What Role Can Business Play in Addressing Issues Around Gender-Based Violence?

And our final question:

Q3: How can businesses and other organisations collaborate to address gender-based violence in workplaces and communities?

Too few women still speak up about these things, the fear of speaking up is a major obstacles preventing things to change. But women are still afraid of how they will be considered if they openly say that they have been affected by violence and everything that will be attached to their name

this is why we should also let go of the word victim, we need to write a new narrative around survivors

A3: The causes of GBV are complex and occur at different levels of society: individual, relationship, and community and often the causes are deeply rooted in harmful social and cultural norms. It requires system-approaches and cooperation of different stakeholders to create the transformational change needed.
That’s why Unilever has partnered with UN Women to create: “A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces” which aims to increase the safety of women in agricultural value chains. This was based on the work and leanings from our safety initiatives in Unilever Tea Estates in Kericho and the work with suppliers in Assam.
The framework reflects the different roles different partners have can play: Business (suppliers) is often the entry-point and direct contact point to the people in their value chains. Long-standing relationships and direct access enable companies to with them, UN Women is bringing the technical expertise, they partner with local grassroot organizations to work directly with the communities and help to strengthen governmental capacity to create the enabling environment. Only the combination of all these different elements can lead to a sustained change.

This is well articulated in “A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces” which we have jointly developed with UN Women. The key output areas are:

  1. Identifying locally owned solutions to safety (with the employees of the business and thecommunity)
  2. Laws and policies in place (within the business and advocate governments)
  3. Safety of spaces (i.e. safety audits on the business operations, lightening at estates etc.)
  4. Challenge harmful social norms and attitudes with the entire communities/working population including men.

Business can take action in their own workplaces as well as n public with other organisations. For example, companies can work together on campaigns and communications that address the social norms that allow sexual harassment and GBV to continue. This includes pervasive ‘cultures of silence’, and victim blaming. Business can also be a powerful advocate with government to improve laws and services to people who experience GBV in all its forms.

CARE’s work with garment factories in the Mekong region: Companies can collaborate with NGOs and other CSOs with recognised expertise in working inside communities and workplaces to address GBV. There is often a role for donors to support implementation of such collaborative programmes. CARE’s Enhancing Women’s Voice to Stop Sexual Harassment (STOP) project aims to reduce sexual harassment against women in garment factories in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The STOP project, which is partly funded by the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and implemented in partnership with several high-profile global clothing brands, uses a holistic, evidence-based model. Key elements of the STOP project include:

  • Engaging with factory owners and managers to bring on board a policy at the workplace;
  • Implementing a model policy and complaints mechanism informed by consultations with industry, unions, factories and government;
  • Providing support to HR Managers in complaint handling and management;
  • Providing worker training tailored to men and women;
  • Supporting worker communications campaigns designed to shift social norms;
  • Advocating with government to change laws and regulations to better prevent and respond to sexual harassment.

Partnerships are key because when companies violence against women is a very complex and multidimensional problem that affects women across their lives, both in the professional and private sphere. To effectively tackle it businesses need to build very strong community partnerships with the community and this includes social services, protection, and ngos or associations providing victim support through therapy groups etc. Identifying holistic centers for victim care is very important to simplify processes for victims (for example we have in France Women Safe and the Maison des Femmes in St Denis that group together psychological, legal and medical services in order to best accompany women holistically in one place).

Support the proposed new ILO Convention: Businesses could also join forces in advocating at thenational and global level for clear and strong regulation on preventing and responding to GBV at work. It is in everyone’s interest to have a level playing field, where the same high standards apply to all businesses, wherever they operate. Here the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN body that sets global labour standards, has a critical role to play. A new binding ILO Convention to end violence and harassment in the world of work has been proposed, and final negotiations on the Convention will take place this June at the International Labour Conference in Geneva. This Convention will establish a new global standard that will help protect all workers from violence and harassment, including GBV, wherever they work. If successfully adopted, the Convention will make it compulsory for any government that ratifies it, to create or strengthen their local laws to at least meet the standard set out in the Convention. There are three parties to the negotiations: governments, workers and employers. Business therefore has a powerful voice in this negotiation and can make a huge contribution to making workplaces safe, everywhere, through supporting a strong and inclusive Convention. Companies could contact their representative bodies and urge them to work hard to reach agreement and get theConvention adopted this year. It is a unique opportunity, not to be missed!

