Annual WEPs Event Calls for Companies, Governments to Work Together for Gender Equality

Friday 13th March 2015

GBA Newsletter

The two-day 2015 Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) event kicked off March 10 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The event, Unlimited Potential: Business Partners for Gender Equality, was held as part of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women and focused on the need for businesses, governments, NGOs and the public to work together to promote gender equality, sustainable development and economic prosperity for all.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

More than 300 people attended the forum, which began with remarks from several prominent international figures, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“It is clear that achieving gender equality will require the concerted efforts of all actors. The Women’s Empowerment Principles provide a roadmap for businesses to play their role in respecting and supporting women’s rights,” he said. “Removing the barriers that keep women and girls on the margins of economic, social, cultural and political life must be a top priority for us all — businesses, governments, the United Nations and civil society.”

Annual WEPs Event Calls for Companies

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton echoed his sentiments, stressing that economic empowerment of women is a clear win-win.

Hillary Clinton addresses Annual WEPs Event Calls for Companies“Women and men who understand that gender equality is not just morally right, but is the smart thing to do are growing in number,” she said. “What we are doing here today is smart for companies and countries. That is the wisdom behind the Women’s Empowerment Principles.”

The WEPs are seven principles that provide guidelines for businesses in the private sector to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. The WEPs were launched in 2010 with 40 CEO signatories. The list now includes more than 900 CEOs, including six GBA members: Access Bank PLC of Nigeria, Bank of Palestine, BLC Bank of Lebanon, Garanti of Turkey, Royal Bank of Scotland and Westpac of Australia.

“This is the moment for the private sector to take its place as a key partner in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women, and to make a transformative difference,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “The WEPs hold enormous potential to radically change the landscape of employment conditions and opportunities for women. We want to see a surge in the number of businesses with WEPs in place in the next five years so that we can achieve full equality before 2030.

“This is a practical, scalable way to empower women and at the same time boost productivity and economic results,” she added.

At the March event, several of the signatories reported on their efforts to eliminate gender bias, increase women’s leadership and equalize pay. Maurice Sehnaoui — Chairman of BLC Bank, which was the first bank in the MENA region to join the Alliance and the first to launch a Women’s Market program in the area in 2012 — noted that his bank trained employees to recognize the potential the market of women customers in Lebanon represented, and to eliminate unconscious bias and discriminatory practices. He said there is a great need to work with financial institutions around the world to make sure they understand the Women’s Market and address gender biases. Sehnaoui added that by 2020, he wants BLC to achieve full gender equality among top management.

Selin Oz of Garanti speaks at the Annual WEPs Event Calls for CompaniesAlso speaking at the event was Selin Oz of Garanti. Oz participated in a panel that explored key models for business, investing and networks. She discussed Garanti’s innovative business products for women entrepreneurs, noting that the primary support they need is in access to finance, training, education and professional encouragement. In this last area, Oz pointed to Garanti’s Turkey’s Woman Entrepreneur Competition, designed to inspire and motivate women SME owners in the country. She also noted that engaging with actors in different ecosystems was crucial to creating a concrete value proposition for women.

“I’m excited about where we are, and particularly that we have brought in so many businesses that understand the role that they can play,” Sec. Clinton said during the program. “We are here to build on the progress of the past and seize the promise of the future.”

Annual WEPs Event Calls for Companies

The WEPs event closed with a speech from actress and advocate Geena Davis, who noted the lack of powerful female characters in entertainment and called for more female role models in film and television.

“Media images are an incredibly powerful force in shaping how women are viewed and their value to society,” she said. “The worlds that Hollywood is creating are in many cases bereft of female presence. If we can change what the future looks like on screen, we can change what the future looks like in real life. We need the WEPs. We need to have conscious choices we can make and absolute clear steps we can take to mitigate and conquer unconscious bias.”

The closing was accompanied by the release of a statement outlining how business, the UN and governments can boost their efforts to deliver on gender equality and the SDGs. “Partnering for Women’s Empowerment — Equality Means Business” underscores the need for business to proactively seek opportunities to secure women’s economic empowerment and other basic rights through:

  • Implementing commitments to end violence against women and girls;
  • Unleashing the benefits of women’s economic empowerment through government actions to end gender discrimination, invest in women’s health, education and entrepreneurship;
  • Encouraging and supporting men to lead by example, and to take responsibility to help drive change; and
  • Drawing on the WEPs roadmap to inform gender equality policies and programs in business, government and civil society organizations.