Closing the Gender Gap at the World Humanitarian Summit and beyond: What role for business in empowering women in humanitarian contexts?

by 24th May 2016
Zemey Vamaniutra is a member of a farmers' group in Madagascar which teaches farmers modern agricultural techniques to help people survive the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon Zemey Vamaniutra is a member of a farmers' group in Madagascar which teaches farmers modern agricultural techniques to help people survive the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon

On Friday 20 May 2016, on the eve of the first ever World Humanitarian Summit, CARE International with the support of Hogan Lovells convened a business/UN/government roundtable to discuss the potential for business to empower women in emergencies. Business has played an active role in the WHS process, and a set of ‘core commitments’ on gender equality in humanitarian action has been tabled for the Summit outcomes. But these two agendas are yet to be linked. The roundtable looked at how this might happen both as part of the WHS process and beyond.

Senior representatives from global companies and civil society organisations attended the event and speakers included representatives of UN Global Compact, UN Women, GlaxoSmithKline, CARE and the UK Department for International Development. Ten key points arose in the discussion:

  1. Women represent 50% of the world’s population and are producers, consumers, employers and employees. Business can and already does play an important role in the resilience of women to cope during, and recover from, crises. However, so far limited steps have been taken to strengthen collaboration between business and humanitarian actors.

  2. The World Humanitarian Summit has started to bridge the gaps between business, gender equality and humanitarian action. There are exciting opportunities to bring together these agendas in mutually reinforcing ways. Businesses have long prioritised gender, equity and diversity across their operations. As such there are exciting entry-points to use this body of experience to help women and communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

  3. There is potential for business to explore efforts to empower women in emergencies  both individually, on a sector-wide basis and on a cross-industry basis. Several participants emphasised the strategic value of cross-industry initiatives to generate a multiplier effect to address the complex nature of humanitarian crises and their impacts on women and girls.

  4. Specific examples included: how cash programming can address gender dynamics and economically empower women in communities affected by disasters; micro-insurance for women entrepreneurs; support to women-led business, especially micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; supply chains in contexts affected by disasters and displacement; and hiring of women in ICT and service industry operations, which can be located anywhere globally.

  5. Business can and does engage in disaster resilience and response through [a] philanthropic contributions; [b] in-kind support (eg providing technical assistance); and [c] leveraging and/or changing core business in innovative ways (insurance or financial services adapted to meet needs of disaster-affected communities). Each are important and can be mutually reinforcing. Each can support efforts to implement the World Humanitarian Summit ‘Core Commitments’ on protecting, assisting and empowering women and girls affected by crises.

  6. DFID emphasised the importance of delivering at scale and addressing the enabling policy environment for women’s economic empowerment and resilience. However, business representatives also emphasised that piloting and scaling up innovative approaches to adapt core business to support resilience or emergency response efforts may require a longer term investment horizon than other kinds of business investment. As such, pilot efforts might generate employee satisfaction, social capital and brand/reputation benefits in the more immediate term, and return on financial investment over a longer timeframe. Philanthropic and in-kind support can also help in that piloting phase.

  7. The global refugee crisis has brought new impetus to this agenda. Female refugees face specific challenges. Population displacement caused by conflict and other crises splits families and leads to a rise in the numbers of newly widowed female-headed households and unaccompanied adolescent girls. Yet refugees from Syria and elsewhere also often have a high level of education and professional skills, which they wish to maintain. Female (and male) refugees want to earn a livelihood and live in dignity. They want to maintain and grow, not lose, their education and professional skills.

  8. The recent London ‘Supporting Syria and the region’ Conference involved a focus on the business contribution to livelihoods opportunities for refugees and host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. At a CARE-hosted roundtable in advance of that Conference, businesses stressed that international and national policy frameworks and guarantees should be put in place to mitigate risks and ensure a clear regulatory environment on what constitutes dignified work for refugees employed in their supply chains. Global Compact and UNHCR has launched a Business Action Pledge on the Refugee Crisis through which companies can pledge different kinds of engagement with the crisis response. Identifying commitments focused on gender and empowering women as part of this could be an option going forward.

  9. Both natural disasters and conflict are periods of immense social change which can reshape gender norms in a society. Women and girls often find themselves taking on new roles in the family, the community and more widely in helping to cope with the crisis – including new economic roles. There is scope for business and humanitarian agencies to work together in supporting efforts by women to consolidate those gains in the post-crisis recovery phase.

  10. Organisations can use their purchasing power to procure from companies that hire women on the basis of dignified work and women’s economic empowerment. Likewise, businesses committed to gender, equity and diversity can equally make this a criteria in their support to humanitarian agencies: “Every dollar spent is a vote for your values.”

Representatives from the UN shared that follow-up to the WHS will include a compilation of commitments by different stakeholders over the coming months and a report by the UN Secretary General towards the UN General Assembly in September. Throughout that process and beyond, there is scope for businesses to identify new pledges to act on gender, resilience and humanitarian action over the longer term. The Summit is just the start of a process to address the issues raised during WHS consultations, not an end-point. The UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment and existing global platforms, like the Business Action Pledge mentioned above, were also cited as potential entry-points.

Amendments were made to this blog after publication.

Howard Mollett

I joined CARE in 2005, since then I’ve been lucky enough to work with our local teams and civil society partners in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Sudan, DRC, Kosovo and most recently on the Syria regional response team. My current responsibilities include co-chairing our global network of policy specialists on gender in emergencies, with a colleague in Pakistan, and leading CARE’s advocacy in the UK on the Syrian conflict.

Over the years, I have also worked on innovative research and advocacy with country teams on conflict analysis, civil-military relations and humanitarian access. What has kept me with CARE is the organisation’s support to grassroots activists and its commitment to addressing gender in a serious way.

Prior to joining CARE, previous roles included research on human security and development at the Centre for Defence Studies; the facilitation of a network monitoring human rights implications of the ‘Global War on Terror’; support to European coordination of the Make Poverty History campaign; global coalition-building with the Our World Is Not For Sale coalition; research on trade policy; and support to a network of environmental and human rights CSOs in the Balkans.

One good thing I’ve read

Drown by Junot Diaz - short stories that offer a brilliant fictional lens on gender, class and migrant experiences in the USA.


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