What is the role for the private sector in achieving systemic changes for WEE

Businesses are a key part of the equation for achieving WEE across the value chain. Ulrike Joras highlights some steps that the private sector is taking towards that aim and spells out the questions around their potential contribution to systemic changes.

Close to 1500 business leaders have joined the Women’s Empowerment Principles developed by the UN Global Compact and UN Women to support businesses in empowering women in the workplace, the marketplace and the community. Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of IKEA Switzerland, was appointed Co-Chair of the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Big and small companies such as Unilever, Mondelez, Coca Cola and Marcatus, have set up initiatives that aim to promote women’s economic empowerment.

Companies play an increasingly important role in addressing women’s economic empowerment in their supply chains. Indeed, their position provides them with unique opportunities to respond to the growing pressure to adopt practices that benefit women: making women more visible along their value chains; introducing flexible working arrangements; supporting child care; addressing the gender pay gap; increasing the share of trade and procurement from women-owned enterprises and female cooperatives; or providing trainings that are specifically targeted at women are some of the practices that can genuinely make a difference on women’s lives.

These interventions can contribute to address the complex inter-related social, political, as well as economic hurdles that limit women’s empowerment, including heavy care duties, norms that determine the types of roles that women can take or legal barriers. However, companies cannot overcome those complex challenges alone. Sustainable change at scale requires coordinated actions by multiple actors, so that economic and non-economic barriers can be jointly addressed through mutually reinforcing interventions.

Oxfam has developed partnerships with businesses, alongside women’s rights organizations and governments, to identify innovative ways to address key systemic barriers to women’s economic empowerment within a set of agricultural value chains.  Taking place during the WEE Global Learning Forum on 23-25 May in Bangkok, the session “System-Innovation for Women’s Economic Empowerment: How to work wit...” will explore the experience of companies and of those organizations working alongside companies in addressing women’s economic empowerment. We will look specifically at the unique contributions that private companies can make to women’s economic empowerment, and will debate the pros and cons of adopting multi-stakeholder approaches to achieve change at scale.

The panel discussion, co-organized by Oxfam and Care International, will bring together multinational and medium-size companies (Coca Cola, Marcatus), alongside an international organisation that promotes a multi-stakeholder approach (FAO) and organisations that support and work with companies on women’s economic empowerment in different ways (Care International, World Cocoa Foundation).

If you are attending the WEE Global Learning Forum, please join us at this event on May 24, 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM, Room C.

By Ulrike Joras, Private Sector Advisor, Oxfam

Photo: Eleanor Farmer / Oxfam

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