For more than a century, March 8 has marked International Women’s Day — a global day celebrating the achievements of women and promoting gender equality worldwide. But as we pause to celebrate our many advances, we must also acknowledge how much remains to be done.

Interlinked issues –

Two interconnected issues have emerged as priorities over the past two years –

  1. Sexual harassment at the workplace and
  2. Obstacles to women’s participation at all levels of the workforce, including political representation.

Recent developments –

  • The 2017-18 explosion of the #MeToo movement across social media uncovered countless cases of unreported sexual harassment and assault. It also prompted a range of public and private organisations to examine the internal institutional cultures surrounding sexual harassment, gender parity, and gender equity. Amongst them, the United Nations.
  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres has been a staunch supporter of women’s rights since his election in 2016, stating the need for “benchmarks and time frames to achieve [gender] parity across the system, well before the target year of 2030”.

Tracking progress –

  • As findings on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) indicate, many countries, including India, were able to substantially increase their performance on issues such as sex ratios and maternal mortality once their leaders had signed on to the MDGs.
  • Tracking performance on the Sustainable Development Goals, a more comprehensive iteration of the MDGs, will again provide useful pointers for policymakers and advocates going forward.

The concern –

  • The issue of improving internal cultures surrounding sexual harassment, gender parity and gender equity has generated considerable debate in India, where political parties have begun to ask how they are to apply the rules of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 which lays down that every office in the country must have an internal complaints committee to investigate allegations of sexual harassment.
  • With thousands of offices across the country, and barely any employee trained to handle sexual harassment, Indian political parties ask whether broader structures, such as district or regional complaints committees, could play the role of office ones.

Way forward –

  • The UN Secretariat’s single window structure for such complaints can provide a better practice. One caveat is that it does not apply across the organisation, so UN agencies, including the multi-institute UN University that aims to achieve gender parity at the director level by end 2019, still have to identify their organisation-specific mechanisms.
  • Perhaps, a follow-up to the UN’s sexual harassment survey that looks at complaints received and action taken can be adopted.
  • In the U.S., companies such as General Electric, Accenture, Pinterest, Twitter, General Mills and Unilever are setting and achieving targets to increase female representation at all levels of their workforce. This March 8, let us hope that companies worldwide pledge to follow the examples in the U.S. And that other institutions, whether universities or political parties, follow the UN example.

Conclusion –

Gender reforms begin at home, not only in the family but also in the workplace.

SourceThe Hindu