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Women and girls make up half of the world’s population; their empowerment is the key to expanding economic growth and promoting social development in a sustainable manner.
Gender inequality remains a daily reality for women and girls around the world. It can begin immediately at birth and continue throughout the woman’s life.
What Are The Benefits Of Gender Equality
Despite critical advances in recent history, women in all countries and at all socio-economic levels of society can experience various forms of unfair treatment, including discrimination, harassment, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Other forms of abuse that are particularly widespread in certain countries or cultural contexts are forced marriages, honor killings, denial of education, denial of land and property rights, and lack of access to work and health care.
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It is estimated that 1 in 3 women in the world has experienced sexual or physical violence at home, in society and/or at work.
Women may experience human rights violations at various stages of their working lives, including during the recruitment, hiring, promotion and dismissal processes, as well as in everyday interactions with colleagues and supervisors.
Outside the workplace, women are often particularly sensitive to the social and environmental impacts of business operations. In many developing countries, for example, it is women and girls who are primarily responsible for fetching and carrying water. When business operations pollute local sources, they bear the burden of walking, often for hours, to the nearest substitute, which can prevent them from working or going to school.
According to the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), gender refers to “the social characteristics and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relationships between women and those between men. These characteristics, abilities and relationships are socially constructed and learned through socialization processes.”
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Furthermore, equality” refers to the equal rights, obligations and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men become the same, but that the rights, obligations and opportunities of women and men will not depend on whether they are born male or woman.”
Women and girls make up half of the world’s population; their empowerment is the key to expanding economic growth and promoting social development in a sustainable manner. In many cases, full female labor force participation would add double-digit percentage points to the national growth rate. Evidence from around the world shows that progress on gender equality has ripple effects across all areas of sustainable development, from reducing poverty, hunger and even carbon emissions to improving the health, well-being and education of entire families, communities and countries. In fact, “[equality between women and men is considered both a human rights issue and a prerequisite and indicator of people-centered sustainable development.”
As shown in the figure above, and depending on the specifics of the relevant business initiative, gender impacts in business can contribute to a range of global goals, including:
So how do companies currently support a world where these goals can become a reality – a world where the rights of women and girls are respected in all areas of business?
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Case studies explore each of these evolving innovative models in more detail. Each case study contains publicly available information about the initiative, together with the experiences and opinions of the various actors involved.
These summaries do not claim to provide a definitive account of a particular initiative or all perspectives on that case study; rather, they are intended to serve as illustrative examples of how corporate human rights can make a critical contribution to achieving various SDG goals.
More than 1.5 million workers work in Inditex’s supply chain, and the vast majority of them are women. As such, the global clothing brand’s main goal is to “promote gender equality and women’s empowerment” among the company’s employees and throughout its supply chain.
In India, women make up up to 80% of the workforce in the factories where Inditex comes from. Most of these women come from rural areas with limited economic and educational opportunities. The risks to human rights are particularly serious when it comes to their health and well-being. For example, factory facilities may not be equipped for the reproductive health needs of female workers; and cases of harassment, abuse and discrimination in and around factories can be common.
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“The textile industry is the mainstay of the economy in many of the countries where we operate, and women occupy the majority of jobs at all stages of production. For this reason, Inditex’s supply chain consists mostly of women. And it is our duty and mission to contribute to seeing that all these workers have the best working conditions and enjoy the same opportunities as men.” Inditex annual report for 2016.
Recognizing these wide-ranging challenges in its Indian supply chain, Inditex launched the Sakhi Health and Gender Equity Project in 2016 with the dual goals of addressing women’s health risks in the workplace and preventing harassment or abuse.
The project is carried out in collaboration with St. John’s National Academy of Health Services (Bangalore) and Swasti Health Catalyst. The pilot phase of the program has so far been launched in six factories within Inditex’s supply chain in India, which includes a total of four factories. , 290 workers so far.
Named after the Hindi word for “friend”, the Sakhi project focuses on a peer-educator training program where older female workers are trained to raise awareness at the factory level and educate their colleagues in the areas of health and gender equality.
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“I know these women [peer educators] are going to help ten more, and those ten are going to help ten more. So I think this whole idea of raising awareness translates into something much bigger and not just limited to this the industry.”
The Sakhi Health component of the project is implemented with the National Academy of Health Services St. John (Bangalore) as follows:
“Majority of the workers at the factory level in the garment industry in South India are women; and many of them come from rural areas with very little information about their health and how to access basic health services. This is a risk for a company like Inditex that buys from factories in South India. They have realized this and are trying to educate both workers and management through the peer educator program, which is regularly evaluated and adjusted.” dr. Naveen Ramesh, Faculty of Medicine St. John’s
“We want to ensure that supplier-level management is accountable for the successful implementation of these programs. It must be a supplier-owned project for the solutions to be sustainable, and fortunately we are seeing this happen as suppliers increasingly incorporate Project Sakhi activities into their production calendars on their own.”
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“Our goal is to find and implement solutions together with companies. There is a way to achieve business goals without compromising values and human rights, and we try to support companies like Inditex to first understand these issues correctly and then take action in an informed way .” Joseph Julian K.G. and Shankar AG, Swasti Health Catalyst
“Our work related to Sakhi is not just a project. It is a movement and it creates change inside and outside the factories. We aim to achieve this positive change towards equality and worker health in a culturally aware, progressive way by adding new dimensions every year and engage in long-term work to change mindsets and – most importantly – behaviors.”
At dawn, thousands of women across northern Morocco’s Larache province pack vans and travel long distances on bumpy roads to strawberry fields. There they pick strawberries for eight hours or more, often for less than the minimum wage and without the social protection offered at the national level. They are never allowed to interact with farm owners and instead work only with employment agencies (
) regarding employment, salary negotiations, transport, work management and payment. They may be subjected to sexual harassment and verbal abuse from their superiors who are mostly men. And some lack protective equipment to protect their health against the heavy use of pesticides in the berry industry, nor regular access to hygienic toilets and clean water during working days.
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Morocco is one of the largest exporters of strawberries in the world; and the berry industry is a key player in the Moroccan government’s national development plans. Field workers in this growing industry are predominantly women; it is estimated that 20,000 women are employed in strawberry jobs each year. While this growth has brought significant job opportunities for women in Morocco, it has also created increasing pressure on growers to quickly fill these labor-intensive positions without sufficient attention or care to create decent working conditions.
“Moroccan strawberry pickers can in many cases be considered a true and classic example of low paid women’s work enabling others to make higher profits… while the sector has grown significantly
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