Dreaming Big On Human Rights -- Ending Violence And Discrimination Against Women

"I learned not to be afraid. I learned how important it is to fight for a dream and, most importantly, to dream big." - Serena Williams

This has been a year when many women have spoken out about the discrimination and violence that is still a reality for millions of women and girls around the world. From students to sports stars to Hollywood actresses, we have witnessed their bravery through their words.

The disturbing truth is that at some point in their life, almost all women around the world will have faced discrimination of some form - whether it's sexual harassment, exclusion from education, or the relative size of their pay cheques. What's more, up to seven out of ten women and girls in the world will have been subjected to violence.

By its very nature, today's UN Human Rights Day is about calling for everyone on this planet to be born free and equal in dignity and rights and to be able to lead their lives this way. So I'd encourage everyone to get behind the UN Human Rights Office's request - to "stand up for someone's rights today". In that spirit, I write this post in support of advancing women's rights and equality.

The moral case for gender equality is obvious. It should not need any explanation. So let me present a different case - that empowering women and girls with equal rights is also the single most important thing we can do to drive human development, and that our vision of a poverty-free world depends on it.

The good news is that it is increasingly accepted that gender equality is part of a broader development challenge. And not before time. While it is called out specifically in the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 5, it will enable all of them, whether it is Zero Hunger, Decent Work & Economic Growth, or Sustainable Cities & Communities. If we fail to tackle gender inequality, the rest of the Goals are likely to fail too.

Women earn just 10% of the world's income, and own just 1% of the world's property. Yet research shows that they reinvest 90% of their income into their families, whereas men reinvest around 30-40%. If we empower women by providing equal access to land rights, finance, education, jobs, training and pay, McKinsey estimates that it will boost the global economy by around US$28 trillion. That's equivalent to the combined GDP of the world's two largest economies, the US and China.

At Unilever, we are committed to building an inclusive organisation where all individuals feel safe, valued and supported - irrespective of gender, background or any other difference. And as part of that, the safety of women working across our value chain is a top priority - helping them to be productive at work, to transform their families and to fuel their economies. It can be a complex challenge, as we discovered at our Kericho tea estates in Kenya, where we have rolled out a safety for women and girls programme. We are currently working with other companies and organisations to expand it further.

But this goes beyond safety, which should be a given. Empowering women is one of the most important things we - and indeed every business - can do. It's why creating Opportunities for Women is a key pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Women are instrumental to the functioning of our business at every level - in our fields and communities, factories and offices. They also possess innate skills and characteristics, such as long-term thinking and a more collaborative mindset, which is so valuable to our business model.

Across our supply chain, we have reached 800,000 female farmers with improved opportunities and training. Our Shakti programme - employing over 100,000 women micro-entrepreneurs to distribute our products in rural areas in countries such as India - is another example. Meanwhile, 45% of our managers are women, as are half of our directors in the boardroom. Not a day goes by when I am not inspired by an amazing woman I meet working for our company.

We want to go further still. In 2014 we committed to empowering 5 million women across our value chain by 2020 through access to skills and training to unlock opportunities. Two years in, we are making good progress.

But we cannot afford to be complacent. We have a long way to go and there is more we can do to ensure the size and scale of our business has a positive influence through our partnerships with charities, NGOs, Governments and businesses around the world. That's why, for example, we are campaigning with the UN Women's HeForShe campaign - a global movement of men supporting women's empowerment and advocating for women's rights, and a key unlock in addressing many of the inequalities that still exist. It's also why this year we launched #Unstereotype, our commitment to change the way we portray gender in our advertising.

So as we celebrate Human Rights Day - and I write 'celebrate' intentionally - think about what you can do in your organisation to promote respect for human rights everywhere, in all aspects of our lives. We all have responsibility to stop violence and discrimination against women, whether it's in our businesses, in our homes, or on our streets. We need to stand up for someone's rights today. We need to dream big.