Thursday, February 26, 2015

Businesses leading the way

 Progressive businesses understand that helping to dismantle barriers to women goes hand in hand with sustainable business and economic returns. Some companies are thus taking more transformational approaches that go beyond CSR. They are analysing and changing their core business structure and practices, whether by providing their employees with access to childcare, to family friendly benefits, or safe transport to and from work.
There are also promising developments in investment circles with a growing group of ‘gender-lens’ investors who are using gender analysis to drive financial returns and benefit women and girls. As they point out, it is not enough to invest in women and girls as if they were commodities, or to teach them to operate within the existing economic and financial systems. Instead, gender analysis should be used as a tool for changing the system, looking at what is valued, and how this guides investment priorities and shapes business and economies of today and tomorrow.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Women’s economic inequality is bad for business

Businesses need to play their part for women’s economic equality and respect international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as laws in many countries that aim to secure gender equality and rights in the workplace. Yet dividends for businesses that promote women’s economic equality are significant – beyond the legal or reputational risks of failing to respect the law.
Empowering women creates a more talented and diverse pool of workers, a more reliable and sustainable supply of commodities and new or expanded markets for products and services. Indeed, research shows that the financial returns of companies with three or more women on their board are in general better than for companies without women at the top, by some estimates even with a 47% average on equity.
 Also, strong links exist between diverse leadership teams and catering for broader array of stakeholders and this hardly stops at the boardroom.
 Pursuing rapid, short-term returns at the expense of women is thus not only unjust but also unsustainable and unprofitable for any business in the long term. There is undoubtedly scope for business to help break down the barriers that prevent women from achieving their full economic potential, while still generating returns.
However, this is only possible if investments are made in enforcing legal regulations, social security, and decent and equitable work. The key challenge is moving from a few industry champions to the mainstream, from CSR to corporate accountability, and from the pursuit of shortterm returns, to sustainable, profitable and ethical business models for the long-term.
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Monday, February 23, 2015

Devaluing women’s work has costs for the economy

 An economy that is permanently subsidised by the exploitation of women’s work is dysfunctional and can only bend so far before it breaks. Relying on women’s unpaid care work and limiting their access to paid employment is costly, unsustainable and makes no economic sense. According to the ILO, globally an additional US$1.6 trillion in output could be generated by reducing the gaps in employment between women and men.

However, simply getting more women into the labour market as a means to boost growth, as the briefing further shows, has far too often led to the knock-on effect of women putting their lives on the line and further subsiding today’s dysfunctional economy by working backbreaking jobs for little recognition or reward.

These days even the International Financial Institutions acknowledge that economic growth alone won’t lead to the greater empowerment of women and gender equality, or alleviate poverty if women remain in low-skilled and undervalued jobs. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, has stated that if both growth rates and income distribution remain unchanged, world poverty will only fall by 10% by 2030, which is far from enough.

Investing in social security, on the other hand, boosts economies, and drives equality and more and better jobs, especially for women. In Brazil, for example, women’s participation in the labour market has increased by 15% over the past two decades to almost 60%. Comprehensive social security programmes, including introduction of minimum wage, boosted women’s incomes and saw the bulk of resources spent on families’ wellbeing, fuelling financial independence and employment for women.
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Friday, February 20, 2015

The cost of inequality in women’s work

Women: bearing the brunt 

ActionAid has calculated that US$9 trillion26 is the cost that women in developing countries bear each year due to unequal wages and the fact that women have less access than men to paid jobs (see methodological annex for details). 
The staggering amount of US$9 trillion is equal to more than the GDP of Britain, France and Germany combined. This huge disparity is a shocking illustration of the depth of women’s economic inequality, which too often denies women the right to a decent job and equal pay. If women in developing countries were paid as much as men they could earn an extra US$2 trillion. And if women participated in the workforce at the same rate as men, women could earn another US$6 trillion. If women in developing countries were both paid as much as men and had the same access to jobs as men, they could be US$9 trillion better off – this is because more women would be in employment at a higher rate of pay.

