Empowering women workers - initiatives

Women and work is a key issue for this selection of NGOs, companies, campaigning and labour rights organisations.

ETI's own work on empowering women workers

We have worked with our members, local partners and stakeholders on a number of projects that address issues specifically affecting women workers. These include:

  • The Supervisor Training Programme which, in South Africa, went beyond supervisors and trained workers and managers as well so that there was universal awareness of women's and workers' rights, what constitutes sexual harassment and discrimination (as well as other forms of discrimination) and how to deal with them when they arise.
  • The Tamil Nadu garment and textile programme in South India which aims to tackle the unscrupulous recruitment of predominantly young women and girls as apprentices in factories and mills, who are then forced to work long hours in unsafe conditions and whose pay is sometimes witheld until the end of the "apprenticeship" which can last up to three years. The families of the girls use these lump sums as dowry payments. The programme is working at community, workplace and policy level to improve awareness of rights, women workers' voice and legislation to protect these young women workers. 
  • The Homeworker programme in North India which linked homeworkers with government services, health insurance and training to enhance skills, health and income. Although our photographs show only men, homeworkers in this area are predominantly women. However, cultural norms make them reluctant to be photographed.

Other initiatives

  • ActionAid is an international organisation working in 45 countries around the world to address the root causes of poverty. This includes dedicated policy, advocacy and programmes to end women’s economic inequality, aimed at shining a light on the structural causes of this global gender injustice. ActionAid UK has recently launched a new initiative and report calling on global leaders, financial institutions and businesses take drastic action to end women’s economic inequality by guaranteeing women access to decent, well paid work, and redistributing unpaid care through provision of gender-responsive public services. In our programmes, ActionAid has been leading on innovative research to measure women’s unpaid care responsibilities. Over 18 months, we worked with women from 10 rural and urban communities in Nepal, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda to track their unpaid care work (See: Making Care Visible).  Our Young Urban Women project works with young women in seven poor urban and peri-urban areas in Ghana, South  Africa and India to raise their awareness about their right to decent work and their sexual and reproductive health rights by creating safe spaces for them to meet, discuss and organise. And in numerous countries where ActionAid works, we partner with women’s organisations to help tackle these issues, such as Workers Information Centre in Cambodia – a grassroots initiative supporting women garment workers to organise and claim their rights.
  • BSR HERProject and HERFinance. BSR launched HERproject in 2007 with a mission to increase women’s health awareness and access to health services through sustainable workplace programs, an initiative that is now referred to as HERhealth. Based on this model, HERfinance was launched as a pilot program in India at the end of 2012. The mission of HERfinance is to build the financial capability of low-income workers in global supply chains by delivering workplace-based financial education programs and connecting factory employees to appropriate financial services. ETI members such as Primark have implemented the HERProject.
  • Care International  Women’s economic empowerment is one of six global programmes of the CARE International federation and promoting gender equality is a cross-cutting priority for CARE’s work.  CARE is working with a number of companies to empower women workers in their supply chains, including Mondalez and Twining. Other projects aimed at women workers include Pathways, an initiative to increase the productivity and empowerment of 150,000 poor women farmers in sustainable agricultural systems; strengthening the Dairy Value Chain:  Reaching 100,000 smallholder dairy farmers (80%+ women) and doubling dairy-related income, leading an initiative to sign on 30 Indian companies to the UN Women's Empowerment Principles; and presenting a “Linking for Change Savings Charter” to connect poor women  with formal banking. CARE is an ETI member.
  • Clean Clothes Campaign is committed to improving the lives and working conditions of all workers in the global garment and sportswear industry, the vast majority of whom are women. In promoting workers’ rights, the CCC is committed to challenging the gender inequality and sex discrimination faced by garment workers. With the aim of improving conditions for garment workers and supporting their empowerment, the CCC campaigns for the full implementation of human rights and ILO labour standards in the garment and sportswear supply chain, especially those of freedom of association and freedom from discrimination, and strives to make consumers aware of the conditions in which their clothes and sports shoes are made and the role of women workers in the production process.
  • Fair Wear Foundation's violence against women project brings together clothing brands, suppliers, trade unions and civil society organisations and governments in Europe and Asia to reduce violence and harassment in garment factories. The project focuses on piloting new workplace procedures in Indian and Bangladeshi factories, where new legislation provides clear guidance on steps to be taken in factories to address violence against women. Practical strategies are being piloted to implement the new legislation, supporting the establishment
of worker-elected anti-harassment committees in 50 garment factories. Violence prevention policies and grievance procedures are being established. Training is being provided to 25,500 female and 6,500 male workers, along with the managers of the 50 factories. Community support is provided by local project partners/ unions, who give anti-harassment committees technical assistance. Local partners also operate anti-harassment telephone helplines to provide a backup reporting mechanism.
  • Hivos  In 2012, Hivos started the Women @ Work Campaign to bring about decent work for women who earn their living in global production chains such as coffee, flowers and garments. Since relatively high numbers of women work in these sectors, and Hivos has long worked with Southern partners committed to working women’s rights, we focused our campaign on: capacity development, specifically in the countries in East Africa and Central America where Hivos has regional offices; advocating for the enforcement of women workers’ rights and for their economic empowerment as part of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the implementation of Decent Work for women; highlighting women’s work and the rights of women workers in the flower industry through consumer action calling for fair trade flowers.

  • HomeWorkers Worldwide support the organisations of homebased workers through information, training and resources as well as building international solidarity links through the Federation of Homeworkers Worldwide. HWW's advocacy and policy work is focused on demanding recognition and rights for homebased workers as workers and equal treatment in line with the ILO Convention on Home Work. A key focus has been on homeworkers in global supply chains.  Most recently this has involved working with young women workers in Tamil Nadu, employed in textile and garment factories under conditions of forced labour. They are also engaged in research into mechanisms for violations of human rights in global supply chains. HWW have long experience in Europe, including Turkey and South Asia, particularly India where extensive work has been done on homebased work; and other parts of the world including Latin America, Australia and China. HomeWorkers Worldwide is an ETI member.
  • Oxfam's Innovations in Care is an initiative to make care work more visible and address it as a factor influencing gender equality. Its goal is to join with others to build solutions to the centuries-old challenge of providing effective care for people whilst also ensuring women's human rights. The costs of providing care fall disproportionately on women. Women's unpaid care work has recently been recognised as a major human rights issue. Women, especially those living in poverty, face heavy and unequal care responsibilities which impede efforts to promote gender equality and women's equal enjoyment of human rights.
  • Oxfam's Ethical Trade team works to influence and enable companies to respect labour rights in global supply chains by shaping and disseminating best practice drawing on their research, campaigns and ethical procurement experience and external expertise.They work with companies to improve working conditions in their supply chains, thus reaching significant numbers of women workers and helping to improve our understanding of issues affecting them. Recent projects include a study of  Unilever's Viet Nam supply chain, work with Moroccan strawberry suppliers and buyers, and a bid to improve wages on tea plantations in Malawi.  Oxfam is an ETI member.team works to influence and enable companies to respect labour rights in global supply chains by shaping and disseminating best practice drawing on their research, campaigns and ethical procurement experience and external expertise. They work with companies to improve working conditions in their supply chains, thus reaching significant numbers of women workers and helping to improve our understanding of issues affecting them. Recent projects include a study of  Unilever's Viet Nam supply chain, work with Moroccan strawberry suppliers and buyers, a 'Poverty Footprint study with International Procurement and Logistics as well as a bid to improve wages on tea plantations in Malawi.  Oxfam is an ETI member.
  • UN Women's Empowerment Principles are a set of Principles for business offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. They are the result of a collaboration between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Global Compact.
  • WIEGO seeks to increase the voice, visibility and validity of the working poor, especially women. They work to support and strengthen organizations of the working poor and to link organizations together. They also help them gain representation in the policy making and rule-setting bodies that affect their work and lives. WIEGO undertakes and sponsors research and helps to develop and improve official statistics on informal employment and the informal economy. They produce a publication series and maintain a web resource on the informal economy.   WIEGO also promotes the mainstream recognition of informal workers as legitimate economic agents who contribute to the overall economy and are legitimate beneficiaries of economic and social policies; and advance the incorporation of informal workers into policymaking and rule-setting processes.
  • Women Working Worldwide was established in 1985 and, since then, although they have worked in different sectors, with different partners, on different continents, their focus has remained the same – that is:  to work with international partner organisations to empower women workers to fight to claim their rights as workers. Specifically they reach women workers that work in supply chains producing goods for the European market. In partnership with grassroots organisations, they support and encourage women workers in international production chains supplying European markets to claim their rights, improve their conditions, seek solutions to women’s issues and be rewarded equitably for their work. They strengthen the capacity of grassroots organisations to listen to and represent women’s voices and strive for improvements in their working lives. Women Working Worldwide is an ETI member.
ETI member trade unions
  • Building and Wood Worker's International  The BWI has committed itself to establish strong, independent, autonomous, gender-fair and democratic trade unions in all countries and adopted a gender mainstreaming goal and established women structures at the regional and global level. The BWI envisioned a world without poverty; where peace, social justice, gender equality and respect for trade union and human rights prevail. The BWI believes that gender equality can be achieved by ensuring that women are fully integrated into trade unions and that barriers for equal participation of women are addressed effectively. 

