Tackling global challenges with gender equality

Over the past year, gender identity, sexual harassment in the workplace and gender equality have dominated conversations in the mainstream media, around the water cooler and at the dinner table. Movements such as #metoo and Time’s Up have gained momentum and support at an unprecedented pace.

In Canada, the government has adopted a Feminist International Assistance Policy in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), declaring “advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as the most effective way to reduce poverty and build a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world.”

While there is plenty to celebrate this March 8 – International Women’s Day (IWD) – there are also some worrisome trends. A recent report by UN Women notes that despite global efforts, women’s rights are actually facing renewed resistance from fundamentalist movements.

Last year, we offered guidance on how to begin addressing gender inequalities and diversity in your organization. This year, we’re focused on how organizations can take it to the next level and integrate gender considerations to more effectively address some pressing global challenges.

Climate change

Climate change is widely considered to be the most serious issue we face today. Governments, businesses and civil society organizations around the world are focusing efforts on improving environmental performance and mitigating impacts of development, yet little attention has been paid to the direct and powerful correlation between increased gender equality, biodiversity preservation and climate change responsiveness.

The effects of climate change are most pronounced for those populations dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and those who lack capacity to respond to the effects of climate change. Because women are more likely to experience poverty, they are among the most vulnerable to natural hazards such as droughts, flooding, hurricanes and landslides.

Despite the link between climate change and human rights, the social and environmental elements of responsible development are often separated and siloed.

Take action:

  • Ensure the participation and inclusion of women in climate change policy discussions. Women disproportionately bear the burden of climate change; their needs must be reflected in solutions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has made a start by identifying gender focal points, but more action at municipal, provincial/state and national levels is needed.  
  • Integrate gender considerations into your organization’s climate change policy and action plan. A scan of corporate climate change policies revealed not a single reference to gender, which represents an incredible opportunity for your organization to be the first to lead the way. Initiatives such as the Global Gender and Climate Alliance could be replicated in the private sector among industry associations and companies seeking to innovate.
  • Invest in women and girls’ education to empower and build leadership capacity so that they can participate more effectively in addressing climate change. The International Gender Champion program encourages leaders to come together to become champions for gender equality in their organizations.

Responsible procurement

Ethical and sustainable procurement has become an essential component of any corporate responsibility program. Increasingly, supplier codes of conduct include expectations for supplier performance related to: discrimination, wages, harassment and abuse, health and safety, and forced or child labour, among others.

Working conditions, labour standards, and social norms impact women and men differently. Women have different health needs, are often balancing paid work with child and family care at home, and are frequently left unprotected by labour laws that fail to address gendered issues. More than one-third of the world’s countries do not have laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work, an issue that disproportionately affects women.

As consumer and investor expectations on businesses to manage their environmental and social risks and impacts increase, incorporating gender as an element of supply chain due diligence is critical.

Take action:

  • Embed gender equality in your organization’s supplier code of conduct. Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) has developed a guide to support this.
  • Consider conducting social compliance audits of your suppliers using an internationally recognized standard such as SA8000. Seek third party auditors and specialists who have gender-based analysis expertise and ensure your organization’s response to audit findings includes gender considerations.
  • Build stronger, more trusting and transparent relationships with suppliers through a robust and strategic responsible supplier development program.

Transparency

We have written previously about transparency as essential in building trust with stakeholders. Companies are disclosing more than ever; around 92% of the world's biggest 250 companies produce annual sustainability reports disclosing their most material environmental and social impacts. At the same time, trust in business, the government, media and NGOs has been declining.

Effective transparency is neither simply disclosure through reporting, nor just an exercise in marketing or branding. In the digital age, we have access to more information than ever before as well as platforms to share our stories with the world; consider how social media was used to organize Women's Marches and share personal experiences using #metoo.

Women and girls’ stories are often either invisible, or told by others. Providing opportunities and platforms for marginalized voices to be heard is a critical tool in women’s and girls’ empowerment.

Take action:

  • Consider the people who are representing your organization. Ensure gender parity and identify ways to make women more visible. The visibility of women as leaders and role models plays a key role in advancing gender equality.
  • Think about what stories you tell about your organization, both internally and externally. Take the opportunity to champion women’s achievements like this focus on women in engineering, and programs like Coca-Cola's 5by20 Initiative that focus on empowering women and girls.
  • Gender equality is about more than the numbers. Find ways to tell your organizational stories collaboratively, with the women who are experiencing the positive impacts of programming such as these bee farmers in Sierra Leone.

Women’s rights are human rights; how will you #PressforProgress in 2018?