Emerging and innovative private sector responses to the pandemic that support gender equality – a UN Women and IFC Report

Originally published on WEPS.org

A new report by UN Women and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) highlights how companies are responding to the pandemic with practices that support gender equality. The emerging practices that are shared in the report aim to curb inequalities women are facing as the pandemic radically transforms the world of work.

The pandemic threatens to push 47 million women and girls below the poverty line, the new report Titled “Bridging the Gap: Emerging and Innovative Private Sector Responses to Support Gender Equality During COVID-19” highlights how companies are supporting women in the workplace, marketplace and community during this critical time.

The report features emerging and innovative private sector practices across six main areas of action impacting women’s economic empowerment: well-being and mental health, flexibility and family-friendly policies, equal access and use of digital technologies and platforms, equal access to financial and non-financial services, strengthening inclusive supply chains and support for women-led businesses, and preventing and mitigating gender-based violence.

“The pandemic could have lasting negative impacts on women’s health, economic participation, and well-being,” said Anna Falth, Global Head of the Women’s Empowerment Principles secretariat. “Companies can look to this report for inspiration on how to protect and support their employees.”

COVID-19 is exacerbating pressure points in many people’s lives, particularly women. For companies, these new challenges can amount to lower productivity and job losses. Women’s employment is 19 percent more at risk compared to men. For women, the pandemic threatens gains made toward gender equality.

“The pandemic has a disproportionate impact on women. Their COVID-19 experience is shaped by rising domestic and workplace violence, higher care responsibilities, and precariousness of jobs, to name just a few. It is crucial to step up support for women and the private sector has a key role to play in preventing the gender gap from widening” said Henriette Kolb, Manager, Gender and Economic Inclusion Group, IFC.

In the report, companies from around the world share how they are adapting to these challenges by:

  • Offering company helplines with psychologists to support worker’s mental health.
  • Using apps to ensure workers’ health and well-being, with a focus on pregnant mothers.
  • Providing flexible working hours to support parents and those with care responsibilities
  • Encouraging equal share of care responsibilities
  • Offering financial support to women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses and commitments to purchase from women-led businesses
  • Providing access to digital technology to ensure business continuity
  • Developing and engaging in awareness-raising campaigns targeting gender-based violence amid the pandemic.

Employers have a “duty of care” to their employees working remotely from home and are in a good position to support those who may be affected by domestic violence.

Many employers recognize their role and have been doing their part prior to and during COVID-19. Companies are encouraged to sign the WEPs to commit to gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, and utilize the WEPs framework when developing programmes and policies to support women amid the pandemic.

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