As we take a moment to reflect today on International Women’s Day, it is important to recognize the progress we’ve made on ensuring respect for human rights for women around the world. We must also take this opportunity to consider the challenges that still need to be overcome in order to ensure women’s full participation in the global economy.
Last week in an address to the global community, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that while we should celebrate the advancements in education for girls and the greater participation of women within the private sector, we must also acknowledge and make progress on the great unmet needs related to maternal health, family planning, violence against women, and, in particular, the vulnerabilities of women displaced by conflict. These challenges greatly impact women’s ability to participate in and benefit from economic development.
Over the past few years, BSR has engaged on several projects focusing on increasing attention and action on issues of women empowerment that are relevant to the private sector. For example:
- Our women’s health initiative, HERproject, catalyzes partnerships between international companies, suppliers, and local NGOs. These partnerships focus on promoting female workers’ general and reproductive health through workplace training programs that use a peer education model. Through this model, a subset of female workers receive health education from qualified organizations and professionals, and in turn, educate their peers. A new report reveals the results of research conducted after the first year of HERproject programs in China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
- BSR and the International Finance Corporation are researching the potential of special economic zones (SEZs) to create regulatory frameworks and initiatives that promote gender inclusion and female entrepreneurship. Together, we are examining current practices of gender inclusive policies and initiatives within SEZs in eight countries, with an in-depth look at Bangladesh. This study will focus on identifying opportunities to support gender inclusion on three levels: low-wage female workers, female managers with an emphasis on opportunities for upward mobility, and female entrepreneurs.
- BSR has also participated in the development of the Gender Equality Principles—a set of principles and indicators designed to help the private sector assess their progress on seven fundamental gender equality issues. The principles can help companies achieve greater gender equality and build more productive workplaces for both women and men. Companies can also use the self-assessment tool to evaluate their current performance against the principles.
These projects reinforce the importance of private sector involvement in women’s empowerment. As part of our mission to promote a just and sustainable global economy, we are committed to advancing women’s rights, and we look forward to working with our member companies to do so.