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Women & Economy

Equal Chances for Women Critical in ‘Healthy, Productive Society’

Panelists at the fifth annual Women's Empowerment Principles event in New York City. Credit: Michael Dames/U.N. Global Compact

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2013 (IPS) - In an effort to promote gender equality in workplaces and communities, business leaders, politicians and supporters came together during last week’s fifth annual Women’s Empowerment Principles Event to explore ways to ensure women are supported in their careers and life choices.

Held at the Rockefeller Plaza in partnership with United Nations (U.N.) Women and U.N. Global Compact, the event focused on business strategies for implementing the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) under the theme of “Inclusion: Strategy for Change”.

“We need to support women’s leadership and equal opportunity because this is good for women, and it is good for democracy and a healthy and productive society,” Michelle Bachelet, executive director of U.N. Women, said.

The WEPs are an essential component in governing business, as it asks participants to abide by various rules such as promoting equality through advocacy and community initiatives, ensuring the safety, health and well-being of both women and men workers, and establishing high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.

With more and more women joining the workforce, equality in business has become synonymous with growth.

In a rapidly changing world with more and more women joining the workforce, equality in business has become synonymous with growth. A company’s success thus lies in its ability to address issues pertaining to women while encouraging education, balance and support for the women working at that company.

“For the future world of women, I would advise that they invest in themselves,” Nur Ger, founder and CEO of Suteks Tekstil, told IPS. “They have to have their training and education. Even if the money they earn is good enough to survive on their own, they have to keep on going for their own existence.”

From competitive compensation and flexible working hours to human rights and protection against violence, the seven WEP principles not only serve as goals but also function as a system of checks-and-balances.

The balancing act

The topic of gender equality often closely follows the issue of a woman’s ability to develop a healthy work-life balance. As women continue to head into the corporate workforce while rearing children and looking after extended family, stress and guilt become all too familiar.

“Women, to be successful in corporations, actually have to use a lot of masculine traits,” said Naveen Narayanan, senior VP and head of global talent acquisition and mobility at HCL Technologies. The WEPs strive to eliminate this perception, often found in the corporate world.

The third principle also plays a role in work-life balance, advocating for the well-being of all workers, male or female, by respecting workers’ rights to time off for medical care and counselling for themselves and their dependents.

Because of the notion that being a family woman should not lessen the prestige of being a corporate woman, businesses are also urged to adapt to the ever-changing modern world.

“People say women have children and they stay home,” said Poire Saikia-Eapen, managing director at PRIA Global. But she points out that with virtual offices, it’s possible for women to have children and continue working.

“They can stay home, they can work from home and if they have meetings we can actually set them up with video conferencing and there are companies who do that, and companies who should do that,” added Saikia-Eapen.

Promoting gender equality

In order to establish a more stable and fair corporate environment, the WEPs consider it fundamental to have a conversation regarding gender equality. Nor should that conversation be limited to women, according to these principles.

Men are an integral part in the sensitisation of society towards women’s issues. With their partnership and active advocacy, men, who most often hold leadership positions, are able to affect the perspectives of those around them by upholding gender equality.

Ger suggested that the situation would improve if men understood that a working woman is not a threat and “that she shouldn’t also be a wonder woman to take care of her children, her family, her business”.

Businesses that participate in the WEPs are urged to build policies that not only foster the protection of human rights and gender equality but also look at situations that affect both men and women differently. By understanding these differences, solutions can be made tackle obstacles like violence against women in the workplace, discrimination and exclusion.

“Economically it’s viable to have gender equal societies, because if you only have 100 percent men in a society in its economy, it’s not developing well enough no matter how big the income per capita,” Ger told IPS. “The development in this comes from a woman developing, which comes with education and then training.”

Through annual discussions and through partnerships with U.N. Women and U.N. Global Impact, the WEPs continue to grow in reach. Ultimately, the goal is to change corporate culture so that women not only feel included but empowered and respected as well for their contributions.

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