CARE and Diageo’s collaborative work in response to the proposed ILO Convention:

Through our partnership with Diageo, we wanted to trial a diagnostic to help business know where to look for issues relating to GBV and how to tackle, report, and address them. We developed a framework of best practice based on the ILO Convention recommendations, CARE’s own recommendations and existing examples of good practice globally, and used this framework to benchmark every relevant Diageo policy to identify the bright-spots and the gaps in its protection and response policies. Best practice such as broad definitions of harassment within supplier standards and community programming initiatives focused on the sales environment were highlighted and recommendations created for Diageo to replicate and scale up these initiatives at a global scale.

But we all know that strong policies are just part of the solution. We took the time therefore to validate our assumptions and recommendations with the Diageo global team, across multiple low and high-risk countries and in business functions ranging from sales to HR and sustainability. The result was a strengthening of our recommendations, an acknowledgement of the need to respond to diverse cultural contexts and social norms and a series of actions for the Diageo Executive Committee to roll-out theemerging pockets of best practice at a global scale. (More information is available in this recent blog on Business Fights Poverty).

Diageo have taken a bold step in deciding to dig deep and assess what the proposed new ILO standards might mean and this has been a positive experience for them. We hope that others will follow their lead. Currently we are only aware of a handful of companies that have publicly supported global action in the form of the ILO convention. To mark International Women’s Day this year, Avon, Marks and Spencer and Diageo signed a letter of support for the Convention. In the lead-up to the final round of negotiations on the Convention at this year’s International Labour Conference CARE will be working with our corporate partners to secure more signatures for this letter. Let us know if you are interested!

Using community forums as a platform for addressing GBV: CARE’s partnership with Twinings. TheCommunity Development Forum (CDF) is a CARE-developed platform for inclusive community development and participatory decision-making, aimed at providing a voice for smallholders and workers with a focus on women’s voice and leadership. Through a combination of community mobilisation and life-skills training, smallholders and workers are engaged in CDFs to create a mutually beneficial environment of community and business planning. CDFs provide an excellent platform for providing gender training. As a community leadership forum, CDFs have a significant role to play in addressing GBV and promoting gender equality. Twinings and CARE have been partnering in Sri Lanka since May 2017 to successfully establish Community Development Forums. The partners have now identified an innovative leadership opportunity to adapt this approach for tea-growing communities in Malawi. More information is available here.

Have a look at this framework: https://www.unilever.com/Images/unw-global-safety-framework-final_tcm244-529439_en.pdf

Collaborating to address GBV in humanitarian emergencies - CARE’s partnership with Hogan Lovells: In 2016 Hogan Lovells and CARE launched #SHEis, an innovative 2-year global advocacy initiative. Together we aimed to empower local women’s organisations to amplify women’s voices and enable them to participate in the design and implementation of national and international efforts to tackle GBV in humanitarian emergencies. Studies show that the role of local women’s rights organisations and women’s movements is the most significant factor in helping women to realise and uphold their rights in emergency preparedness, response and recovery. #SHEis is also enabled women to share their stories on the global stage and worked towards the Sustainable Development Goals. More information is available here.

