Why is addressing gender-based violence (GBV) a key issue, which should be on the business agenda? Business Fights Poverty's Challenge Author, Chiara Condi, talks about why eliminating GBV is essential to reaching all other UN Sustainable Development Goals.
As part of our latest Challenge project, we are asking our network, and beyond, to contribute important insight into how businesses are, can or should be tackling gender-based violence - whether in the workplace, or supporting employees who are victims and survivors of domestic violence.
Your insights will help in the creation of a toolkit, which aims to highlight best practices for businesses in tackling gender-based violence. To contribute, please complete a short survey by clicking here.
It is 2019 and gender based violence (GBV) is an internationally recognized violation of women’s human rights. Yet according to the UN 1 in 3 women and girls still experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime (the majority by an intimate partner). Those statistics would become even higher if we included women who have been subject to harassment in their private life or at work. Violence and harassment against women occur across developed and developing countries around the world and affect all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Definition: Gender-based violence (GBV)
GBV includes "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life " (WHO). The ILO defines violence and harassment as“includ[ing] a continuum of unacceptable behaviours and practices that are likely to result in physical, psychological or sexual harm or suffering".
Violence against women is such a prevalent problem in the world today, but why is the business sector specifically affected?Violence and harassment prevent too many women today from achieving equality and self fulfillment in their lives and thereby hinder the economic development of countries. Eliminating GBV is essential to reaching all other Sustainable Development Goals.
There is a strong business case for addressing violence against women beyond the effect it has on individual women and their families. GBV today continues to affect companies through productivity loss, high turnover, reputation risks with stakeholders and governments and challenges in attracting and retaining female workforce.
Estimates for the cost of intimate partner violence range from $1.16 billion in Canada; $5.8 billion in the United States of America; in Australia, violence against women and children costs $11.38 billion per year and domestic violence costs approximately $32.9 billion in England and Wales (UN). According to the OECD, discriminatory social institutions – including violence against women – cost the global economy approximately $12 trillion a year. The World Bank estimates across five counties that intimate partner violence alone costs countries to be between 1.2 to 3.7% of GDP, which represents what most governments spend on primary education (VAWG)
Violence and harassment have a direct impact on women’s professional lives and therefore the companies they work for. According to a study in the US, 64% of victims of domestic violence stated that it affected their ability to work, while 96% stated that it affected productivity, and 60% reported quitting their job or being terminated as a result of the abuse. In the US women who have suffered from intimate partner violence work 10% less work days per year than women who have not been subject to such violence (IWPR).
Harassment affects many more women around the world. According to the IFC 30–50% of women in Latin America, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, and South Korea and over 70% of women in South Africa reported experiencing some form of workplace sexual harassment. In the EU 75% of top female managers and 74% of professional women reported experiencing sexual harassment (IFC).
The business case for addressing GBV is even stronger if we consider that an ILO convention may soon come into force, mandating for an integrated approach to address violence and harassment in the workplace, with clear responsibilities for public and private employers, workers and their respective organizations, and governments (ILO). Governments are also creating new measures regulating violence against women in the professional sphere that companies will need to put into place, including new laws that ensures women paid domestic violence leave.Such laws have already been passed in parts of Canada (Manitoba and Ontario), New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines (The Guardian, 2018).
Given the magnitude of the challenge what can business do to become part of the solution?
Companies can be at the heart of reversing violence against women by effectively addressing discrimination, inequality and violence within their walls. By taking a zero tolerance approach towards violence and harassment within the workplace, companies can exert a powerful effect on the community. Companies can create and implement policies promoting equality and reversing the unequal treatment of women that is at the root of such violence. By providing the appropriate grievance and referral mechanisms to support women who have been victims of violence and harassment at home or at work, companies can launch a strong message against this behaviour. Implementing such measures within a company can create greater awareness both internally and externally about this issue. Workplace cultures can either promote or challenge negative power and gender norms (White Ribbon). The ILO has also emphasized the need to address GBV and harassment through working on the negative societal and workplace culture (ILO).
The aim, that this awareness and action will eventually reduce and eliminate violence, thereby allowing companies to create the best possible conditions for their workforce and for their business to thrive.
For this reason Business Fights Poverty has organized a challenge that will help businesses put in place effective ways to deal with GBV. The challenge is a collaborative process driven by a small core group comprised of NGO representatives, companies and international organizations that are addressing GBV in their work in order to create new and innovative solutions. Given the complexity of the problem of GBV and its effects on individuals, families, companies, and communities, solutions will require a strong community integrated multi-stakeholder approaches.
The first online discussion with a panel of experts will take place on Thursday 28th March 15:00-16:00 GMT / 11:00-12.00 EDT. You can join the discussion here.
Following the discussion, research and analysis will be developed to create a practical toolkit and communications material that can be used by companies to effectively address and reduce GBV in the workplace. The Challenge will also produce a series of case studies of how companies have effectively addressed different steps along the designed framework to tackle GBV to provide experience and ideas for implementation.
Interested in finding out more about this Challenge? For further information or to get involved, sign up here.
GBV is not only a public health issue, it is also a social justice issue, an economic development issue and a violation of women’s fundamental human rights. The safety and wellbeing of women at home, at work and in the community is at the heart of our future. So it is time for governments, companies and everyone in society to invest in creating this future.