Removing Legal Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment: UN Global Compact Spotlights Partnership

Few people within the United Nations (UN) system talk about the impact in 1982 when USA President Ronald Reagan pulled the economic plug on USA international relations by withdrawing funding from key international organizations within the UN System. The move was based upon the administration's political agenda, fully within the scope of powers of the USA Executive Branch, despite underlying treaty provisions. The move had three impacts: First, withdrawl of funds threatened to have a dominio effect, with large funders withdrawing their funding too. This never actually happened however, because of a second impact: small rich nations such as the Scandanavian compact joied together to fill gaps in funding. Third, the withdrawl had a direct impact on the jobs and future careers of USA citizens working abroad, whose foreign employers sought to send them home as an act of reciprocity under international law.

The UN infrastructure has changed dramatically, since then. It now has with as many ancillary feeder consultant groups as the infrastructure of the USA Congress in Washington DC. Many of those global non-governmental organizations were started with UN funding through capcity building programs during the 21st century. Additionally, there are many new nations now that simply did not exist in 1982, thus offereing a secondary line of funding that did not exist in 1982. Few women were working in the UN system at that time, too. Therefore it is likely that the results would be quite different if a USA President sought to withdraw UN funding following this precedent decades later.

For women, the stability of the UN system folloing the recovery from the USA pullout has brought to the fore a conduit for advancing womens's rights by integrating women workers into the UN infrastructure and catapolting them into the private sector jobs with partner businesses who fund key projects. The UN Women administration was created especially to target gender inquity within the UN infrastructure and amongUN partners. Many of those partnerships are part of the UN Economic Compact that began in the early 21st century..

Taking stock of these accomplishments and their supporting resources was the subject of a recent meeting for the UN Global Compact, UN Women, the International Trade Centre, the East-West Center, the International Gender Champions Geneva and supporting partners sponsired a conference at the Un International trade Center entitled, “Bringing Down Legal Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment: An Economic and Business Imperative” in Geneva Switzerland, January 2017

The integration of global commerce and the deliberate efforts to remove barriers to womens achievements have made a lasting impact that cannot easily be reversed. As speakers from the private sector and UN Women emphasized, the role of business and the private sector in advancing women's rights in the workplace and beyond. Global business leaders, UN Ambassadors, heads of business associations, UN agencies and civil society organizations  discussed the strategies to spur economic development, propel business growth by removing legal barriers to women’s economic empowerment. The range of topics included embedding womens roles into corporate infrastructure, methods of taining for corporate leaders to understand the added value of hiring women in key roles and discussion of future perspectives by major players in the UN scene.

Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, (see photo) underscored the importance of removing restrictions on property rights and travel for women in many nations. Progress towards integrating women into the highest levels of corporations was described by Lise Kingo, Executive Director, UN Global Compact, which encourages partnership in sitdown conversations between UN programs and business. Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO, IKEA Switzerland and Co-Chair, UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment outlined a practical ist of goals she views as achieveable. Sheila Penrose, Chairman of the Board, JLL and Paul Rawlinson, Chairman of the Executive Committee, Baker & McKenzie described the variety of win/win scenarios and how hardworking women workers bring added value to a competitive workplace. Final comments by the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations encouraged the attendees to carry forth their work into the new administration. None of these conduits for strategic implementation existed in 1982, when USA fiscal support for the UN were removed, and therefore it is highly likely that these new and vibrant structures could withstand a USA pullout today.

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