Social Inclusion and Equity: Hallmarks for Success at Rio+20

Date: 06 Mar 2012

Remarks of Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women at the Women's Empowerment Principles—Equality Means Business Event
6 March 2012, New York

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Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to join you today at this meeting on Gender Equality for Sustainable Business. Amidst all the challenges and opportunities in our world today, one fact is unassailable: countries and companies with higher gender equality enjoy higher levels of growth and performance. And the growth is more inclusive, which benefits all of us.

It is great that we are all here today for this meeting on Gender Equality for Sustainable Business. This is a prelude to considerations that will be discussed at the upcoming Rio + 20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in June.

I like our theme today, Equality means Business. I also like to turn it around to Business means Equality. That is the idea that many of you are taking forward, and rightly so. It's not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. Opening opportunities to women in business and all sectors of society is strategic for the long-term, for equity, for growth and for sustainability.

In the two years since the launch of the Women's Empowerment Principles, the initiative has grown globally, taken root at the national level and become a touchstone within a leadership group of companies.

The Women's Empowerment Principles, a partnership of UN Women and the UN Global Compact, offer a platform for business to drive purposefully the advancement of women in the workplace, in the marketplace and in the community. We specified these three areas deliberately as each, and all of them, are necessary to build healthy economies, strong societies and a sustainable environment.

The seven Principles provide a map for companies to integrate gender equality throughout their enterprises. A company's interest and influence do not stop at its front door, but extend along the supply chain and into communities where employees come and go every day.

At Rio +20, world leaders, business and civil society will face up to the challenge of reaching an agreement for the future—an agreement to advance the social, economic and environment pillars of sustainability. Advancing gender equality is absolutely fundamental to this global effort.

When women are empowered and earn an income, they invest back into their families and communities. This drives hunger, poverty and malnutrition down and improves standards of health, education and well-being. This is good for all of us. Business can bring so much to this effort and like all involved, stands to lose dramatically if we fail.

My top priorities at UN Women this year are increasing women's economic empowerment and political participation and leadership. I am glad to see that advancing women's leadership is the first of the Women's Empowerment Principles. Companies are taking this forward in so many ways. Some are setting gender diversity targets to increase representation of women at management levels and establish equal pay agreements. Others are advocating equal representation of women on boards of directors. Still more are investing in local activities to support girls' education in science and technology.

One business designed and conducted an economic empowerment program for acid attack survivors. For those of you who do not know, these crimes are usually targeted at women and girls. The offenders throw acid at their victims with the intent to injure and permanently disfigure them. This company is responding by providing ICT training for 100 women survivors so they can work in call centers, restoring their dignity and place in their communities.

Another way that companies are advancing women's empowerment is by connecting women entrepreneurs to finance so they can grow their business. In Haiti, artisans are making products from sustainable materials that meet international quality standards and selling them on the international market. Involving over 900 craftspeople, the enterprise supports 15,000 others.

Transparency and accountability are UN Women's core values and constitute the last of the seven Women's Empowerment Principles. Knowing that “if it isn't measured. it isn't managed, this year the partnership is announcing a special reporting tool for business that is tailored for each of the Principles and was developed with the pro-bono assistance from a supporting company. It is our responsibility to constituents and stakeholders to report back. I hope that at next year's meeting, we will be reviewing the first lessons from these reports and taking the necessary actions.

In closing I would like to thank companies whose business means equality. I urge companies to get involved and to report back. Gender equality is essential for growth that is inclusive and sustainable. Together we can make social inclusion and equity hallmarks of the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

Thank you.