  • IndustriALL All workers should enjoy equal rights. Yet female and young workers remain subject to discrimination resulting in many being denied their fundamental rights. IndustriALL fights their discrimination at work by promoting their fairer and stronger participation in trade unions. 

  • ITF Striving for a fairer, safer workplace for transport workers

  • ITUC Decent Work Decent Life for Women is a global campaign that aims at gender equality at work and in the trade unions. The key objectives of the campaign are to advocate decent work for women and gender equality in labour policies and agreements to seek gender equality in trade union structures, policies and activities and a significant increase in the number of women trade union members and women in elected positions. For 2010, Decent Work Decent Life for Women Campaign is focusing on organising young women workers.

  • IUF News and information on a range of initiatives relating to women workers in the food, farming and hotel sectors.

  • IUF For the past decade in particular, IUF has been actively trying to improve gender equality, to foster better women’s involvement in union activities everywhere. IUF’s publication, From Lusaka to Accra: More women, doing more, building our union, highlights IUF’S efforts to improve the representation of women and their issues in trade unions in Africa.

  • PSI runs a number of campaigns for women workers including ending violence against women.

  • TUC The TUC campaigns for women's equality in the workplace and in the wider community. Topics covered include Abortion Rights; Childcare; Violence Against Women; Equal pay; Parents and Carers; Part Time Workers; Poverty and TUC Women's conference.
  • UNI Equal Opportunities fights to grow and strengthen their affiliated unions by breaking through divisive barriers created by the inequalities that perpetuate our world. They fight against all forms of discrimination in the workplace including discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, lifestyle, religion, HIV Status and disability in order to improve the working conditions and lives of workers. Recognizing the drastic increases in inequality created by Globalization, they collaborate with their affiliates to create innovative responses, including global organizing initiatives, international conferences, toolkits and various programs. 
ETI member companies
  • Debenhams In 2015, Debenhams partnered with Swasti, an International Health Resource Centre based in Bangalore, India to implement the LIFE programme (Life Skills for Empowering Women), that aimed at empowering workers, particularly women, working in Debenhams global supply chain in India. The programme focused on strengthening life skills of workers so that, they are better equipped to handle challenges in their personal and professional spheres, leading to enhanced quality of life.
  • Finlays Horticulture has trained all their supervisors in discrimination and sexual harassment, using ETI's groundbreaking Supervisor Training Programme. A key aim is to change inappropriate behaviour of supervisors towards women workers, and getting supervisors to understand the role of the gender committee, so they don't see it as interfering with their role, but start to cooperate with it. 
  • GAP Clothing  provides women’s training known as (P.A.C.E) Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (approximately 65-80 hours and up to eight modules of learning). These lessons cover topics such as communication, problem-solving and decision-making, time and stress management, general and reproductive health, legal literacy, financial literacy and gender equality. The participants are also supported by furthering their technical skills. The content aligns workers’ learning abilities and technical potential. 
  • Primark Primark has partnered with BSR, local partners and their suppliers on the HERproject (Health Enables Returns) initiative to provide healthcare and health education to women working in the factories that make their products. Women make up about 80% of the workers that make their clothes. In low income countries women often lack access to adequate healthcare and the knowledge they need to look after their own health. Common issues include poor pre and post-natal care, anaemia, the risk of infections and illness including HIV and AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis. 

ETI does not endorse any of the above organisations, nor vouch for the accuracy of information on their sites.