This calculation is made on the basis of average earnings of men and women in developing countries today. However, it is a well-known fact that wages in developing countries continue to lag significantly behind rich countries and are insufficient to meet the standards of a living wage. Men and women alike struggle to secure decently paid work. This means that achieving equal wages for women and men does not necessarily imply that women’s pay would be enough to provide adequately for themselves and their families, indeed it would be unlikely to do so.
Finally, our calculations don’t include the potential value of women’s unpaid care work if it were translated into monetary terms. This means that in reality the price of gender inequality in work is even higher than US$9 trillion – already a mind-boggling amount. But these costs hit not only the purse. Women, who suffer from economic exploitation, are less able to make life choices and are often unable to act on them anyway, be it standing up to violence, enjoying their sexual and reproductive health and rights, pursuing education or a career of choice, or caring for family and household without being economically worse off. Such shocking levels of women’s economic inequality should concern us all, because when women lose, everybody loses.
 For example, unemployment, job insecurity and low pay all limit women’s ability to feed, educate and nurture their children. And on the other hand, women enjoying decent work and equal and living wages is a path to poverty eradication, gender equality, sustainable development and inclusive growth. According to the ILO, valuing and recognising women‘s work, both paid and unpaid, might be one of the most important factors for keeping many households out of poverty, thus driving progress and prosperity for all.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The missing women of the workforce

Scandalously, despite the enormous international effort that has gone into getting girls into school, women continue to face discrimination in the labour market, which seriously affects their opportunities, limits their life options and economic potential.

Since 1990, women’s participation in the labour market globally has stagnated at around 50%.While the global average masks regional and country differences (from as low as 21% in North Africa and the Middle East, to over 63% in East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific)15 the problem remains widespread: in each country and in every region, women are less likely to join the labour force than men. ActionAid has calculated that unequal participation in the labour market could be costing women in developing countries a vast sum of potential earnings that amount to over US$6 trillion. This is nearly two times the total value of the GDP for the whole of Africa and the Middle East in 2013.
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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Double standards: women paid little and always less than men

Entering employment does not automatically lead to empowerment and equality for women. Many women and men, especially in developing countries simply do not earn a living wage – in other words, enough to have a decent standard of living and meet their own and their families’ basic needs.20 What’s more, when women are paid for a job, they earn on average between 10% to 30% less than men for work of equal value.

 The ILO estimates that at the current rate of progress it will take 75 years to make the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ a reality for women and men. Women’s exploitation in the labour market is further compounded by their disproportionate share of unpaid care responsibilities (such as child rearing, domestic chores, and caring for the sick and elderly), which effectively means that women are subsidising the economy with free and often invisible work. Unpaid care responsibilities narrow women’s choices in the type of job they get, often condemning them to informal or low-paid employment and dramatically swelling their hours of work overall. So it is unsurprising that women’s wages everywhere lag far behind those of men. In developing countries, according to ActionAid’s calculations, this has created a gender wage gap equivalent to some US$2 trillion in women’s earnings,
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Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Cost of Inequality in Women’s Work

From the 1% vs the 99% of the Occupy movement and Oxfam; to the World Bank’s call to focus on the trajectory of the income of the bottom 40%; or the increasingly touted Palma ratio, debates on inequality are back. And yet, there is a group systematically omitted within such debates: women – and in particular women in poor countries.
All over the world, women’s work contributes to growth, sustainable development, and the health and wellbeing of society. Yet by virtually every measure women are in the “wronged” percent. ActionAid new research found that being in the wrong side of the equation costs women in poor countries USD 9 trillion a year. Globally, the cost stands at USD 17 trillion.
This is first and foremost a scandalous violation of the rights of billions of women. But gender inequality in work not only has consequences for women; the functioning of the economy relies on women’s work. Women’s labour – in and outside the home – is vital to sustainable development, and to the wellbeing of society.
Women’s equality resonates well in mainstream development debates. However, the focus is often on how opportunities for women in poor countries can be improved through micro-finance, or better access to land or property, or job opportunities. Some of these are necessary policy and legal measures. But they are not sufficient.
The reason why women stubbornly stay at the bottom of the pile is because they are women. This means that the whole debate on economic inequality needs to address fundamental gender issues.
The other powerful reason is the need to feed the beast. For decades, we’re in a downward spiral where the global economic and financial system is fed by increasingly cheap labour and capital gains that are increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. Women have provided cheap labour to the economy, as well as free labour at home– subsidising trillions in paid care services.
The briefing calls on governments, international institutions and businesses to take action to create the conditions that are needed to give women in developing countries the chances that they deserve in and at work. Steps include ensuring that women can access safe, decent work opportunities and the essential caring work they do is recognised, shared and better supported.
In 2015, the time is ripe for change as we determine the UN sustainable development goals and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. Let us ensure the achievement of women’s economic equality is high on the agenda.
As we focus on how to buck the trend between winners and losers of an increasingly dysfunctional system, we can no longer dodge the fact that half of us have been systematically losing out to the tune of trillions every year.
This must stop now.Nuria Molina*⋅ February 4, 2015

