Gender equality


In light of the Gender Equality Forum 2017, Helle Bank Jorgensen, President of the Global Compact Network Canada (GCNC), sat down with Paul Polman, Unilever CEO for an interview and asked the following questions on Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment, and more.

Helle: Why is Gender Equality important to you and Unilever?

Paul: Addressing barriers to gender equality is not just the right thing to do, it’s also vital for our future growth. We at Unilever consider the respect and promotion of women’s rights and the advancement of women’s economic inclusion both a human right as well as a business priority. By promoting the formal and active participation of women in the economy, we aim to transform lives, families, communities and economies. Globally, it is acknowledged that empowering women economically creates a ripple effect on families, communities and economies. In turn, we have the opportunity to grow our markets, brands and business.

Women control 65% of consumer spending and are the fastest growing group of consumers. Building trust in our brands among our largest consumer base is critical – women account already for more than 70% of our sales, and they play essential roles in our extended value chain where we engage them as growers, distributors, and factory and office employees.

Helle: Are you optimistic that we will get to Gender Equality 2030?

Paul: “The Global Commitment to gender equality has never been stronger” so claims the United Nations High Level Panel on Women´s Economic Empowerment, reflecting that nearly 200 governments around the world have for the first time in history signed up to a concrete goal for achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

At Unilever, we share this commitment.

Having said that, Gender Equality seems to remain a distant goal. According to the World Economic Forum [Global Gender Gap Report: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/], gender parity has got worse, not better in 2016 and won’t be reached for another 170 years.


However, I am convinced that empowering women and girls represent the single biggest opportunity for human development and economic growth. Investing early in the lives of women and providing girls with just one extra year of secondary education can increase a girl’s potential income by 15-25%. Equality for women in the labour force would add US$28 trillion to the global economy by 2025 [McKinsey Global Institute]. Greater equality and women’s empowerment will lead to investment in education and agriculture, in turn leading to long-term economic growth and therefore business opportunity.

This argument will help to advance the gender equality agenda further but closing the gender gap will require further cross-sector collaboration to remove barriers holding women back to participate in social, political and economic life. Business has both a critical role to play to advance the women´s agenda but equally a clear business interest. This is what keeps me optimistic – and why I am engaged to actively encourage business leaders to create solutions and go from ‘talking the talk’ to ‘walking the talk’.

We cannot wait another 170 years for equality and the world can’t afford to.

Addressing barriers to gender equality is not just the right thing to do, it’s also vital for our future growth.

Helle: What will it take to achieve Gender Equality by 2030? / Why is it so difficult to achieve Gender Equality?

Paul: There is mounting evidence that addressing gender equality is not only the right thing to do it is also a smart thing to do. However, addressing gender equality is a multi-faceted challenge, and persistent gaps remain. Despite advancement in education, rising incomes closing the gap remains a distant goal. The High-Level Panel on Women has rightly pointed out overarching systemic constraints to women´s economic empowerment – one of them is ‘Addressing adverse social norms’. Our own research confirms that some of the strongest forces perpetuating gender gaps are harmful social norms and stereotypes.

Given Unilever is a leading consumer goods company serving billions of consumers every day and the second largest advertiser in the world, we have developed an understanding of the drivers and motivations – the norms that lie behind people´s behaviours.

We now want to take that experience and work to another level. Together with others, we want to challenge outdated, discriminatory social norms and stereotypes that impede opportunities for women across our value chain and society.

We believe the impact on gender equality can be transformational by helping to challenge these limiting social norms and gender stereotypes affecting women and holding back global economic growth and social progress that will come from increased gender equality and women’s empowerment.

A striking finding in our research was that 75% of respondents agreed that we, as senior leaders, have the greatest responsibility to step up and take action. Addressing underlying unhelpful stereotypes is an important step to making real progress towards achieving gender parity, but it requires new styles of business leadership.

It will remain the biggest challenge to engage leaders in changing their own leadership, which is often influenced by unconscious biases, outdated norms, and often fear.

    We are committed to empowering 5 million women by 2020 across our entire value chain – in our workplace, supply chains, the communities we serve, and through using the power of our brands.

Helle: What actions and achievements (yours or Unilever´s) related to achieving Gender Equality are you most proud of?

Paul: It’s difficult to state a specific action that I’m proud of – what I’m probably most proud of is how our holistic ‘Opportunities for Women’ strategy as shorthand to encompass the different dimensions of gender equality and empowerment, including access to rights, skills, resources and jobs and livelihoods. We are committed to empowering 5 million women by 2020 across our entire value chain – in our workplace, supply chains, the communities we serve, and through using the power of our brands.

