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women’s economic empowerment

SUBMITTED BY JACKIE KING, ICJW COMMITTEE MEMBER STATUS OF WOMEN 

At the recent 60th session of the UN Commission for women, I attended the first of a 2 day conference on Women's Empowerment Principles, that is, a set of Principles for business “offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community”. 

Subtitled Equality Means Business, the Principles emphasize the business case for corporate action to promote gender equality and women's empowerment. There are 7 principles enunciated: 
· Principle 1: Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality 
· Principle 2: Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and non-discrimination 
· Principle 3: Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers 
· Principle 4: Promote education, training and professional development for women 
· Principle 5: Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women 
· Principle 6: Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy 
· Principle 7: Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality 

(http://www.weprinciples.org/Site/PrincipleOverview/) 

In particular, the Principles encourage an enabling environment by government and business for women’s economic empowerment to develop in its Business Statement 10 
(https://www.unglobalcompact.org/docs/issues_doc/human_rights/WEPs/2015/2015WEPs_BusinessStatement.pdf) by: 
· Adopting legislation that promotes a level playing field for men and women; 
· Investing in women’s health; 
· Implementing commitments to end violence against women and girls; 
· Addressing discrimination against women in the workplace; 
· Supporting women’s entrepreneurship and women-owned businesses, including through public procurement, supplier diversity, inclusive finance and capacity building; 
· Recognizing the value of unpaid care work and investing in infrastructure and social services to support working mothers and fathers; 
· Ensuring access to education for all girls and supporting educational opportunities for women and girls in fields where they are underrepresented, such as technology; 
· Promoting and enabling women’s full and equal participation in leadership and decision-making; 
· encouraging and supporting men to take responsibility to help drive change. 

At the opening address, His Excellency Mr. Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, President of Costa Rica discussed the need for shared responsibility for caregiving and family obligations as catalyst of cultural change, the multiplying effect of inequality on income distribution and poverty, the underutilisation of human talent and productivity as wasted potential. 

Luis Alberto Moreno, President, Inter-American Development Bank discussed the need for equality to be an integral part of corporate programs, for women to overcome obstacles and reach their own potential. Practices such as emerging women leaders programs, gender equity certification, the Development of a gender gap and assessment equality toolkit, and benchmarks across businesses are all ways to encourage women’s economic empowerment. Interventions may include : Financial incentives and support; Technology and infrastructure, the creation of economic opportunities, capacity building, advocacy and shaping attitudes, legislation, policies and regulations He argued that successful actions will demonstrate that diversity is a top priority, that we need to rethink the notion of work, identify and interrupt gender bias- unconscious gender bias, level the playing field- blind resumes, recruitment and requires cross section collaboration. 

There are a number of large international corporations that have signed up to these Principles, including McKinsey’s, L’Oreal, Deloitte. This year, Australia’s largest rail based transport company, Aurizon won the Cultural Change for Empowerment award, recognising them for encouraging gender inclusive behaviour, practices, and mindsets to create transformative change within the company, region or industry. It is a new high-level initiative, one which is likely to gain credence over coming years. 

It is fitting that ICJW, as the international representatives of Jewish women who already stand strong on the status of women in society and religion, should extend its reach to business and economic empowerment, for this is inextricably connected to the social and political equality that it strives for. Without economic empowerment and independence, women will have no means with which to pursue and fulfil their rights and ambitions.