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Gender lens to the UNGPs

Women (including girls) experience business-related human rights abuses in unique ways and are often affected disproportionately. Women also face multiple forms of discrimination and experience additional barriers in seeking access to effective remedies for business-related human rights abuses. Therefore, in order to effectively meet their respective human rights duties and responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), States and business enterprises need to give special attention to the unique experiences of women and the structural discrimination or barriers that they face.

The UNGPs acknowledge the importance of gender in several places. The commentary to Principle 3 of the UNGPs provides that States should provide appropriate guidance to businesses on “how to consider effectively issues of gender, vulnerability and/or marginalization”, while Principle 7 underlines that States should provide adequate assistance to business enterprises operating in conflict affected areas “to assess and address the heightened risks of abuses, paying special attention to both gender-based and sexual violence”. The commentary to Principle 12 of the UNGPs reads: “Depending on circumstances, business enterprises may need to consider additional standards. For instance, enterprises should respect the human rights of individuals belonging to specific groups or populations that require particular attention, where they may have adverse human rights impacts on them. In this connection, United Nations instruments have elaborated further on the rights of … women …”. Moreover, the commentary to Principle 20 underlines that business enterprises “should make particular efforts to track the effectiveness of their responses to impacts on individuals from groups or populations that may be at heightened risk of vulnerability or marginalization”, underlining the importance of “using gender-disaggregated data where relevant”.

Despite these references to gender in the UNGPs, the business and human rights (BHR) discourse has not so far given adequate attention to the differentiated impacts of business-related human rights abuses on women and the additional barriers that they face in accessing effective remedies to redress such abuses. Therefore, further guidance to both States and businesses on how to adopt a gender lens in implementing the UNGPs is needed. Against this background, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights is launching a thematic project to unpack the gender dimension of the UNGPs.

Project objectives

The key objectives of this project are to:

1. Raise sensitivity amongst all stakeholders about the need to adopt a gender lens to implement the UNGPs and in turn mainstream the women issues within the BHR field; 

2. Develop guidance to assist both States and business enterprises with practical recommendations for what it means to protect, respect and remedy the rights of women in a business context in line with the UNGPs; and

3. Bring together various agencies, institutions, organizations and actors working in the BHR field to continuously explore ways to empower women who are at-risk or have been adversely affected by business-related human rights abuses.

Although “gender” is a broad concept, this project will focus on how the intersection of business with human rights impacts women. In doing so, the project will also seek to support and complement broader efforts to combat gender discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In unpacking the respective obligations and responsibilities of States and businesses under the UNGPs in relation to women, the Working Group will draw on the relevant international human rights instruments, notably the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the work of the UN treaty bodies.  The Working Group will also build upon the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.

The Working Group will be carrying out this project in consultation with other UN mechanisms (such as the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), ILO, UN Women, UN Global Compact, OECD and a range of other stakeholders, including States, business representatives, business associations, trade unions, civil society groups, and victims of business-related human rights abuse.

Online questionnaire

The Working Group will soon issue an online questionnaire to collect input from States and other stakeholders collect feedback about the proposed guidance on the gender lens to the UNGPs.


The Working Group will be convening consultations in different parts of the world to achieve the project objectives. The first multi-stakeholder consultation on 30 November 2017 in Geneva brought together several relevant stakeholders engaged with women rights generally or working in the BHR field to brainstorm collectively on how to accomplish the project objectives. A summary of discussion will soon be posted here.  

The Working Group’s Asia consultation will be hosted by Ashoka University’s Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership (GCWL) in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Asia-Pacific and UN Women. The consultation will take place on 20-21 February 2018 at Ashoka University’s campus in Sonipat (near New Delhi) in India. For further information and registration, please visit the consultation website.

Information about other regional consultations will be posted on this webpage in due course. If you would like to engage in this project or receive updates about it, please contact the Working Group (wg-business@ohchr.org).