We’re focusing on our internal practices as well as how we can support the women in our supply chain, and through our brands, our consumers. To date, we have improved our gender balance, with the proportion of female managers reaching 45% in 2015. In partnership with others, by 2015 we had enabled around 800,000 women to access initiatives that aimed to develop their skills: 70,000 Shakti micro-entrepreneurs in India and around 730,000 women on tea small holdings in Kenya and India.

Helle: Do you have any advice to other business leaders that don’t know where and how to


Paul: All organisations and governments have a role to play to help close the gender gap and businesses needs to be part of the solution. Every company has a role to play to embed women’s empowerment within their own strategic and business goals. This requires all of us to improve our understanding of the influence we can bring to bear across our value chains – from corporate policies and practices we adopt internally (e.g. equal pay) to making the financial and business case to others externally.

Business leaders cannot and should not operate in isolation and seek support through powerful partnerships and dialogues with other businesses and multi-stakeholder programmes. This is why we are mobilizing business leaders to for examples sign up to the WEPs (Women´s Empowerment Principles) and to join initiatives such as the High-Level Panel on Women to develop inclusively and sustainable approaches.

Helle: As a bonus question, please nominate another leader that you would like us to interview.

Paul: There are many impressive and passionate leaders within the business world, governmental and non-governmental organizations and within civil society. I have the pleasure to work with many of them within our own organization, through initiatives such as the HeforShe movement, through our many partnerships like for example with the Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Recently, I admired the leadership of Ms. Simona Scarpaleggia, Ikea in the UN High-Level Panel and the high profile results of the findings that came out of the report. We look forward to being involved with the working groups.

Source: globalcompact.ca

By: John Namkwahe

Ismail Mohammed, 35, a resident of Mkunwa in Mtwara rural district and a peasant farmer of cassava and cashewnuts, had never before heard of gender equality and he didn’t have the slightest idea what the word ‘gender’ really means.

He is married to Mwanaasha Juma and the two have been blessed with two children; a daughter (10-year-old) and a son (6-year-old).

Due to lack of knowledge about gender equality, Ismail admits to committing a number of social injustices such as depriving his wife of her basic rights. Such a misguided attitude towards his wife consequently led to unending misunderstandings in the family. Ismail now regrets his former dictatorial demeanor and looks to God for forgiveness.

Ismail represents a number of men with the same overbearing attitude towards their spouses; an attitude that has seen women being deprived of their rights such as right of ownership, freedom of participation, freedom of expression among others.

“I am very ashamed of my deeds and I ask God for forgiveness. I remember the moments when I and my wife used to walk home from the farm. All I ever held was a knife, while my wife was responsible for carrying a bunch of firewood, a child on her back and a twenty litre gallon filled with water. It is a long walking distance from the farm to home,” he solemnly recounts.

Ismail’s overbearing nature wasn’t confined to farming duties; during harvesting, after selling the products, Ismail dictated the financial terms of the earnings. He was the family’s sole financial controller and made all decisions on family expenditures. “I never allowed my wife to participate in budget making; hence I was the only person to decide on all the family expenses. I controlled all the earnings and I never allowed my wife to question me over the expenditures,” he admits.

Ismail’s inconsiderate deportment however was challenged when in 2011 Care International Organisation arrived in Lindi and Mtwara.

He and other villagers participated in several gender classes about modern agriculture and gender related teachings. This marked a new dawn for women as the organisation was keen on improving the lives of people living in Mtwara and Lindi, particularly women, by fostering improved food security, income and resilience. This was all done under WE-RISE program.

The organisation is one among other NGOs, civil society organisations (CSOs) and private sectors that have reached a key milestone so far in empowering both men and women.

Other NGOs like Tanzania Gender Networking Program (TGNP) and the Eastern African Sub-regional Support Initiative (EASSI) have been playing a key role to harmonise national public hearings on gender equality and development in the regions.

Consolation for women who’ve experienced devastating treatment in the hands of their male counterparts is nothing to go by when looking at the broader issue of gender inequality in Tanzania. Women have for years been victims of reproachful acts that border on the unthinkable behind closed doors with their spouses.

Ismail, now a changed man, is thankful for having been given the chance to change his life and become a loving husband to his wife. “Through the project I have managed to acknowledge the importance of exercising gender equality in family level so as to give equal chance to women to own property such as land which wasn’t the case before,” he says, and adds; “everything has changed. I have now given my wife a piece of land which is approximately 3 acres so that she can use it for farming.”

Ismail has now become a responsible husband and he helps his wife with domestic activities such as fetching firewood from the forest and he sometimes takes their children to hospital.

