by Christina Bache /
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Global Compact and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, establishing the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. Despite evolving into prominent global frameworks for inclusive development and sustainable peace, the links between the two remain unexplored, and the potential contribution of the private sector remains largely untapped. The United Nations Global Compact and the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda highlight the importance of gender equality and, more specifically, women’s meaningful inclusion – where women have decision-making authority – across all spheres of society to achieve those objectives.
However, one aspect of the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, women’s economic inclusion, has not garnered as much attention as others, such as recruiting women in the armed services or preventing sexual and gender-based violence. Yet, economic inclusion is critical to ensuring women’s meaningful participation. It is also essential to broaden women’s participation from diverse socio-economic, political, and religious backgrounds.
Business cannot substitute the need for good governance structures, nor can they completely dislodge the structural barriers that restrict women’s agency on their own. However, businesses can strengthen women’s economic inclusion, specifically by easing access to the labor market and improving job retention. The recent Women, Peace and Security Report published by the United Nations Global Compact Network UK explores the vital role business plays in making that a reality.
In addition, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education, Working Group on Business for Peace will organize a webinar on Tuesday, November 16th, at 10 AM EST to discuss what business can do practically to strengthen women’s meaningful inclusion. You may register through this link.
Some practical examples of how companies can bolster women’s economic inclusion and increase their prospects to participate meaningfully across society include: enacting fair and transparent hiring processes, offering fair and equal wage standards, ensuring a fair division of labor, providing a safe and inclusive working environment that considers women’s needs, and upholding zero-tolerance policies against harassment. In addition, businesses should also adopt work-life balance schemes, offer on-site childcare facilities, and enact wellbeing and parenting schemes, including adequate parental leave and on-site health and wellness services to assist the transition and retention of women in the labor market.
Even with the private sector moving towards more concerted efforts to adopt inclusive business practices, structural inequalities remain entrenched, diminishing women’s voice and agency. Globally women earn less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector, restricting their access to decent and dignified work, social protection, resources, savings, and capital.
Furthermore, the decline and, in some situations, the complete absence of workplace democracy significantly inhibits prospects for greater gender equality. Women comprise the majority of single-parent households and perform the majority of unpaid work, adding enormous pressure and responsibilities. Entrenched cultural biases, archaic civil registration systems, and discrepancies between national laws protecting women, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the enforcement of those laws profoundly hinder women’s rights and their active participation in decision-making at all levels of society, from the household to financial institutions.
Peace, conflict management, and human security perspectives have remained mainly entrenched in the political science, international relations, and sociology fields, limiting the chances of their dissemination beyond students who decide to acquire a degree or enroll in courses in those fields. As a result, students who choose to study an MBA or MiF will likely have learned little about critical peace and security concepts in their undergraduate programs, if at all. Traditional or national security perspectives prioritize defense and military issues to promote regime stability domestically and affirm state positions and interests internationally. On the other hand, human security approaches argue that threats and challenges to security transcend national defense to encompass all political, economic, and social issues that bolster the chances for individuals to live a dignified life, free from fear and want.
The more widely accepted understanding of peace, the negative peace paradigm, refers to an absence of physical or direct violence. While it is crucial communities live in an environment with little to no physical violence, in contrast, positive peace is just, equitable, collaborative, complex, and inclusive. How we define and analyze peace and security is critical to understanding the context in which we operate and to devising positive ways to engage in communities. Business and management schools must weave in critical viewpoints about peace and security to ensure students understand the potential consequences of business engagement in fragile and conflict-affected environments.
This shift might require deepening interdisciplinary cooperation with colleagues from the political science, international relations, and sociology fields to provide guidance and fill in as guest lecturers. Graduate programs such as the one organized by the Kogod School of Business and the School of International Service at American University, in Washington, DC, which offers students a combination of business, management, peace, and conflict resolution courses is an important model to replicate at other universities. In addition, the course entitled ‘Peace Through Entrepreneurship,’ taught by Bob Sicina at American University or the one I have dreamed of teaching on the ‘Nexus of Business and the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda’ could offer students an opportunity to learn more multi-dimensional perspectives on peace and security ahead of more substantial programs.
However, in the end, strengthening the nexus of business and the women, peace, and security agenda will require a concerted effort by stakeholders, including business and management schools to instill the principles of inclusion, justice, and equity, all elements of positive peace and human security, into their core curriculum.
Christina Bache is chair of the PRME Business for Peace Working Group, a research affiliate at Queen’s University, co-chair of the International Crisis Group’s Ambassador Council and an adjunct faculty member at the Brussels School of Governance.