Gender Equality into Sustainability Standards

Integrating Gender Equality into Sustainability Standards: A Strategic Approach

By Eleanor Radford, ISEAL

ISEAL’s guidance, developed with the CGIAR Initiative, highlights the importance of integrating gender equality into sustainability standards. It outlines practices for enhancing women’s empowerment and representation in supply chains, advocating for holistic, organization-wide strategies to address gender inequalities and promote sustainable development.

Tackling gender inequalities in supply chains through sustainability systems

The world won’t meet its sustainability goals without addressing gender issues – and sustainability standards and similar systems have an important role to play by setting gender responsive standards.

The world won’t meet its sustainability goals without addressing gender issues – and sustainability standards and similar systems have an important role to play by setting gender responsive standards.

Gender equality is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and is crucial to achieving many of the goals: from eradicating poverty and hunger, to decent work and economic growth, peace and justice.

Yet, at current rates of progress, it will take up to 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace, while progress on some indicators has gone into reverse following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sustainability systems can help tackle gender equality

At ISEAL, we’re seeing growing interest from sustainability systems in how they can tackle gender inequalities. This is hardly surprising since there is a clear business case. Studies show that businesses that support women workers and improve conditions for women throughout their supply chains benefit from improved health and safety, ethical and legal compliance, strengthened staff motivation and improved productivity.

More and more, sustainability systems are looking to integrate gender into their standards and the management of their organisations. Sustainability systems that are not gender-responsive can result in unnecessary health and safety risks for women and girls, and lead to unequal impacts and unintended consequences.

Our recently published guidance note, in partnership with the CGIAR Initiative on Gender Equality provides a collection of good practices to support sustainability systems to incorporate gender considerations into their standards.

Promoting gender equality within standards

As a minimum, standards should have basic requirements that protect women from harm and prevent discrimination. These should include requirements that support anti-discrimination and equality of treatment, anti-harassment, accountability through information and data on gender, and gender-specific fair working conditions.

Many sustainability systems are taking a more proactive approach to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment within their standards. This includes requiring members and producer organisations to have their own gender policy and strategy requirements in place. It is also important to ensure that women’s representation is improved, such as in committees, and in management and skilled positions.

Sustainability systems can also support gender equality and women’s empowerment by including requirements within their standards that address the enabling environment and seek to change systems. Activities can include capacity building, training that considers gender-specific needs, and sensitisation of all staff and workers to issues like gender-based violence.

Taking a holistic approach

Of course, a standard is just one tool that can help address gender inequalities in supply chains. Approaches to supporting gender equality are more successful when considered holistically at an organisation-wide level. This could include having an overarching gender policy or strategy, including gender considerations in an organisation’s strategy and theory of change, and including gender in indicators for strategic targets.

It is important that sustainability systems consider what they can do beyond the standard itself to promote gender equality and women’s rights. Read how your sustainability system can get started with developing a gender strategy.


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