Have a look at this video - it explains very well how we are aiming to improve safety for women and girls in the tea sector: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx2bS8xnCvs&feature=youtu.be

Slight diversion from topic but the IFC Governance team is working on Women in Senior Leadership and Women on Boards, and evidence does suggest that more Diversity and Inclusion leads to some of these issues of nondiscrimination/equal opportunity being better addressed in a business……more opportunity and women’s empowerment….This year, the governance unit has:

  • Published materials offering compelling evidence of the value in female business leadership:
    • Analytical studies on Egypt, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka linking women in leadership with better company performance. Similar studies for Bangladesh, Nigeria and the EAP region are upcoming.
    • Comprehensive research detailing the connections between more women at the top with better ESG performance and success stories of ways in which women leaders have added value to their companies (link not yet available)

· Developed a four-module training program for current and future women business leaders that, to date, has reached 350 women in more than 10 markets.
Focus is on accelerating women’s competitive advantage in corporate governance practices; empowering women by connecting them with others in markets with few such opportunities; and helping companies maximize the benefits of boards that reflect diversity of thought, skills and expertise.

  • Advanced the case for women on boards and in senior management globally:
    • Partnered with UN organizations and about 80 stock exchanges around the world on theRing the Bell for Gender Equality initiative to draw attention to the role of the private sector in accelerating women’s economic inclusion. Watch the video.
    • Collaborated with regional and global women’s networks, stock exchanges and regulators, training centers, and institutes of directors to widen the investor base and ensure access to capital markets and services for women entrepreneurs
  • Governance at IFC also has supported IFC’s own efforts to mainstream gender into all aspects of advisory and investments, including leadership:
    • An update to IFC’s Corporate GovernanceCG Methodology adds a board diversity dimension; the Disclosure and Transparency Toolkit encourages reporting gender metrics.
    • IFC has over 30 percent female representation among nominee directors on the boards of its own investee companies and aims to increase that rate to 50 percent by 2030

I agree that women’s organizations can be very powerful both in helping through support of women who have been affected and to change things for the future, this can have a huge impact in the way people think about these issues through awareness raising.

Policy change is important but we can still change and impact many things at our level

Another thought on collaboration - a lot of it needs to happen within organisations as well as with others eg HR teams, health and safety officers, risk, audit, as well as senior leadership and of course the employers themselves…

yes exactly because currently things are not clear within companies and as stated above a business’ failure to respond in a timely and effective way can be a major point against its credibility in dealing with the situation

A3: I wanted to flag a couple of tools here which I think might be helpful when considering collaboration – the EHRC guidance for employers – great examples of what constitutes harassment. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/sexual-harassment-and-law-guidance-employers

Also a recent UK parliamentary inquiry into harassment at work set out alist of what they felt all employers should be following. The govt are currently consulting on it.

  • reporting systems and procedures and what employers should provide as a minimum, including guidance on anonymous reporting and any relevant data protection issues that arise;
  • support for victims, including access to specialist support and steps that should be taken to prevent victimisation of complainants;
  • how to investigate and record complaints, including a presumption that all complaints should be investigated unless there is a compelling reason not to;
  • how to identify when sexual harassment allegations may include criminal offences and how to conduct any investigation in a manner which does not prejudice any potential police investigation and criminal prosecution;
  • training, induction, risk assessments and other policies and practices; and
  • alternative dispute resolution including mediation, and risk assessments.

Women an Equalities Report 2018: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmwomeq/725/72507.htm#_idTextAnchor038

A3: There is often knowledge locally within civil society organizations, non-government organizations, women’s groups, community groups etc. about gender issues. This may not include specific knowledge about GBV. However, these local organizations are a good first point of contact for businesses that are interested in exploring GBV.

One thing that is important is understanding GBV (the different types) from the business perspective. Suffering domestic violence does not appear to have anything to do with business. Most business owners and managers don’t see the connection. They don’t see that when an employee perpetrates sexual violence outside the workplace outside worktime, that this is an issue that affects their business. So, it’s important for organizations that work in GBV (but not necessarily in the private sector) to show the business connection. Also, what I find is missing, are practical tools for businesses to use to understand and address GBV. We have some guidance notes and academic explanations. But we need more tools.

