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Women’s participation in business and economic stability go hand-in-hand. On Friday morning, global leaders and policymakers met to discuss women’s economic rights. Patricia O’Brien, Permanent Representation of Ireland to the United Nations Office moderated a panel with three members: Justice Sujata Manohar, former member of Supreme Court of India; Eric Schwartz, Dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota; and Anne Trebilcock from the Centre de Droit International, University of Paris Nanterre-La Défense. Patricia O’Brien outlined contextual points and reminded everyone that supporting women’s empowerment is smart economics. Domestic courts have an important role, thus the discussion moved from an economic standpoint to that of policy. The panel brought forth a variety of worldwide issues ranging from migration to education.
Justice Sujata Manohar believed states are the most important players in economic rights, due to jurisdiction. The right to own and inherit property and guaranteed safe travel to school and work would greatly help the discrimination issue, which is backed by culture and insensitive systems of government. Justice Manohar gave examples of women fighting for equality in the workplace from India’s history. For example in 1979, a female Foreign Service Officer challenged service conditions that required a woman to obtain government permission for marriage.
States can enforce international law. In India, international human rights law can be applied if there is a gap in domestic law. Justice Manohar encouraged other policymakers to join this trend.
Eric Schwartz spoke broadly on his impressions about women’s issues in regards to refugees and migration. He remarked “you cannot have aspirations in this area without getting involved in women’s issues.” Half of the 43 million refugees are women. They are vulnerable to abuses in refugee camps, especially since security is weak or nonexistent. Moreover, the increased urbanization of world’s refugee population present challenges to housing and health care.
Anne Trebilcock focused on the labor market and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) endeavors. She exclaimed that monetary policy all too often views social policies as the source of flexibility. For example, Greece agreed to reduce public sector employment and change wage bargaining in the private sector to make the labor market more successful in exchange for bailout money. For example, women were given lower wages after they returned from maturity leave. Unfortunately, Greece is not a unique case. She encouraged organizations and countries to look to IOC manuals and standards to translate principles into action.
Ultimately in times of crisis, prejudice takes over instead of rational thinking. Every policy issue including economics should be viewed through a gender lens. Policymakers should invite women to the table while determining solutions; otherwise the solutions will not be sustainable.
Laurisha Cotton is a contributing editor with ASIL Cables 2014 and a second-year masters student with the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.