Is your business serious about gender justice? Here’s what you need to do 

Jiselle Steele Gender, Private sector, Women's Economic Empowerment

In the second blog in our series to mark International Women’s Day, Jiselle Steele of the Oxfam Business Advisory Service shares five tips for firms that want to make a real difference when it comes to gender inequality and gender justice in supply chains

Woman holding coffee beans
Image from “Gender Transformative Strategies”, the report the Oxfam Business Advisory Service produced for the International Coffee Organization

Do you really mean business when it comes to gender justice? In the week of International Women’s Day, many companies are holding events and making statements about their commitment to gender equality but – especially as according to the World Economic Forum, the global gender gap (which measures gender parity across a range of indicators) increased as a result of the pandemic – much more needs to be done to turn these words into real impact.

It can be a challenge for companies to know where to start or what should be prioritised to address the big issues affecting women and vulnerable groups, so here are five key actions that companies can take to show they are serious about gender justice.

1. Recognise and speak up for workers who care for others

Many employees in companies are caring for others such as children or older people. As much of this care work is done by women and girls, effectively recognising and valuing it will enable businesses to address a key issue in gender justice. And you can now check how well you are doing to meet the needs of carers across your business, by using the Care-Responsiveness Barometer. The barometer provides a planning and self-assessment tool for organisations that can help companies to understand their current performance and identify ways to improve their care-responsiveness. This framework, which can be used by both the public and private sector, places care work at the heart of economic thinking, planning and decision making.

2. Ensure women have their voices heard when they raise concerns

Grievance mechanisms are a way for workers and communities to raise issues, complaints and concerns about things that negatively affect them at work. Having robust, transparent and gender-sensitive grievance mechanisms is a vital tool to tackle discrimination and inequality for workers in global supply chains. As women and marginalised groups are often disproportionately affected by negative business practices, making sure that these mechanisms are accessible and considering potential barriers that these groups may face in using them is critical. The Gender Responsive Due Diligence platform provides an extensive range of guidance and resources to help you develop grievance mechanisms that respond to the needs of women and people of all genders.

3. Pay attention to and value informal and unpaid work

There is a tendency to think of work as anything someone is employed to do. However informal and unpaid care work is carried out by 1.3 billion women around the world, mostly by Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) women. Informal work forms a significant part of global supply chains from homeworkers in the garment sector and domestic workers to seasonal fruit-pickers and factory workers on zero-hour contracts. However there is no job security or basic benefits such as holiday, sick and maternity pay. Businesses can help make a big difference to valuing women’s work by looking at ways to measure the contribution and impact of informal work in their supply chains, drawing on resources such as the Homeworkers Worldwide toolkit to find hidden homeworkers in apparel and footwear supply chains, and investing in policies and activities that help to ensure more social protection for women and informal workers.

4. Take a ‘gender transformative approach’ when developing your environmental and social impact goals and strategies.

Adopting a “gender transformative approach” means businesses going beyond merely responding to the symptoms of gender inequality and addressing the root causes of such inequality in their supply chains. This means challenging the social norms, attitudes and practices that sustain discrimination; working to change the policies and practices of institutions (such as communities, governments, and businesses); and developing new processes and policies that enable women, men and other genders to participate equitably in your supply chain and business. The International Coffee Organization (ICO) Gender Transformative Strategies paper has a host of recommendations and resources on how to embed these approaches to the coffee sector, which can be adapted to businesses in other sectors – and you can see a summary of key aspects of a gender transformative approach in my blog: “Four steps to transform women’s lives in coffee farming.”

5. Invest in tackling gender-based violence

A recent Oxfam report, The Ignored Pandemic – Dual Crises of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Covid-19 highlights that, despite the increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic, particularly intimate partner violence, the level of government investment in GBV prevention and response has been hugely inadequate. Firms can lead by example by investing in activities and programmes that help to prevent and eliminate any GBV in their supply chains. For example, Accor has set up a helpline for employees in Brazil with a safe communication channel if they experience abuse or gender-based violence, and the Kering Foundation have set up the first European network of companies engaged against gender based violence with the FACE Foundation. In addition, companies can lobby governments in the countries where they operate to take more action and allocate more funding to stop the violence.

Transforming the lives of women employed in the private sector across the world will be a huge part of achieving real, global gender equality – and many companies want to play their part. The week of International Women’s Day could not be a better time to get started on this hugely important work.


Jiselle Steele

Jiselle Steele is private sector gender advisor at the Oxfam Business Advisory Service (OBAS)

Want to know more? Listen to this podcast Jiselle did for the Business Fights Poverty Gender Summit about the practicalities of implementing gender transformative approaches for businesses everywhere. Find out more about the Oxfam Business Advisory Service (OBAS) here and the way Oxfam works with the private sector here.

Do also check out the other blogs for International Women’s Day on our Views and Voices site for development professionals, subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest posts and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.