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Abstract

From the World Bank’s ‘gender equality is smart economics’ to The Economist’s ‘womenomics’ and Nike’s ‘girl effect’, feminism seems to have well and truly penetrated the business world. Government action on behalf of gender equality is well institutionalized but private corporations appear as a new actor in this cause. This article asks: What do businesses and their public partners do in order to advance gender equality? What motivates their engagement now and how does it fit into existing public and private relationships of power? What do they mean for feminist agendas? How legitimate are they? And how effective are they? To address these questions the article examines four exemplary initiatives involving businesses in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment: the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Global Initiative, the World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Program, the European Union’s Programme on Gender Balance in Decision-Making Positions, and the UN Global Compact-UNIFEM Women’s Empowerment Principles for Business. Our purpose is to conceptually locate these initiatives as new private forms of governance involving partnerships with governments. We assess these initiatives employing criteria of feminist evaluation and find decidedly ambiguous results. We argue that the new attention to gender equality in business and global economic governance is both an expression of and a key process in the transformation of states and corporations in the context of global competition and restructuring.

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