The reality of gender equality is within reach. No country yet, however, has achieved complete equality, signalling a need for a more concerted effort from all stakeholders.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently published the Global Gender Gap 2014 report which ranks countries gender equality status. The report demonstrates the fragility of national equality strategies, with countries sliding up and down the ranking system. This points to the need to have equality ingrained within society and not left entirely to legislation and policy.
With the subject of gender equality and women empowerment always topical, it has gained momentum this month due to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59), which ran from the 8 – 20 March. The Commission was kick-started by International Women’s Day, which called on countries to up their efforts, setting the target of 2030 for gender equality through the Planet 50:50 initiative.
Globally, women do not enjoy the same rights as men, with shortfalls in education, employment, health, and freedom. Even limited rights in one aspect can have negative repercussions for the development of a woman’s capabilities and freedom of choice, filtering down through the generations. Limited rights in even one dimension can have negative repercussions for development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice.
With Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) embracing a performance-driven orientation, corporations are well positioned to foster an internal and external environment which actively contributes to improving gender equality and empowering women. As such, corporations on a global and industry-wide scale are implementing measures to harness the energy of its female workforce and community.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC, headquartered in the Netherlands, has created a program to combat youth unemployment. The programme, LIVEwire International, is operational in 14 countries around the world and offers practical and financial support to start-ups. It boasts a range of services, from enterprise awareness workshops to small business management training, and offers the opportunity to participate in prestigious young entrepreneur award programs to generate start-up finance. This program is integral in supporting young women in the development of small-business skills, and critical for helping them jumpstart their careers.
Santander, a global financial services company, focuses one of many CSR strategies in Brazil with the objective of improving employer-employee dialogue regarding home-care responsibilities. By creating a support package for those facing a breakdown in care, Santander are able to offer flexitime and care services to ensure staff do not have to compromise work for their family commitments. Services include a fully integrated and flexible support mechanism to help staff with childcare needs, including emergency childcare, school holiday cover and back-up adult and elderly care. This serves as a critical support mechanism in cultures where women typically assume the lead role in family responsibilities.
Tata Steel, a private sector steel company in Asia with production facilities on a global scale, is committed to upholding human rights through the application of international frameworks such as the United Nations Global Compact and ILO Conventions. Tata Steel offers equal opportunities for all employees, irrespective of gender, to ensure the secured employment of people who would be otherwise marginalised. Through positive discriminatory measures, Tata Steel ensures workforce diversity, and is therefore able to harness the energy of a spectrum of both men and women.
These corporations demonstrate that irrespective of industry sector, there is considerable scope to address issues of gender equality, beyond the setting of quotas, and that this can be achieved through a strategy that is most relevant to an individual business model. With corporations fostering internal and external environments that empower women and girls, equality need not wait for 2095.