IF YOU are a chief executive officer (CEO) who has the desire to champion women’s issues but is at a loss as to how to do it in a manner informed by international best practice, then all that is about to change.
Now there is a robust framework which is gaining ground in terms of acceptance by leading CEOs around the world.
The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) developed by the UN Global Compact and UN Women (previously UNIFEM) pave the way for the private sector to spearhead equality and empowerment in a win-win scenario.
Initiated a year ago, the drive to get CEOs around the globe to sign the declaration is gaining momentum here in Africa.
On July 4 the WEPs were launched in Pretoria at an event hosted by the South African Minister of Trade, Rob Davies, together with the International Federation of Business and Professional Women.
It was attended by CEOs of leading corporates in South Africa and I am sure it’s only a matter of time before we see them joining the 168 CEOs who are already signatories to these principles.
In summary, the seven principles are:
i. Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality;
ii. Treat all women and men fairly at work — respect and support human rights and non- discrimination;
iii. Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers;
iv. Promote education, training and professional development for women;
v. Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women;
vi. Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy; and
vii. Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality.
The document gives a lot more detail on each of these.
I will delve a little more into the fifth one which gives corporates guidelines on how to empower women through “expanding business relationships with women-owned enterprises, including small businesses, and women entrepreneurs”.
This can be done by allowing women equal access to decision makers and actively seeking out women-owned businesses with quality products and services to do business with.
A bank could also “support gender-sensitive solutions to credit and lending barriers” something which I have explored in the past.
Some local corporates require their suppliers to sign a declaration on corporate governance, particularly issues to do with bribery and corruption.
Likewise, this principle urges companies to “Ask business partners and peers to respect the company’s commitment to advancing equality and inclusion”.
The next point is one many may find themselves falling short: “Respect the dignity of women in all marketing and other company materials”.
If the marketing department understands that material which is disrespectful to women is against company policy then they will brief their agencies on what is or is not acceptable.
The last point of “Ensuring that company products, services and facilities are not used for human trafficking and/or labour or sexual exploitation” has far-reaching implications.
Elsewhere we are seeing regulations such as RICA in South Africa which forces cellphone companies to register the details of everyone who buys a cell phone.
Because the cellphone has now become the standard mode of communication, this goes a long way in netting perpetrators of nefarious activities.
In my view, the challenge with the concept of women’s empowerment is that it has by and large remained in the domain of NGOs and the public sector, without policy-backed participation from the private sector.
Now is the time to bring women empowerment issues into the boardrooms alongside strategy, corporate governance and risk management issues.
The local CEOs who decide to adopt these WEPs will be in good company.
They will join CEOs of global giants such as Microsoft, Accenture, Levi Strauss & Co, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and PepsiCo who are signatories to the WEPs.
This is an opportunity for corporates to support this United Nations initiative.
It will ultimately contribute to attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to which Lesotho is a signatory, particularly MDG No. 3 which is: Promote gender equality and empower women.
Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and now UN Women Executive Director made it clear there is no turning back, when she declared; “Gender equality must become a lived reality.”