations still prevails over the proportion of women in the same positions. Although the free market economy has created a lot of opportunities for women, in most cases, they are accompanied by certain nuances or difficulties.
In 2019, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights developed a Gender Framework for the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
As explained by Surya Deva, the Working Group proposed a three-step framework including the following steps: gender-responsive assessments, gender-transformative measures, and gender-transformative remedies. It is important that, when facing discrimination in the workplace, companies do not consider an isolated incident in the first place. It is much more important to identify the cause and influence it when addressing the problem. Such an approach is also effective in addressing inequalities on a larger scale.
One of the sessions of the meeting was devoted to the topic ‘Opportunities and challenges of corporate responsibility in a gender perspective’.
Daniela Bernacchi, Secretary General of the Global Compact Network in Italy, spoke about the activities of her company. According to the expert, a lot of research prove that the involvement of women in corporate leadership processes considerably improves organisational efficiency. That is why the Global Compact Network not only actively supports the principles of women’s empowerment but also calls upon other business structures to sing up to respective commitments to observe them. The provisions of this document include maintaining women’s leadership, non-discrimination, safety against sexual harassment, quality education and training, special work in the field of marketing, public engagement, and transparency. Today, there are about 4 thousand companies in the world that support these principles.
Martina Rogato, sustainability expert, Professor at LUMSA University, and co-founder of Young Women Network, which is the first Italian non-profit organisation dedicated to girls’ empowerment, also presented her report during the session. The speaker paid special attention to the topic of the transition of work and life of people worldwide to the online space. The expert stressed that digitalisation had opened a vast field of opportunities for remote collaboration and communication. At the same time, it has reinforced a number of problems related to discrimination, bullying, and cyber violence.
It is not enough to develop and adjust legal norms to solve the problems in the online space. It is important to start building an appropriate culture in society.
Gaela Bernini, Secretary General of the Bracco Foundation, spoke about the new project of the Business 20 titled the Women Empowerment Initiative and led by Diana Bracco. As mentioned by the speaker, the initiative expresses the urgent need to promote the role of women in modern society.
The project presupposes the development of relevant competencies of women for their economic empowerment. Those skills include such ones as STEM competencies.
Women have great potential even in traditionally ‘male’ areas. To make it possible for women to contribute to these areas, we need to overcome obsolete stereotypes.
Silvia Borelli, Associate Professor at the University of Ferrara and member of the Lavoro e Diritto educational committee and the GCIL Legal Advisory Group, shared some interesting data and thoughts. According to her, a number of current studies show that the system of corporate responsibility in many companies does not take into account gender factors today. That slows down the economic growth seriously. To solve the problem, companies should first begin to collect and disclose disaggregated gender data on wages, working conditions, and career opportunities. It is necessary for understanding the context and working out effective strategies for action. According to the expert, today’s companies need to develop gender equality policies and consultation systems with the involvement of women, women’s organisations, and women’s rights defenders.
Dante Pesce, founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development at the Catholic University of Valparaíso (VINCULAR) and Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, presented his report summing up the online meeting. According to the speaker, as a representative of one of the member countries of the Human Rights Council, he is mandated to promote the global dissemination and practical implementation of the already mentioned UN Guiding Principles approved in 2011.
Today, experts are ready to present the overview of the first decade of implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.
“The pandemic and its economic consequences have aggravated human rights violations and existing inequalities. This is especially true for women and girls. That is why we call upon states and businesses to take action to ensure that their activities comply with international standards and their obligations. Gender equality is the driver of sustainable development”, commented Dante Pesce.
Over the past 10 years, the UN Guiding Principles have made great progress in developing the gender agenda. However, it must be recognized that remaining gaps and challenges still permit a huge number of violations of women’s and girls’ rights in all sectors and regions. According to Dante Pesce, that tells us about the need for three key points: the development of women’s leadership, policy coherence, and the primacy of action over words. Participants of this meeting organised by the W20 are the right people to make a difference and move from ‘good intentions’ to ‘tangible results’.
Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov