The second key driver of progress towards gender equity was ‘Education’. ‘Gender Equity across Supply Chains - a comparative analysis’ captures a wide variety of case studies where education plays an essential role in driving positive change. Case studies also revealed the need for a common understanding that ‘change takes time’ and initiatives must involve ‘women and men working together’.
An essential first step on the road to gender equity
Gender inequity in supply chains takes root long before a woman enters the workforce. It is widely recognised that girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, according to UNICEF only ‘49% of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education. At the secondary level, the gap widens: 42% of countries have achieved gender parity in lower secondary education, and 24% in upper secondary education’.
By supporting ‘education for all’, especially for girls, businesses, trade unions and NGOs can help to ensure that if or when women decide to enter the labour market, they are not automatically disadvantaged due to a lack of education. Our case study, ‘Women’s Employment and Economic Empowerment on Fairtrade Flower Farms in East Africa’ explores the use of the Fairtrade Premium to support education, in which 33% of the Premium was spent on education projects for workers, their families and the wider community.
Of course, even with education women still need access to the labour market. Ensuring that there are good opportunities for women, flexible working that accommodates the care duties that typically fall to them, fair wages, proper contracts and good positions at all levels within a workplace, are all essential to driving equality. Beliefs that “certain jobs are for women” or that “women don’t make good leaders” still prevail. Training and education for hiring managers to tackle this gender bias and concrete commitments to providing equal opportunities are critical steps for employers to take.
In the workplace
Once in the door, women need to have a safe and secure working environment as well as opportunities for progression. Companies need to develop robust and sensitive policies and procedures appropriate for grievances, cases of sexual harassment and whistle blowing. The case studies ‘The Panama Project and Implementation of the COLSIBA/Chiquita/IUF Sexual Harassment Clause’and ‘Tackling sexual harassment on Kenyan Flower Farms’offer good examples.
Beyond policies and procedures, companies need an overarching gender strategy. ‘Compagnie Fruitière group gender strategy’ and the ‘James Finlays Kenya Gender Equality and Diversity Policy’ demonstrate how this can streamline workplace education to progress gender equity. Both detail programmes for staff to undergo continual professional and technical development, which aim to challenge the confines of gendered job roles by training women for promotion and advancement, and training managers and supervisors on what ‘good management’ looks like and how it is applied.
In Tesco’s case study, ‘Leadership & Mentorship Programme in South African fruit industry’, the retailer worked with the Fresh Produce Exporters Forum on leadership skills development for women employees. Here, they focused on improving how junior and senior management relate to each other. As a result, conflict incidences in 2014/15 decreased by 40%. As Tesco’s remarked:
“The key difference about this programme is the sole focus on 'soft' skills and the development of personal and interpersonal skills and strengths. The majority of training programmes do not do this and rather focus on business and technical issues. This programme includes looking at power dynamics and the abuse of power (including from a gender perspective). Soft skills can - as this programme demonstrates - have a significant impact”.
The trainee development programme in Finlays’ ‘Artisan Apprenticeship Programme’ case study had similar success. Here 20 women working on Kenyan tea estates were given the opportunity to receive college-level training for ‘artisan’ jobs – plumbing, electrical engineering and carpentry - typically performed by men. After qualifying, Finlays have deployed all 20 women throughout their main tea estates. Here they serve as excellent role models for both the girls in nearby schools and to other women in the company and wider community.
Workers’ rights education
In ‘Developing Strategies for Change for Women Workers in African Horticulture’, Women Working Worldwide initiated a workers’ rights education programme which covered the history of the horticulture industry, health and safety, environmental impacts, how unions can help workers, and combatting sexual harassment. The programme was successful in informing 20,000 workers of their rights as women, and as workers, as well as emphasising the need to organise.
Once again, education on how to build good relationships was key to improving conditions. The vital role NGOs and unions play in creating external pressure and supporting workers organising and in negotiations, was also recognised. By the end of the programme 35% more women were represented in unions.
It is essential that gender equality education programmes create ‘safe spaces’ for women to share and discuss the specific challenges they face, whilst also enabling men and women to work together.
Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS), developed by Linda Mayoux, has done just that. Since their collaboration with Oxfam Novib Women’s Empowerment Mainstreaming and Networking (WEMAN) Programme in 2009, GALS has been used across 26 countries and over 50 different projects.
GALS is not a single methodology or set of tools. It is a change philosophy based on the underlying principles of social and gender justice, inclusion and mutual respect. Companies wishing to employ this change philosophy would be well advised to engage a trained GALS practitioner and/or use the Practical Guide developed as part of the 2014 Oxfam Novib programme.
Education is much more than access to formal schooling. Education and awareness programmes should be transformative and question the existing social and gender ‘norms’ that underpin and perpetuate global inequalities. Only by challenging these and providing individuals with the tools and knowledge to do so themselves, can gender equity be realised.
All of the case studies featured in this blog can be found here.