Now is the time for businesses and states to eradicate gender-based discrimination

Now is the time for businesses and states to eradicate gender-based discrimination

On the special occasion of International Women’s Day ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies wishes to stress the important role businesses can play in mitigating gender discrimination and societal challenges faced by women across the globe daily. Gender-based discrimination remains an ever-increasing barrier towards the prosperity of female employees in businesses.

Additionally, state governments have a major role to play in mitigating the genders-based discrimination in society and businesses.

Instead of fearing the prospect of inclusion and focusing on exclusion, businesses can simply put their effort into creating a culture of inclusivity that in turn would allow the business to prosper from increased recognition, innovation, results and creativity.

On this day, March 8th, we acknowledge all those women across the globe who have fought and continue to fight for their basic human rights, we must also take time to recognise all those women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region who are currently in prisons or under dire living conditions due to poor state policies and their continuous struggle to achieve women's rights.

 

Women in need of recognition in the MENA region

The MENA region has a long list of women who, both in the past and the present, have had their rights stripped away from them purely based on their gender. From honour killings and stonings to gender pay gaps and diminished basic rights, women in the MENA region have become victims of a war against their right to freedom and expression.

From honour killings and stonings to gender pay gaps and diminished basic rights, women in the MENA region have become victims of a war against their right to freedom and expression.

In only one month, May 2018, the Saudi Arabian authorities had prosecuted and arrested 8 women who had been campaigning against the backwards sponsorship system, human rights violations and the ban on women driving many of whom are still in prison or have been released recently. Furthermore, in Saudi Arabia, women face domestic violence under the guardianship system that puts the lives of women in the hands of their male guardian, from the day she is born to the day she dies. This system of male guardianship also paves the way for domestic violence seeing as under state policy the male has ultimate control over the woman. Under this repressive system, the male guardian controls important aspects of a woman's life such as enrolment in education, employment, marriage and travel abilities.

Above all else, in both Iran and Saudi Arabia employment for a woman is also made increasingly difficult. In Iran for example women need to seek permission from their husband or male guardian to get a job. In Saudi Arabia however, no state legislation restricts a woman's ability to work. However, businesses can choose whether they wish to acquire guardianship approval before hiring a female employee.Businesses should not have the freedom to limit a female employee's capabilities based on their choice of whether guardianship consent is needed!Furthermore, Iran continues to suffocate its female population with its gender discriminatory laws such as the enforced veiling laws, ban on women entering sports stadiums, ban on women riding bicycles, ban on women exiting the country or obtaining a passport without her husband's permission, stringent divorce laws and inadequate laws against gender-based violence such as sexual assault. Under Iranian civil code, a husband has the right to prevent his wife from seeking employment if he sees it as against his family values. Over the past two years, Iranian authorities have arrested multiple women's rights activists such as Monireh Arabshahi, Farhad Meysami, Saba Kordafshari and Yasaman Ariayi for peacefully protesting against the compulsory veil.

Similarly, Women in Jordan have been subjected to the brutal practice of honour killings that occur regularly. In mid-July of 2020 Ahlam, a young lady, had been reportedly murdered by her father, where he crushed her skull with a brick in front of the public, to “defend his family's honour”. The barbaric nature of such a tradition should not be allowed to take place. Yet again we see another example of female lives being determined in the hand of the opposing gender. Although there had been reforms, such practices continue to terrorise women across the MENA region.

In Egypt, since April 2020, 11 female social media influencers had been arrested including a 17-year-old girl who had been for violating “public morals” and “dishonouring family values”. Subsequently these women had been given from 5 to 6 years in prison for clearly gender discriminatory charges that blatantly violate freedom of expression and the right to privacy. The 17-year-old had been arrested after sharing a video on social media platform, TikTok, of her crying and displaying her bruised face after claiming she had been sexually assaulted by a group of men.

 

What can businesses do?

  • Businesses in countries such as Saudi Arabia that do not specifically state that women need permission from the guardian to work, should not feel the need to demand this approval or deny a woman the right to work purely based on her gender.

Businesses should not have the freedom to limit a female employee's capabilities based on their choice of whether guardianship consent is needed!

  • Businesses across the globe should provide a safe space for their female, and even male, employees to be able to file complaints and speak up against cases of domestic violence they may be experiencing at home. Businesses should make their place of employment an environment in which female employees feel safe to discuss and seek aid on emergency issues.
  •  They should have an effective system and process in place that can deal with complaints of sexual harassment of offences occurring in the workplace by fellow employees.
  • Businesses should create an environment of awareness and gender-based education to allow all staff to treat each other with respect and integrity.
  • Businesses guilty of underrepresenting women in the professional field should evaluate their policies to ensure women are given leadership roles and continue to advance in their role of employment.
  • Ensure those female employees have equal access to financial services, professional training, job opportunities and access to credit.

 

What can states do?

  • States in the MENA region should use this day as a starting point to review their state policies ensuring the inclusivity of women in society, businesses and the political arena is improved.
  • States should review their policies to ensure that they enable equal participation of women in political positions. By doing this, states will benefit not only women but the entire society by creating a more diverse political arena.
  • States should review policies regarding issues around domestic violence that, since the COVID-19 pandemic has only seen a sharp rise.
  • Governments in the MENA region must stop filling up their prisons with innocent female human rights defenders who have not undergone any crime, rather states should accept freedom of speech and eradicate the harassment of those that fight for their rights.
  • States who have not yet done so should implement legal policies that call for equality and quotas in business regulations. By regulating businesses that operate in the country, states will be able to monitor business activities related to gender-based discrimination and pressure businesses that wish to continue working in the country to adopt more gender-inclusive business policies.
  • States should protect the basic rights of women to their freedom of association, freedom of expression and the right to participation in political life. Thus, states in the MENA region should feel obliged to reconsider state policies in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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