International Women’s Day

UN Women calls on the private sector to become activists, advocates and investors in gender equality

Date: Friday, March 16, 2018

To mark International Women’s Day, on 8 March 2018, UN Women South Africa Multi-Country Office (SAMCO) joined the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), Women in Exchange Traded Funds and Sustainable Stock Exchanges at the 4th Annual Ring the Bell for Gender Equality.

Across the world, Ring the Bell ceremonies at stock exchanges highlight the pivotal role that the private sector plays in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals and particularly in achieving Goal 5 which calls for gender equality globally by 2030.

Paying tribute to women in factory lines, production lines, boardrooms and stock exchanges across the world, keynote speaker, Ms Ipeleng Mkhari, Founder and CEO of Motseng Investment Holdings, acknowledged that ‘opportunity’ was usually what set women apart from men and a gender-insensitive world made it difficult for women to rise. However, she challenged women to change the business narrative of males as ‘business heroes’. “It is us as African women that must defeat this distortion of our contemporary economic realities.”

Following the bell ringing ceremony, several companies that have made public commitments to accelerate gender equality, showcased their programmes, investments and contributions to a more equitable corporate sector with an aim for more companies in South Africa to follow suit.

Opening the showcase session, Nozipho January-Bardill Chair of the UNGC in South Africa, reflected on the ever-growing reliance on the corporate sector to lead solutions to global problems and develop a private sector that has a purpose. “[The private sector] must not just please shareholders and make sure our balance sheets are okay; but we must also make sure we have the social licence to operate rather than just a legal licence to operate.”

iwd south africa
Women business leaders officially open the Johannesburg Stock Exchange at the Ring the Bell Ceremony on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2018. L-R Nerina Visser, etfSA, Nozipho January-Bardill, UN Global Compact; Nompumelelo Zikalala, De Beers; Anne Githuku-Shongwe, UN Women; Bonang Mohale, Business Leadership SA; Achieng Ojwang UN Global Compact; Keketso Maema, Commission for Gender Equality; Jessica Spira, Rand Merchant Bank; Zeona Jacobs, Johannesburg Stock Exchange; Ipeleng Mkhari, Motseng Investment Holdings. Credit: JSE

UN Women SAMCO used the occasion to call on the private sector to accelerate changes to company policies and practices on gender equality by signing and implementing the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs).  The WEPs is a framework developed by UNGC and UN Women in consultation with government, the private sector and civil society that guides businesses on empowering women in the workplace, marketplace and community.

UN Women SAMCO Representative, Ms Anne Githuku-Shongwe remarked that if all companies committed to the WEPs there would be a clear shift in the economy as opportunities opened for women to become part of labour, leadership and ownership.  “We want every [company] to make gender equality its business. Collectively there is no reason why we shouldn’t see progress. Let’s make this economy work for women.”

Mr Bonang Mohale Chief Executive Officer of Business Leadership South Africa encouraged increased engagement from men in ensuring the South African economy becomes equitable and transformed. “Men must do more to ensure that women take their rightful place in the broader economic agenda only then will we look back and say we have played our part.”

Companies that showcased their work included DeBeers Consolidated Mines represented by Deputy Chief Executive Officer Ms Nompumelelo Zikalala, Motseng Investment Holdings represented by Ms Ipeleng Mkhari, and Rand Merchant Bank represented by Business Development Director Jessica Spira. The companies shared on progress being made particularly on leadership opportunities for women and creating suitable work environments.

 The Commission for Gender Equality, represented by Chief Executive Officer Keketso Maema also shared on the impact of their engagement with the private sector including Gender Transformation Hearings where leaders are called into account on progress towards gender transformation; insisting on quotas for employment equity; and policy mechanisms that can be instituted to ensure that gender equality targets are met.

UN Women will continue to mobilise companies to sign the WEPs and work with the more than 50 companies that have already signed on setting targets and monitoring progress to fully realise the principles.