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Women experience business-related human rights abuses in unique ways and are often affected disproportionately. Women also face multiple forms of discrimination and experience additional barriers in seeking access to effective remedies for business-related human rights abuses. Therefore, in order to effectively meet their respective human rights duties and responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), States and business enterprises need to give special attention to the unique experiences of women and structural discriminations or barriers that they face.
The UNGPs acknowledge the importance of gender in several places. Despite these references to gender in the UNGPs, the business and human rights (BHR) discourse has not so far given adequate attention to the differentiated impacts of business-related human rights abuses on women and the additional barriers that they face in accessing effective remedies to redress such abuses. The existing national action plans to implement the UNGPs3 and the current practice of human rights due diligence by businesses are illustrative of an inadequate integration of the gender perspective in the policies of States and business enterprises.
In line with its mandate to “integrate a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate” (A/HRC/Res/17/4), the Working Group on Business and Human Rights has considered the gender-based discrimination and women’s rights in its past activities and reports.4 Building on its past work, the Working Group recently decided to launch a new thematic project to pay greater attention to the gender lens to the UNGPs and develop guidance for both States and businesses.
1) Raise sensitivity amongst all stakeholders about the need to adopt a gender lens to implement the UNGPs and in turn mainstream the women issues within the BHR field;
2) Develop guidance to assist both States and business enterprises with practical recommendations for what it means to protect, respect and remedy the rights of women in a business context in line with the UNGPs; and
3) Bring together various agencies, institutions, organizations and actors working in the BHR field to continuously explore ways to empower women who are at-risk or have been adversely affected by business-related human rights abuses.
In unpacking the respective obligations and responsibilities of States and businesses under the UNGPs in relation to women, the Working Group will also draw on the relevant international human rights instruments, notably the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the work of the UN treaty bodies. The Working Group will carry out this project in consultation with all relevant stakeholders engaged with women rights generally or working in the BHR field, including the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice, the CEDAW Committee, OHCHR, UN Women, UN Global Compact, ILO, OECD, civil society, academics, trade unions, and business associations.
Drawing on an initial meeting with selected experts held during the 18th session of the Working Group (September 2017), this first multi-stakeholder consultation will bring together all relevant stakeholders engaged with women rights generally or working in the BHR field to brainstorm collectively on how to accomplish the project objectives.
The discussion questions listed below are aimed at guiding the discussion rather than constraining an open dialogue about all the relevant issues.
Subsequent regional consultations will be held in 2018 to gather more feedback to inform the project objectives.
To take the project forward, the Working Group will continue to engage with all stakeholders and take a number of steps in 2018: (i) publish on its website a summary of feedback generated from the 30 November consultation; (ii) issue an online questionnaire to collect input from States and other stakeholders; and (iii) organise regional consultations in collaboration with other organisations. The Ashoka University’s Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership, in collaboration with the Working Group and UNDP Bangkok, will be hosting the Asia consultation in New Delhi on 20-21 February 2018. The Africa consultation is likely to be hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) in the second half of 2018, while the Working Group is exploring possibilities to hold similar consultations in other world regions.
Drawing on the feedback received from all the consultations and online questionnaire, the Working Group aims to release draft guidance for public comments in early 2019.