As many of you might be aware, this year’s International Women’s Day theme advocates us all to Choose to Challenge the stereotypes that impact women and instead positively play a role in creating a gender equal world. This important day has been an opportunity to continuously reflect on the role of women in the world, and how every individual can still go a great deal to ensure that women can access key opportunities.
Personally, I choose to challenge the private sector in addressing Gender-Based Violence and its causes. One of the biggest mistakes that the private sector makes is assuming that social issues have nothing to do with business. Currently, most people understand domestic violence as a concern only within the home. However, data from the organization 16 Days of Activism shows that 75 percent of those who endure domestic violence also suffer at work. This has a direct impact on the productivity and overall profitability of the organization.
World Economic Forum highlights that a workforce that is demotivated or demoralized – or, worse, physically injured or emotionally abused – will suffer lower morale, fall short of fulfilling full work productivity potential, be distracted from seizing new business opportunities and trigger higher health-care costs. This economic reality should spur the private sector to take constructive, preventive action.
Often, we hear about the concept of private sector leaders working to create “shared value” in the societies they operate. Shared value is indeed an efficient tool to ensure we see the private sector-led solutions that go beyond profit and address social issues that afflict many societies. However, if business leaders are serious about ensuring future private-sector-led growth and the long-range stability of the economy, then the sector had better prioritize proactive steps to address serious gender issues as a significant part of their strategy.
Bringing this closer to home, the United Nations Development programme’s Regional Human Development Report 2016 estimates that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year, peaking at US$105 billion in 2014– the equivalent of 6 percent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is jeopardising the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth. So, what can the private sector do to promote gender equality issues and ensure they are directly helping address larger issues that affect women in society?
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a plan of action to promote partnerships with the private sector in order to achieve what the UN calls the 2030 Agenda. Additionally, the International Labour Organization’s Violence and Harassment Convention of 2019 (or ILO’s C190) draws attention to how issues such as sexual harassment and abuse, are human rights violations. Global movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have further opened the door for women to share their stories about everyday inequality and sexism. These conventions and movements are helping to leverage impetus for a wider discussion of the role of the private sector in not only responding to violence against women but also working towards ending it.
The private sector needs to be at the forefront in supporting national capacities to promote and increase the participation and leadership of women in decision-making in the home, economy and society. This involves increasing participation in sectors such as mining, energy and engineering among others that male dominated. In fact, despite making up 48% of the global labour force – women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector. For management levels, the numbers are even lower. The barriers women face in the energy sector are similar to those they face elsewhere in the economy. Surely, we have a long way to go.
Corporate leaders who aim to take a wider leadership role in society have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to reducing gender inequality and gender-based violence. This can only be done by rededicating their organizations towards mending a society too often torn by violence and its causes such as: economic insecurity, social-class stratification, winner-take-all rapacity, misogyny, discrimination and exclusion – all of which threaten the ideals of eradicating extreme poverty and building an equally shared prosperity. By taking initiative from this year’s IWD theme and challenging norms which are in fact detrimental to us all, we can create a future that is both balanced and productive.
Anael Samuel is the Managing Director at Songas