*Nuria Molina is the Director of Policy Advocacy and Campaigns at ActionAid.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all

Today, hundreds of millions of women will wake up to face yet another day of backbreaking work for little or no reward. Although their labour – in and outside the home – is vital to the global economy, to sustainable development, and for the wellbeing of society at large, it is undervalued and for the most part invisible. 
While public outrage grows at the fact that the richest 1% of the world’s population owns almost half the world’s wealth, and even bastions of international finance such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) are increasingly talking about the corrosive effect of economic inequality, the humanmade injustice of women’s economic inequality remains a pervasive crisis that is largely absent from the political spotlight and inequality debates.
 It seems obvious that women should enjoy the same rights as men in every aspect of life, and indeed international conventions and national legislation in many (though by no means all) countries grant equal rights to women. However, realising these rights remains a distant dream, with women still being economically unequal to men by virtually every measure. What’s more, while the situation is unfair and unacceptable for women everywhere, it is poor women in developing countries who bear the biggest share of the costs, and are constantly pushed to the bottom of the economic pile. 
Women’s economic inequality is not inevitable. Exploitation of women’s work prevails, as this briefing reveals, because of the unjust politics shaping our economy, and because it is founded upon (and further drives) wider gender discrimination in society. Manifestations of the latter include, among others, the fact that one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime and that more women than men are concentrated in lowest paid and valued jobs. 
Until now, the international community has all too often approached the issue of women’s economic inequality as if extending a helping hand to women – such as through microcredit or corporate social responsibility initiatives (CSR) – would solve the problem altogether. But by doing so it has systematically neglected the fact that the vast amount of women’s work, which is either rewarded poorly or not rewarded at all, is being used to subsidise the world economy and fuel unequal and unsustainable growth. To end poverty and ensure prosperous lives for all, this broken and highly dysfunctional system needs transformational change. 
It is therefore crucial that women‘s work – both in and outside home – is recognised, valued and rewarded fairly. It is, without doubt, a matter of efficiency and sustainability; but most importantly it is a matter of justice and human rights.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The worst jobs are women’s jobs

Working men and women in developing countries face a struggle for daily survival, often earning poverty wages in desperate circumstances. The dream of decent work for all is still a distant one. Yet – despite their lower rates of participation in the labour force overall – women make up roughly 60% of the world’s working poor and are subject to highly exploitative forms of work in both the formal and informal economy. 
Indeed, women are overrepresented in the informal sector jobs, without social protection and beyond the oversight of the state. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that in 2012 more than half of all employed women worldwide were in informal vulnerable employment 10 and in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia over 80% of all jobs for women are unregulated and precarious work.

Women from the global South are also among the most vulnerable to exploitation in global supply chains. For example, approximately 80% of the world’s garment workers are women.They often work in dangerous environments and are at risk of violence or sexual abuse and have no basic labour rights, including access to redress when injustices are faced at work, or right to collective bargaining. The April 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, in which a garment factory collapsed killing over 1,100 people (most of them young women), was indeed a stark reminder of the shocking conditions that women continue to face in global value chains of international corporations.
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Monday, February 9, 2015

Support the campaign for legalisation of abortion in Chile

Chile is one of the few countries in the world that does not permit abortion under any circumstances. Women who have been raped, who have an unviable pregnancy, or whose health or life at risk, cannot decide to undergo an abortion.
This total prohibition was one of the last acts in office of Pinochet in 1989.  Despite the prohibition, recent estimations placed the number of clandestine abortion as high as 110,000 per year. Only few extreme cases are reported in the media, as the cases of children that got pregnant as a result of rape which are forced to continue the pregnancy.
The total ban of abortion entails not just gender discrimination but also deepens social inequalities among women. Those women that have more money and social contacts can access to safer abortions, in private clinics or travelling to other countries where abortion is allowed. However, most women abort clandestinely in unsafe conditions being exposed to risks for their health and also to face criminal prosecution. A great majority of women are turned in to the police by health care providers of public hospitals while being treated for abortion complications.
Despite the fact that Chile has made important progress regarding human rights, women’s rights to decide autonomously over their own bodies have not been fully recognised. International Organizations have repeatedly recommended to Chile to change the current total prohibition of abortion.
Women’s organizations in Chile need the support from all over the world in order to obtain from Bachelet’s Goverment -former Executive Secretary of UN Women- and the Parliament, the modification of the current legislation to allow women to legally end their pregnancies.
You can support this campaign, by joining it in the following links:
  • If you are an organisation, association or group, here
  • If you are an individual person, here
Or you may send us a mail to
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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Calls on governments, international institutions and businesses

