Ringing the bell for women's rights
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Ringing the bell for women's rights

Women 'Ring the Bell' to open the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York. (Photo UN.org)
Women 'Ring the Bell' to open the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York. (Photo UN.org)

To mark International Women's Day today, stock exchanges around the world are holding a "Ring the Bell" event to raise awareness of women in business: the urgent need to improve gender equality and women's empowerment in the workplace.

Women are half the world's population, but are under-represented and underpaid in the world's workplaces. This year on International Women's Day, the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) is joining more than 50 exchanges worldwide in ringing its afternoon market opening bell to highlight the critical role of businesses and markets in closing the gender gap.

Today, only half of working-age women are in paid employment, compared with three quarters of working-age men. And when they are paid, women earn on average 77% of what men receive for the same work. Then there is the burden of unpaid labour, which women spend two-and-a-half more time on than men -- mostly domestic and care work.

The gender gap is closing, but too slowly. At the current rate of change, it will take more than 100 years for women worldwide to catch up with men in economic participation and opportunity. We cannot afford to wait that long.

What needs to be done? Of course, we need international agreements and government policies to ensure women's just treatment and equal opportunities at work. But the private sector has an essential role to play here. It is not enough for companies simply to respect anti-discrimination laws and regulations. Where progress has been made, we see gender-responsive approaches coming from employers. These include a move towards greater gender parity at all levels, from recruitment right up to the boardroom, as well as parental leave and support with child care.

Some of this is already happening but needs to be dramatically expedited. The SET has been promoting gender equality on the boards of its listed companies as part of its bid to improve sustainable growth and development. With 77 female CEOs among the 643 listed companies, Thailand is far ahead of the world average. And the Thai stock exchange is a member of the Sustainable Stock Exchange initiative, a worldwide collaboration between bourses to share experiences and ideas on how to boost corporate social governance.

These measures are not just the right thing to do, they are the smart thing to do -- empowering women's economic participation is a business imperative. When more women are in formal employment, economies are more productive. When women workers are better represented in labour associations, better wage deals are struck. And greater gender parity at leadership levels boost the performance of organisations in both the public and private sectors. We all stand to gain from improving equality in the workplace.

Many businesses have already experienced this. And we need to multiply these successful experiences, through partnerships within the private sector, and also between the private sector, civil society, government agencies and international organisations.

Several such partnerships already exist, such as those based on the Women's Empowerment Principles, drawn up by UN Women together with the UN Global Compact. These lay out what businesses can do to empower women to participate fully in economic life, for the benefit of both those women and of the businesses they work with and for.

Now is a good time to move this forward, as the challenges faced by women at work are in the spotlight. Initiatives are raising public awareness such as the #metoo movement, driven by women who faced abuse working in the entertainment industry, and the #timesup initiative that sprang out of it to support women in other less high-profile sectors to fight back against abusers. Globally, as many as one in five women has been harassed by someone in the context of her work, such as a supervisor, colleague or client.

Improving women's participation in the workplace will also require some more equality in the home. As women are more included in the paid sector, men will need to pick up more of their share of domestic and care tasks. One of us signatories has repeatedly recalled how much his paternal leave meant for his relations with his daughters. We jointly draw the conclusion that paid paternal leave is a crucially important means both to facilitate women's situation in the labour market as well as enhancing the emotional links between fathers and their children.

International Women's Day is an opportunity to highlight these challenges, and the benefits to every member of society that are available to us if we can overcome them. But the concrete changes need to transform the lives of people for all for the rest of the year, until we have a new normal, with no gender pay gaps, no careers curtailed by care responsibilities, and no need for hashtag campaigns to prevent gender-based violence. This is what we are ringing the bell for today.

The "Ring the Bell for Gender Equality" initiative is a collaboration between the United Nations Global Compact, the Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, UN Women, the International Finance Corporation, the World Federation of Exchanges, and Women in ETFs. The event in Bangkok is hosted by the Stock Exchange of Thailand in collaboration with the Swedish Embassy.

Kesara Manchusree is President of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, Miwa Kato is Regional Director for UN Women Asia and the Pacific and Staffan Herrstrom is the Swedish Ambassador to Thailand.

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