Reflections on 8 March 2017

by Aurora Samuelsson, Senior Engagement Manager at GES

Sustainable Development Goal 5, Gender Equality

Around the world today women will be celebrated, courted with flowers, listened to and some will speak up and protest. International Women’s Day is one of the few events that is observed on the same day all over the world. Labour day, Fathers’ and Mothers’ Day for example, are celebrated on different dates in different countries. But International Women’s Day is truly international. In recent years, it has become evident that women’s international rights are progressing overall. They have been enshrined in one of the 17 internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This move, paradoxically, mirrors the fact that women’s rights are also being pushed back in some places around the world. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated in March 2017 that:

It is extremely troubling to see the recent roll-backs on fundamental legislation in many parts of the world, underpinned by the renewed obsession with controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their bodies and lives, and by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family. Such an agenda threatens the gains of the past.[1]

In 2017 the world seems less predictable than in a long time and in several countries, there is a political uncertainty or shift that indicates a loss of focus on internationally recognised human rights in both public debate and policy-making. It seems like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is perceived to be a limited resource and that various groups must ensure that their rights are protected and can therefore not be shared with others. However, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact, the Principles for Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines, ILO conventions and all the underlying UN Conventions does not limit anyone’s human rights. They are all just part of a firm foundation that stipulates equal rights for all. Or as one anonymous thinker succinctly put it:

Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.

Fortunately, this foundation of rights is something that more and more companies adhere to and integrate into their business practices. We are pleased that more and more investors actively engage in this dialogue. We embrace the opportunity to engage on fundamental rights, to ensure that companies understand their responsibility to respect these rights and, where appropriate, provide input to companies on how to integrate these rights in their everyday business.

So, when the world is increasingly turbulent it is important to recognise what platform you are standing on and what goals you are aiming for, and for GES it is clear that all stakeholders are standing together on a firm and universal rights platform and not bickering over a pie.

PS. We have also noticed that there are still some responsible investment and corporate sustainability conferences where the panels are mainly composed of men and when that happens we may address this to the conference organiser and encourage them to work towards more diverse representation in the future.

[1] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21305&LangID=E

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