Today, hundreds of millions of women will collect firewood and water for their families, cook and clean, take care of the elderly, the young and the sick; all the while scratching a living from the poorest paid and most precarious jobs. Women’s labour – in and outside the home – is vital to sustainable development, and for the wellbeing of society. Without the subsidy it provides, the world economy would not function. Yet it is undervalued and for the most part invisible.
To reveal the scale of the crisis, ActionAid has calculated the economic value of addressing gender inequality in work in developing countries. Our findings show that women in developing countries could be US$9 trillion better off if their pay and access to paid work were equal to that of men. This huge price tag illustrates the magnitude of the injustice and represents a vast mine of untapped potential for poor women to improve their own lives, and those of their families. And these costs are not only to women’s finances; women’s economic inequality limits their life choices too – such as their sexual and reproductive health and rights – leaving them vulnerable to violence and other forms of discrimination and exploitation.
But gender inequality in work not only has consequences for women; it carries major costs for all, including businesses and the wider economy. In 2012 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that globally an additional US$1.6 trillion in output could be generated by reducing the gap in employment between women and men. Ensuring that women’s work, both in and outside the home, is valued and rewarded fairly is a key factor in fighting poverty and driving prosperity for all.
Recognition is growing worldwide that our economic system needs profound reform. There is also increasing understanding that economic growth alone is not going to lead to gender equality, alleviate poverty and reduce inequality for all. A few governments have taken bold steps to address gender inequality in work, while some progressive businesses have shown greater understanding that giving decent work opportunities to women goes hand in hand with sustainable business and economic returns. The challenge remains to spread this vision from the champions to the mainstream. 

Women’s economic inequality is not inevitable. Exploitation of women’s work prevails because of the unjust politics that shape our economy, and because it is rooted in and further drives wider gender discrimination in society. Governments, businesses and international institutions all have the power to create the conditions that are needed to give women in developing countries the chances that they deserve in and at work.
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Friday, February 6, 2015

What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

Know the Facts: What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

FGM is a human rights violation, torture and an extreme form of violence and discrimination against girls and women. It is most often carried out on girls between infancy  and age 15, though adult women are occasionally subjected to the procedure. FGM has no health benefits, only harm.

FGM involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, thereby interfering with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies. FGM is generally done without anaesthetic. It ranges from the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), to the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora (excision), to its most extreme form, the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva (infibulation) – all for non-medical reasons. 

FGM can have detrimental lifelong health consequences including chronic infections; severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth; psychological trauma; and in some cases even death. It is estimated that more than 125 million girls and women globally have undergone FGM, and 30 million are at risk over the next decade. No one knows how many girls die each year from FGM.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, according to a 2010 World Health Organization study of existing data, the medicalization of FGM is increasing. More than 18% of all girls and women who have been subjected to FGM had the procedure performed on them by a health-care provider; in some countries the rate is as high as 74%. 

Countries with the highest prevalence rates are on the African continent and in the Middle East, but FGM also occurs in Asia, Australia, Latin America, New Zealand, North America and Western Europe.

In countries, such as the UK and the US, with diaspora communities originating from high-prevalence for FGM countries, girls are frequently at risk of “vacation cutting,” i.e. being brought to their families’ home country during school vacations to undergo FGM. 

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities. It is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean.” Typically seen as a rite of passage into womanhood, it is often an immediate precursor to child marriage. Ultimately, it is a way to control girls’ and women’s sexuality.

FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido and therefore believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (infibulation), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.

FGM violates various human rights under international and national law, including women’s and girls’ rights to equality, life, security of the person, dignity, as well as freedom from discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. 

