Women are the majority of workers in any venture in Africa, and yet they are amongst the most vulnerable groups.
According to the Ethical Trading Initiative, approximately 190 million women work in global supply chains – in the factories, farms and packing houses that supply the world’s clothing, goods and food. For many of them, these jobs offer a promise of economic independence and a better future for them and their children.
But the harsh reality is that most of them work excessive hours, often in difficult and unsafe working conditions, with wages not enough to make ends meet.
Ingrained gender norms affect the types of work women do. Certain roles are associated with the woman such as sewing and stitching, the beauty industry, etc. While security and management jobs are exclusively held by men. In most cases, i.e. in factories, where a majority of the workers are female, nearly all of the supervisory and management positions are held by men. The lack of representation makes it hard for female workers to come forward and address the various challenges they face.
Why should Businesses act?
When businesses invest in the safety of working conditions and economic empowerment of women, they make an above-average contribution to poverty reduction and promote economic growth and a more sustainable future. This also reduces their business risks and can access large, unused potentials. It becomes a win-win situation.
According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies are responsible for respecting the human rights of third parties, including the special rights of women, and for preventing, removing and remedying negative impacts on human rights. A human rights approach requires businesses to consider marginalized and potentially at-risk groups – and in many cases, women belong to these groups.
Also let’s not forget about Sustainable Development Goal 5, which specifically focuses on women’s empowerment. The goal agreed on by the UN in 2015, explicitly states the need to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Also, in June 2015, the heads of state and leaders of the G7 called on businesses worldwide to integrate the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) into their business activities. WEPs, a UN Women and the UN Global Compact initiative, are global principles that can help businesses to take targeted measures to support and empower women.
Goldman Sachs states that, if women’s income was at the same level as that of male workers, the GDP of the Eurozone would increase by 13%. In 15 of the larger developing countries, income per capita would grow 14% by 2020 and 20% by 2030.
According to FAO, if women had the same access to production facilities as men, agricultural output in 34 developing countries could increase by an estimated 4% on average. This would reduce the number of malnourished people by 17%, meaning up to 150 million fewer hungry.
Improving working conditions for women increases their productivity and reduces business risks.
It is good to note that businesses with 30% more women in senior management are 15% more profitable than those without women in senior management.
McKinsey Global Institute estimated in 2015 that if women were to participate in the economy identically to men, they could add as much as $28trn to the global annual gross domestic product by 2025 ̧ roughly equivalent to the size of the combined Chinese and US economies. Meaning, the creation of economic opportunities for women as a key intervention is required to bridge the gender gap.
The various statistics go ahead to back up the fact that creating equal economic opportunities for women as key interventions required to bridge the gender gap makes not only the corporate world but also the world at large become a better place.