What Role Can Business Play To Tackle Gender-Based Violence? Experts Share Practical Learnings and Experiences

By Anna Johnson, Editor Online, Business Fights Poverty

As part of our current Business Fights Poverty Challenge, What Role Can Business Play to Tackle Gender Based Violence, we hosted an Online Discussion. This brought together a panel of experts from around the world to share their insights and experience.

As part of our current Business Fights Poverty Challenge, What Role Can Business Play to Tackle Gender-Based Violence, we hosted an Online Discussion. This brought together a panel of experts from around the world to share their insights and experience.

Whether you are from an organisation taking your first steps in trying to understand how gender based violence (GBV) affects your business, right through to those who have been expertly working on this topic for some time, insights and experiences shared by our expert panel could help to shape your business for the better.

The full discussion transcript can be found here, if you are a logged in member of Business Fights Poverty you can also add your comments and insights.

In the next phase of this Challenge, we are drawing upon the experiences of people within our network and beyond to find out more about what is being done to address GBV within organisations. Please share your experiences in this short 5mins survey here.

Q: Why is GBV an important topic businesses should be thinking about?

Laura Hawkesford, CARE International explained that gender equality cannot be achieved without tackling GBV and sexual harassment. “Any business that is serious about gender equality, equity, inclusion and diversity needs to address it, even though it is a difficult subject.”

Workplace harassment costs the garment sector US$89 million each year in lost productivity in Cambodia. In 2016, the global cost of violence against women was estimated by UNWomen to be USD$ 1.5 trillion, equivalent to 2% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) (Read the report here).

Diana Baird, International Finance Corporation, (IFC) explained how these costs could be mitigated:  “Addressing GBV in projects can help businesses manage the reputational risks as well as costs to business in terms of absenteeism, turnover, efficiency and other impacts on production.”

Neta Meidav, CEO, The Vault Platform relayed facts aroud how: “1 out of 3 women have experienced sexual harassment at work. These women are now 6.5 times more likely to leave their jobs within the next 12 months, which also contributes towards the gender pay gap.”

Laura continued:  “…businesses need to go beyond a compliance and policy approach – this shouldn’t be about being ahead of legislation (even though it is good to be); it is about creating a fair and empowering working culture and providing safe, fair and dignified work spaces for all.”

Katya Freiwald, Global Director Global Partnerships, Unilever, shared that there are four main reasons Unilever is taking action:

  1. It is the “human” thing to do, the right and smart thing to do;
  2. It drives productivity and builds resilient value chains;
  3. It strengthens the implementation of principles in certification related to labor conditions and worker rights.
  4. It enhances the company’s reputation and helps to retain females in the workforce.

Q. What are the best examples of business approaches and interventions to prevent and respond to gender-based violence?

Aditi Mohapatra, Director, Women’s Empowerment, BSR, shared insight from the HERrespect project, which aims to prevent and address violence and harassment in factories and farms in global supply chains, by incorporating: “a combination of gender awareness raising and skills-building to prevent violence with male and female workers and managers, along with facilitated dialogue between workers and management and review of policies and systems. Leadership commitment has really been essential for our programs in Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, and Kenya.”

Alice Allan, Challenge Expert, Business Fights Poverty shared an example from the ILO experts report of a 16-year campaign to defend the rights of tomato pickers who had been frequently physically and sexually assaulted, including in transport on the way to the fields: “Agreements with growers and buyers established a 24-hour call centre for workers to report violations of their rights, and immediate investigation, remediation and worker-to-worker education on company time. Zero tolerance translated into near zero incidence of gender based violence in the fields.”

Q: How can businesses and other organisations collaborate to address gender-based violence in workplaces and communities?

Chiara Condi, President and Founder, Led by HER, explained that partnerships are key to addressing this complex issue: “To effectively tackle it, businesses need to build very strong community partnerships; for example, this includes social services, protection, and NGOs or associations providing victim support through therapy groups. Identifying holistic centres for victim care is very important to simplify processes for victims.” Chiara provided an example from France: “Women Safe and the Maison des Femmes in St Denis have grouped together psychological, legal and medical services in order to best support women holistically in one place.”

In addition, Shabnam Hameed, Operations Officer, Gender, IFC provided examples of the ways the IFC have partnered with the private sector in the Pacific since 2014 to address domestic and sexual violence as a workplace issue. In partnership, they help companies to:

  • Build the business case for a workplace response to domestic and sexual violence;
  • Develop policy guidance;
  • Support the implementation of workplace responses through advisory and training services;
  • Help with monitoring and evaluating the results.

Lastly, Dean Laplonge, International Gender and GBV Specialist, Factive Consulting, some simple ways to move beyond policies, training and awareness:

  • Focus on empowerment not protection – Especially when the GBV is affecting women. For example, instead of banning women from working in security roles (“because it’s too dangerous”), identify ways that women can contribute to workplace security (e.g., through working alongside men, helping to identify and mitigate specific risks that female security guards might face).
  • Engage men – I recently heard about an organization that was using a card game to engage men, competitively, in sharing their knowledge (or lack of) on gender issues, including GBV.
  • Avoid jumping in when it’s not your area of expertise – Yes, you may want to help and know what’s going on. But trust in the processes that have been designed to ensure people can report GBV and receive support that will allow them to deal with it. Don’t always assume that what you think is best is what the survivor wants or needs.

But, Dean warns: “What works in one business may not work in another.”

To find our more about this Challenge and about how you can get involved, please contact Anna Johnson


Editor’s Note:

This article summarises insights and experience from:

Alice Allan, Challenge Expert, Business Fights Poverty

Aditi Mohapatra, Director, Women’s Empowerment, BSR

Chiara Condi, President and Founder, Led by HER

Dean Laplonge, International Gender and GBV Specialist, Factive Consulting

Katja Freiwald, Global Director Global Partnerships, Unilever

Laura Hawkesford, Head of Private Sector Engagement, CARE International UK

Diana Baird, Principal SD Specialist, International Finance Corporation, (IFC)

Neta Meidav, Co-Founder & CEO, Vault Platform

Shabnam Hameed, Operations Officer, Gender, International Finance Corporation, (IFC)

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