The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) banned FGM in 2003 (Article 5). Treaty monitoring bodies overseeing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention against Torture have all interpreted FGM as a human rights violation in breach of those treaties, with some including medicalization as well. 

In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (Res L21 revision 1) calling on States to implement laws eliminating FGM among several other recommendations, representing  the first time the General Assembly included the elimination of FGM on its agenda.   

In countries and regions where FGM has been reduced or abandoned altogether, evidence shows that the decline resulted when the human rights of women and girls were reinforced and legally protected, and an all-inclusive strategy was used. Such an approach fully engages families, community leaders, educators, law makers or enforcers, health care and social service providers to play an active role. Research shows that if practicing communities themselves decide to abandon FGM, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Women and the Right to Food for All

Under human rights law, the States have an obligation to respect existing access to adequate food. States should be mindful that no policy or measure should create obstacles for farmers, especially to women farmers, to maintain their seed systems. This would deprive them of their means of livelihood.13 States have an obligation to protect the right to food and therefore need to regulate the activities of patent holders or plant breeders to prevent them from violating the rights of small farmers. States also have an obligation to fulfill the right to food and therefore should take steps to strengthen women’s access to resources. For the benefit of small and women farmers, States should promote agricultural research and development to ensure basic food production. This requires States to regulate commercial seed systems and further strengthen and enhance informal and traditional seed systems which in many countries are maintained by women. For full realisation of the right to food, it is also important not to separate seed production and improvements from actual farming. Article 15, para1(b) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises that everyonehas the right to benefit from scientific progress and its application and hence can be argued to provide farmers their right to access to seeds. 

Around the world, women are leading movements to ensure the sustainable production of food.14 Women are integrally involved in efforts to protect seeds and biodiversity, advocate for rights to land and resources, promote collective and biodynamic farming, and encourage local production and consumption of food.15 Their leadership is necessary for ensuring the right to food for all. In conclusion, seed policies should recognise women’s role in seed systems and should balance the need for innovation for preservation and enhancement of crop diversity. As a result, improving the livelihoods of small-scale farmers will help ensure full realisation of the right to food for all.

13International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 11.

14Shiva, Vandana, Caliber of Destruction: Globalization, Food Security and Women’s Livelihoods (Manila: Isis International, 1996).
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Monday, February 2, 2015


The achievement of women’s full rights is a complex socio- economic and political process. It demands diverse, positive, and sustained changes in policy, practices, resource allocation, attitudes, beliefs, and power relationships. Together these changes have the potential to lead to transformed societies where women and other marginalized groups can fully achieve their rights. 
Transformative change means change that is fundamental, lasting, and which challenges existing structural inequality. It is part of Oxfam’s approach to development and humanitarian response, and it is continuously being refined and developed within the Oxfam confederation. 

Transformative change requires fundamental shifts in power relationships. Power can be expressed in many different forms. The most commonly recognised expression of power is ‘power over’. This is a way of exercising influence over people, often negatively associated with force, repression, coercion, discrimination, abuse, or corruption. Those who have control over resources and decision-making have power over those without. When people are denied access to important resources like land, healthcare, education, or jobs, power over perpetuates inequality, injustice, and poverty. This expression of power is often associated with the way people interpret leadership: as a hierarchical process where someone (the visible leader) uses his or her authority to make people act and
think the way they want.
If Oxfam aims for transformational change and leadership, power must be used and exercised in more collaborative ways.
Power with’ builds collective strength and finds common ground among different interest groups.
Power with is based on mutual support, solidarity, and collaboration. It brings together the talents and knowledge of individuals to build bridges across different interests in a way that transforms or reduces conflict and promotes equitable relations. 
Power to’ refers to a person’s capacity to decide and carry out desired actions. It refers to the unique potential of every person to shape her or his life and world. It opens up the possibility of joint action, or power with.

Power within’ refers to a person’s sense of self-worth, self-knowledge, self-confidence, and their conviction of what is legitimate. It includes an ability to recognise individual differences while respecting others, and refers to the capacity to imagine and have hope.

It is important to remember that leadership is not always linked with an appointed position or role. Leadership can occur in a moment, act, or behaviour. Anyone can be a leader, or take on leadership, in any given situation. Leadership can also be imagined as a process, where cooperation is emphasized over competition, power and influence is shared within the group,and participative decision-making takes place.
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