The essential role women play in all spheres of society is globally being recognised this month of March.
This year’s commemoration comes at a critical moment when Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the vulnerabilities women and girls face.
Women struggle now more than ever before to sustain an equal footing in the economy.
Their pandemic experience is shaped by increasing domestic and workplace violence, enhanced care responsibilities and disproportionate lack of access to working capital.
More broadly, power is unequally distributed while the gender pay gap persists in most countries.
Yet, providing women and girls with equal access to education, participation in political and economic decision-making processes has widespread benefits to society.
Governments can play their part, but without the partnership of the private sector, this goal will not be easily attained.
Inaction on gender disparity, as with all the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is much more costly than action.
Achieving 30 per cent female representation on corporate boards could add six percentage points to net margin, and research shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 21 per cent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.
To make gender equality everyone’s business, we need more men to step up and join efforts to drive this change.
As holders of power, men can be allies in driving meaningful progress by setting the right tone and developing holistic strategies with time-bound, measurable goals and targets.
Evidence also shows that realising gender equality and women’s rights, holds the greatest potential to eliminate poverty and hunger, achieve quality education for everyone and achieve all the SDGs by 2030.
To make headway in “building back better” in a post-pandemic setting, policymakers at all levels must respond to the unique challenges women face to ensure they are not left further behind.
According to the United Nations Global Compact Target Gender Equality Covid-19 Quiz, 89 per cent of surveyed companies indicated that women are actively informing company Covid-19 response and are included at the decision-making table.
Boards that value diversity and inclusion will be better placed at responding effectively to emerging challenges that affect different groups.
Boards with at least 30 per cent female representation provide a favourable environment for innovative ideas emerging from gender diversity.
The first two principles of the UN Global Compact Principles are integral to respect for human rights.
These principles call for safeguarding of women’s rights. All businesses, have a responsibility to ensure, women are not subjected to discrimination, sexual harassment, or backlash at workplace.
It is not too late for businesses to take meaningful steps to promote equality and diversity.
Companies can demonstrate their commitment to getting more women in leadership by signing the Women Empowerment Principles, signalling their commitment to advance gender equality.
Unpaid care work has been a major impediment to women’s equal participation in the labour force.
Women already do three times the amount of unpaid care work as men. To ensure that every employee feels supported and valued especially during the pandemic, businesses should invest in family-friendly policies such as parental leave, supporting childcare and flexible work schedules.
The future looks brighter when women are at the helm of every table where decisions are being made.
As we unite in solidarity to support the recovery of societies that are resilient, inclusive and gender-inclusive, we must ensure that women and girls are at the centre of decision making.
In the decade of action, we need businesses to be intentional and ambitious for the realisation of the economic value gender equality brings.— The writer is the Executive Director of Global Compact Network Kenya—firstname.lastname@example.org