Business and Women’s Human Rights: CEDAW, UNGP and WEP


Today, women are still challenged by inequality
in all spheres, including the workplace But progress is being made, particularly so because
women’s human rights activists now have three notable frameworks that they can draw upon
to promote gender equality when dealing with corporations or businesses The first of the three frameworks is the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination
Against Women CEDAW was adopted by the United Nations General
Assembly in 1979 and came into force in 1981 To date, 188 countries have ratified CEDAW, signalling their acceptance of adhering to
the principles and standards set for the advancement of women’s human rights CEDAW provides the basis for realising equality between women and men, by ensuring women
receive equal access, opportunities and benefits in both private and public life CEDAW places this obligation onto the state Importantly, CEDAW covers all sectors, and
both public and private actors meaning the state is obligated to protect
women from discrimination even if it is at the hands of private actors such as businesses
and corporations This was taken a step further by UN Special
Representative John Ruggie, whose ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ framework was unanimously
endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 This framework is generally known as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,
or UNGP It states the practical steps that States must take to meet their obligation to protect human rights Together, CEDAW and UNGP safeguard human rights and offer greater protection for women,
especially in dealing with non-state actors such as businesses, ensure that non-state actors do not discriminate against women, and guarantee businesses are endeavouring to close the economic gender gap Building on these endeavours and further elevating women’s rights in the workplace is the mission
of the third framework, Women’s Empowerment Principles This framework is focused on enabling women to participate fully in all sectors and levels
of economic life The use of all three frameworks in combination
allows for women’s human rights activists to strategically engage with both the state
and the corporations on the fulfillment of women’s human rights However, each country context is of course different so the first steps should always be to identify the treaties, trade agreements and frameworks
that the country has in place as this understanding will form the basis
of any strategic engagement Change can and is happening The HERproject, which was launched in China in 2007, builds on the business’ responsibility
of providing health services and information by further helping to guarantee women’s general
and reproductive health HER has now also been adopted in Bangladesh,
Egypt, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam In 2011 to 2012, the Better Work Vietnam programme exposed nine factories that were heavily discriminating
against women specifically by trying to actively prevent
pregnancies Awareness of this provoked consumers and importers
to demand goods that had been produced in factories where workers were protected and
respected As a result, by the end of 2012, 150 factories
in Vietnam were participating in the programme, meaning improved working conditions in Vietnamese
factories were achieved These are just a couple of examples of how
gender equality can be achieved, but it starts with you

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