Switzerland underscores the importance of the private sector in achieving gender equality

Article, 17.03.2016

Gender equality is one of Switzerland's priority areas in its international cooperation. Switzerland believes the private sector has a key role to play in fostering equality. "Smart economics means empowering women, promoting girls and bringing about gender equality". These were the words of Benno Bättig, Secretary General of the FDFA, in his speech opening a panel discussion with business representatives from all over the world. The event on the role of business in achieving gender equality, which was organised by the UN Global Compact and UN Women as a side event at the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), focused on the multiplier effect of women's economic empowerment for sustainable development.

FDFA Secretary General Benno Bättig delivering his speech at the Women's Empowerment Principles event in New York. ©

The Trusteeship Council Chamber at the UN's headquarters in New York was filled to capacity with more than 500 people in attendance – including many business leaders committed to the issue of gender equality. The Women's Empowerment Principles (WEP) event brings together CEOs from all over the world every year. Since the WEP was launched by the UN Global Compact and UN Women in 2010, it has been signed by almost 1,200 CEOs from across the globe, including 45 from Switzerland. By signing the WEPs, companies commit to promoting operational measures aimed at achieving gender equality – for example promoting women in decision-making positions, introducing parental leave, helping fund childcare and implementing quotas for supervisory boards.

Switzerland's commitment to gender equality

Gender equality is a priority for Switzerland. In its Dispatch on International Cooperation 2017-2020, the Federal Council lists gender equality as one of seven strategic objectives. Gender aspects are also to be considered in all other activities. On a multilateral level, Switzerland is committed to promoting, strengthening and safeguarding the relevant standards – like, for example, at the CSW, which is convening for the 60th time this year. The private sector is to be an important partner in achieving sustainable development through a multi-stakeholder approach. In order to achieve this, Switzerland promotes effective government institutions and framework conditions to ensure that the positive potential of the private sector can be exploited.

Following the keynote address by the Costa Rican President, Luis Guillermo Solís Riviera, Benno Bättig, Secretary General of the FDFA, opened the panel discussion entitled "The World We Want: Delivering for the 2030 Development Agenda". The FDFA Secretary General pointed to the growing number of studies that show how promoting equality in the labour market has a significant positive effect on the economy as a whole. Advancing gender equality therefore plays a key role in ensuring that the agreed sustainable development goals can be achieved by 2030. On this note, Benno Bättig called on the participating leaders from all over the world to play their part in ensuring gender equality in business and therefore to make a major contribution to implementing the sustainable development goals in a gender-responsive way.

Gender equality pays off

Various well-known figures addressed the CEOs attending the WEP event. "We need the private sector to advance the issue of gender equality," stressed Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlamblo-Ngcuka. Lise Kingo, Director of the UN Global Compact, highlighted the positive impact of women's empowerment on the economy and received resounding applause when she stated that in future UN Global Compact would decline invitations to take part in panels with only male delegates. In his opening address, the President of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, alluded to the increasing number of studies that highlight how investing in women pays off. Meanwhile, Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, underscored the importance of sharing knowledge and good practice when it comes to promoting equality.

In two panel discussions CEOs from all over the world discussed the ways in which they promote equality in their respective companies and shared their experiences. Five CEOs from Australia, Chile, France, the UK and Mexico were also presented with the WEP's CEO Leadership Award, a prestigious accolade recognising business leaders for their outstanding championship of gender equality and support for the Women's Empowerment Principles. The award-winning CEOs promptly delivered a clear message to the audience: that the private sector has to be a strong partner to achieve gender equality. The young and extremely successful manager Fiza Farhan from Pakistan captured the audience's full attention with her bold and moving words. "I'm young and I want to be able to realise my full potential," she said. Last year, Fiza Farhan was featured in Forbes magazine's "30 under 30" list of the most promising young figures aged under 30 from various sectors.

Implementation of the 2030 Agenda requires a strong private sector

The address by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was one of the highlights of the event. He too made a strong appeal to the leaders from all over the world attending the event. He said that a strong private sector is key to achieving the sustainable development goals – and in particular implementing the Agenda in a gender-responsive way. He added that bold leaders and CEOs were also needed to set a good example and invest in women, and that they in turn would see a range of benefits and a return on investment. The UN Secretary General closed with the words "I'm counting on you to put your leadership qualities into practice and to take bold action to ensure gender equality and a life of dignity for all people by 2030."