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Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality

How can companies help to empower all women and girls? Look to the workplace, products and services, and the value chain.

This story first appeared on the blog of Corporate Citizenship, a global business consultancy specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility. Its series of articles about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is running here.

Women represent half of the world’s population. Yet on a global scale, women and girls continue to fight an uphill battle against gender inequality. Among other challenges, women face discrimination, violence and inadequate access to reproductive health in both the public and private spheres.

The obstacles to women’s empowerment range from sadly predictable to surprising. Many people are familiar with the gender wage gap where women earn 10 to 30 percent less than men for the same work. Fewer know that women and girls are 16 percent less likely to have access to information communication technologies, such as mobile phones and computers.

The United Nations has done a comprehensive review of the obstacles that women and girls face and proposed key targets to help break down the barriers to gender equality around the world. To make progress against these targets, it is important to recognize that women’s empowerment is not just a social issue, but also an economic one.

The potential global impact of this goal begs the question: How much stronger would the global economy be if 50 percent of the world had better access to financial services, higher salaries to invest, healthier options and more access to higher education?


Companies can make a difference

Potential human rights risks and economic opportunities are both key reasons why businesses should pay close attention to barriers to gender equality. Many of these gender issues are interconnected and cannot be addressed in isolation. Instead, a wider-lens, multi-stakeholder approach is necessary. While companies cannot be sole drivers of change, it is important that they take a proactive approach and look at gender issues from three viewpoints:

Internal view: What steps can we take internally to empower and advance women in the workplace?

Thirty-one percent of women voluntarily exit the workforce for extended time periods and many find it difficult to re-join. Morgan Stanley’s Return to Work program offers a multi-week paid internship to experienced professionals who have taken a career break and would like to re-enter the workforce. In February 2014, 15 women were selected from a pool of over 500 applicants for the program. Some participants may receive a full-time job offer upon completion.

Products & services view: How can we apply our expertise to expand access for women and girls?

Nearly a quarter fewer women than men in developing countries are online. Intel integrates its products and services into the Intel She Will Connect program, which uses a combination of digital literacy training, an online peer network and gender-relevant content to help bridge the Internet gender gap.

Value chain view: How can we expand opportunities and mitigate risks related to gender inequality in the areas where we operate?

Nestlé aims to improve the livelihoods of women in its cocoa supply chain (PDF) in Cote d’Ivoire. The company offers trainings on gender issues to cocoa cooperatives in order to shift expectations around women’s roles on cocoa farms and expand job opportunities for women.

Sustainable Development Goal No. 5 is a lofty goal with many unique complexities. In particular, it will be difficult to navigate differing culture norms around gender as we seek to advance this goal across borders. 

We will look to multi-national businesses to join the discussion, share learnings and collaborate on how to create globally relevant, locally appropriate solutions. It will be a long drive, but businesses can help accelerate the momentum.

As part of the SDGs 2015 series, Corporate Citizenship is collecting practitioner views about the implications of the SDGs for business. Have your say and complete the short survey here.

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