His wife is pleased and she can now look forward to better days ahead following the transformation her husband has gone through.

Apart from participating in agriculture, Ismail engages in entrepreneurship activities to earn additional income to feed his family. This helps him support his wife in generating more income.

He also addresses his gratitude to Tanzania’s Police Force for its endless support to local people. The cordial relationship between the police and the public was made possible through efforts by Care international in Tanzania which played a key role in linking the local people in the regions with Police force through gender desk establishment.

Ismail advises other men to abandon a patriarch system of managing their families instead they must give their wives opportunities to participate and play an equal role in family affairs.

Women have for years fought for their rights, and with each passing year, we see an improvement on the respect for women’s rights. In urban setting, the fight for equal rights seems to penetrate a lot further and faster than rural settings where information is hard to reach.

Ikupa Magdalene (pseudonym), a resident of Kyela in Mbeya currently working in Dar es Salaam, airs her restlessness in the fight for her basic rights. Formerly married to one Eliakim Godfrey (pseudonym), she reveals that their matrimonial life was filled with constant arguments and at times physical abuse. She successfully ran away from the marriage and never looked back. In Dar es salaam she’s still trying to fill in the gaps in her life by doing odd jobs, but she confesses that this is a far cry from the torture she was subjected to when she was still married. “I hated my life back then; I find it difficult here, but for different reasons. I know I can come out of this situation. At least now I have the freedom to decide what I want for myself,” says a proud Ikupa.

On the sidelines of the 71st United Nations General Assembly, UN Women have recently unveiled a report by 10 global universities that lays out their concrete commitments and charts their progress towards achieving gender parity.

The first-ever “HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 University Parity Report” highlights three important imbalances that universities can address: the ratio of men to women represented in university faculty and senior administrative positions; the fields of study selected by young women versus young men; and the number of female students at universities compared with their equal access to academic and professional career tracks.

“Each generation of university students that emerges from these formative years of education is a new chance for the world to make progress,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, in a press release. “Now that our IMPACT Champions are leading such well-targeted initiatives to tackle current barriers to gender equality, we can look to these cadres of HeForShe graduates, and the changing profiles of academia, with renewed hope.”

The group of 10 IMPACT universities spans across eight countries on five continents: Georgetown University, United States; Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), France; Nagoya University, Japan; Stony Brook University, United States; University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; the University of Leicester, United Kingdom; University of Oxford, United Kingdom; University of São Paulo, Brazil; University of Waterloo, Canada; and University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

UNESCO and UN Women have come together to promote the expansion of proposals that would promote equal opportunity and eliminate sexual harassment, gender inequality and abuse throughout boardrooms, classrooms, and society in general.

Irina Bokova, Director-General, United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)

At a press briefing for the HeForShe Impact 10x10x10 initiative at the UN Headquarters, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson highlighted the steps toward equal opportunity and the elimination of violence, along with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals.

Launched in 2015, the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative convenes 10 heads of state, 10 global chief executive officers and 10 university presidents to fast-track gender equality in boardrooms, classrooms and world capitals. The release of today’s report marks the completion of the first year in the initiative for participating universities.

In the report, University HeForShe IMPACT Champions present transparent baseline figures on the representation of women across their student and faculty populations against which future progress will be measured and published on an annual basis. This dataset includes women at undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as in faculty and senior leadership roles.

In total, the 10 universities have committed to monitoring their progress on 30 commitments. Some 70 per cent of IMPACT Champions have committed to closing the gender gap in administration; 40 per cent have committed to closing the gender gap in academia; 30 per cent have committed to creating centres of excellence in gender equality; and 40 per cent have committed to ending violence on campus.

“Sustainable development is not possible and peace will not be lasting, without empowering every girl and woman,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “I see the face of the new global agenda as that of a 12-year-old girl, in school, not forced into marriage or work. It is the face of a 20-year-old woman, at university, creating and sharing knowledge. This is the importance of the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative.”

UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, who participated in the launch of the HeForShe movement in 2014, and also took part in the report launch today, noted that, “A good university is like a tiny utopia – it’s a miniature model of how the whole of society could look. All our IMPACT Champions have chosen to make gender parity a central part of the way they educate their students.”

Created by UN Women, the HeForShe movement for gender equality provides a targeted platform on which men and boys can engage and become change agents towards the achievement of gender equality.

Source: un.org

Gender equality has recently been viewed as not just a phenomenon, but a reality that all have to embrace if countries are to achieve international, continental, regional and sustainable development.

This idea put forward by Botswana’s Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Gladys Kokorwe who was speaking at the SADC ministers of gender and women’s affairs meeting, formed topic of discussion.