It is important not to ignore different groups of people who may be affected by GBV. If the business is located in a remote area, there may be specific groups that are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, such as adolescent girls. Sex workers can be especially at risk, particularly in countries where sex work is illegal and where the sex workers may have limited access to support services. Sexual violence against boys and within male workforces occur. Transgender persons and people whose gender and sexual identities do not conform to dominant models are often at high risk of GBV. Don’t ignore these people and the risks they face, as employees and/or as people who interact with your employees. Businesses can try to locate and draw on local expertise to explore how best to engage in prevention work for these groups.

Local organizations may also have skills and capacities to provide effective responses to GBV incidents. Recently, we found that some new standard operating procedures for responding to GBV had been developed by a local NGO. We were able to adapt these quickly for a local business. This saved a lot of time and ensured the response procedures were aligned, also allowing the NGO to be part of the response.

To everyone who joined today, thank you. Apologies if you wanted to comment but couldn’t.

Please do email me directly katie@businessfightspoverty.org if you want to share your insights, questions or examples.

And finally, we are also launching our online survey today - we would love to hear your thoughts here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RC8CTD8

We will keep monitoring and responding to comments over the coming days, so do keep them coming.

Many thanks


Thank you everyone !

Hi, I’m Shabnam Hameed, Operations Officer, Gender in East Asia Pacific for the IFC. For those not familiar with the IFC, IFC is a sister organization of the World Bank and member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. IFC works with more than 2,000 businesses worldwide, using capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in the toughest areas of the world. In fiscal year 2018, IFC delivered more than $23 billion in long-term financing for developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity.

IFC considers gender equality as not only a social and moral imperative, but also an economic necessity. Closing the gap between women’s and men’s economic participation drives the growth of businesses and economies and improves the lives of individuals, families and communities. IFC’s gender program in East Asia Pacific works to improve women’s employment by identifying barriers that women face in the workplace and developing gender smart solutions that benefit both individuals and the business.

GBV is an important topic that businesses should be thinking about as it affects employee well-being which in turn affects the business bottom line. It can reduce employees’ ability to attend work, be safe and productive at work, and can lead to abandonment of employment or termination because of attendance and performance issues related to the violence. It can also create a substantial cost for businesses in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced productivity, workplace health and safety costs, termination, recruitment and re-training costs.

We recently completed a study in Solomon Islands on the “The Impact of Domestic and Sexual Violence on the Workplace in Solomon Islands” with the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry, SICCI. It’s part of our joint work on the Waka Mere Commitment to Action, under which 15 companies in Solomon Islands, have committed to promoting gender equality in the workplace.

Surveying employees at nine businesses in the country, the study shows almost half the employees surveyed had experienced some form of domestic and sexual violence in their lifetime, with a quarter saying violence occurred at least once a month.

The study shows that stress and physical effects of domestic and sexual violence follows people to work. More than 80 percent of people who’d experienced violence reported at least one negative impact on their work, most often making it difficult to get to work, stay at work or impacting how they felt at work. These impacts included feeling anxious, depressed or ashamed at work, and feeling unsafe.

Each employee, not just those affected by violence, loses about two working weeks, or close to 12 work days in a year. Responding to the effects of violence also takes up staff time, with an average of five and a half days a year spent discussing the issue, helping someone access services or addressing the impact of absenteeism, lateness or low productivity.

The full report can be found at: https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/region__ext_content/ifc_external_corporate_site/east+asia+and+the+pacific/resources/solomon+isands-domestic+and+sexual+violence

IFC has been working with the private sector in the Pacific since 2014 to address domestic and sexual violence as a workplace issue by:

  • Building the business case for a workplace response to domestic and sexual violence
  • Developing policy guidance
  • Supporting the private sector to implement workplace responses through advisory and training services
  • Monitoring and evaluating the results

For examples of approaches and interventions see: www.ifc.org/gender/eap