|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Launch of Joint UNIFEM-Global Compact
Initiative ‘Women’s Empowerment Principles’
United Nations officials announced today the planned launch of the seven-step “Women’s Empowerment Principles” at a conference with international business leaders, where organizers are expected to present the latest research on gender equality and business performance.
Addressing a Headquarters press conference about the launch tomorrow were Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); Georg Kell, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact Office; and Susie C. Pontarolli, an aide with the Environment and Corporate Citizenship Division of Copel, a Brazilian energy company. UNIFEM and the Global Compact jointly spearheaded the initiative.
Mr. Kell said the Principles had been developed in consultation with international business leaders over the course of one year, and would enter into operation following the launch. The objective of its creators was to integrate the cause of women’s empowerment more firmly into the corporate social responsibility movement, he said, noting that it was still a peripheral issue for many of them.
Ms. Alberdi, citing The Business of Empowering Women, a white paper produced by the management consulting firm McKinsey, said there was some evidence that empowering women could bring tangible results to businesses. One third of senior private sector executives surveyed for the paper had reported rising profits as a result of directing investments towards women’s empowerment.
The Principles outlined seven steps that companies could take to empower women in both the workplace and the marketplace, either by tailoring existing practices or by creating new ones, she explained. Principle 2, focusing on fair treatment of women and men at work, called for ensuring sufficient representation for women in decision-making positions across all parts of a business. Principle 3, on safety and well-being, dealt with violence against women, an underlying factor which disempowered many women while taking a heavy toll on the workplace.
She went on to state that a 2000 study done in India showed that women lost an average of five days of paid work for each incident of intimate-partner violence, while in Uganda, women victims in 9 per cent of violent incidents lost 11 days of paid work. In the European Union, between 40 and 50 per cent of women reported some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, she added.
Ms. Pontarolli said the Principles could prove appealing to corporations, for whom adaptability was the key to survival. “More and more companies are beginning to realize that a diverse system, be it eco or social system, is a stronger one, more adaptable to changes and more resilient,” she said. “No doubt the document being launched will be of huge help.”
She went on to note that Copel, which had signed the Global Compact in 2001, had recently elected the first woman to its Board of Directors since its founding in 1954, which spoke to the positive change in its corporate culture since joining the United Nations-led corporate social responsibility movement.
“Signing the Global Compact was really a turning point in Copel’s efforts to promote corporate citizenship,” she emphasized, adding that the Women’s Empowerment Principles could help give ideas to businesses struggling to integrate equality and justice into their practices. With United Nations backing and wide support from the business community, the initiative would help legitimize the serious efforts that some companies were already taking, not just within their corporate boundaries but also in society at large. It would also provide a platform for the discussion of women’s empowerment with partners, suppliers, peers and the communities in which they operated.
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