COVID-19 Op-ed

Women at work deserve better from governments and businesses

Written by admin

Golda Benjamin and Kalayaan
Golda Benjamin is the Senior Researcher and
Representative for Southeast Asia of the Business and Human Rights Resource
Centre. Kalayaan Constantino is Oxfam in Asia’s Policy and Campaigns Manager.
Read the full report entitled
“Women’s Human Rights and Business”

This report is produced as
part of Oxfam’s regional program on Gender Transformative and Responsible
Agribusiness Investments in Southeast Asia (GRAISEA). Significant inputs were
provided by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Institute
for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA), Initiatives for Dialogue and
Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS Philippines), and
Weaving Women’s Voices in Southeast Asia (WEAVE).

The sweeping impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives and
livelihoods continues to be devastating and unparalleled. As governments and
businesses grapple with responses and recovery, another harsh reality stands
out: the pandemic has revealed and increased the vulnerabilities faced by
women at work. It has underlined the need for meaningful and lasting
solutions.Across the region, women workers are underpaid and undervalued.
They are much more likely to hold low-paying jobs. Even when in comparable
roles, Asian women earn less on average – between 70 – 90 percent of what men
earn. Over 70
percent of women workers
in Asia Pacific are in informal employment
(International Labor Organization, 2018).As informal workers, many women do
not have access to benefits such as sick and maternity leave or social
protection. This invisibility also results in their exclusion by both
governments and businesses in emergency response actions where benefits often
go to heads of families, typically the husbands or fathers, or to those
enlisted formally in companies’ payrolls.At the same time, women
traditionally assume most of the care work responsibilities for their
families. With schools physically closed and shifting to online learning,
more time has to be spent by women to look after their children and their
education at home. When a family member gets sick, the challenges
increase.There are reports of increased domestic violence against women and
girls. Lack of access to much needed support due to movement restrictions and
the pandemic overburdening police, healthcare, and legal safety nets has
severely limited the protection and remedial options available to
survivors.However, both governments and businesses can proactively step in to
improve the safety, wellbeing, and the rights of women and girls during this
pandemic and beyond. Their actions can be founded upon the United Nations
Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) – endorsed as
the world’s first corporate human rights responsibility initiative.On June 9
to 11, the United Nations will convene a Virtual Forum on Responsible
Business and Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific to discuss the current
challenges and apt responses. This forum is an opportune moment to consider
the plight of people, especially women and girls, who are hardest hit by the
pandemic. Governments and businesses must now step in to enact legal and
policy frameworks to protect women at work, and they can start this by making
commitments to protecting all rights of women and girls. Governments and
businesses must ensure all workers and communities they work with are aware
of and can claim their rights.Human rights due diligence policies must be
gender-sensitive. Businesses must compensate women for their work fairly and
prevent any form of discrimination or violence against them. In cases where
any right is violated, remedies must be available to survivors where they can
actively and meaningfully access such through a process that enables and
empowers them. Governments must also provide service infrastructure to lessen
unpaid care work responsibilities of women and girls, and promote positive
social norms where care tasks are shared between women and men.These are
mandatory steps to start addressing the inequalities in the workplace.
Opportunity for women to lead the conversations, decisions, and processes
that affect them is critical to correcting such structural problems. Women’s
rights organizations can make meaningful contributions and drive response and
recovery plans and actions; people and partners from diverse platforms must
come together to integrate these reforms.Through a participatory and
inclusive process led by women, their concerns and solutions can then be
reflected in National Action Plans (NAP) on Business and Human Rights and
other national instruments. These inputs can also contribute to the creation
of programs to implement regional policy frameworks like the ASEAN Action
Agenda on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment and the ASEAN Guidelines
on Responsible Investments in Food, Agriculture, and Forestry (Business
& Human Rights Resource Centre et al. 2020).In the Philippines, the
Commission of Human Rights has pushed for the development of a NAP since
2013. There have been other multi-sectoral efforts to promote inclusive
business where the private sector uses their products, services, or even
their supply chains to respect human rights, beat poverty, and create
prosperity. However, government policies and formal commitments have yet to
be made.To build a better future for all Asians, we must not only strive for
better outcomes but also improve how we go about achieving them. As the world
reflects on how to recover from the pandemic, governments and businesses must
meaningfully include women and girls and empower them to reap full rights and
benefits in their workplaces and beyond.References:Business
& Human Rights Resource Centre, ISEA, WEAVE, IDEALS, and Oxfam. 2020.
“Women’s Human Rights & Business: What ASEAN Governments and
Businesses Can Do to Support Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in
the Workplace.”
Labor Organization. 2018. “Women and men in the informal economy: a
statistical picture” (third edition) / International Labour Office – Geneva.—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_626831.pdf 

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