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What is the Role of the Private Sector in Achieving Systemic Changes for WEE?

Authored by

Ulrike Joras
Private Sector Advisor

Ulrike Joras is a Private Sector Advisor at Oxfam in the UK.

In her current work, she focuses on developing programmatic partnerships between Oxfam and companies, particularly in the areas of women’s economic empowerment and weather insurance. Before joining Oxfam, Ulrike worked mostly on the intersection between fragility, peacebuilding, and the private sector, focusing on conflict-sensitive business practices and business and human rights. She worked for organizations such as the United Nations, International Alert, swisspeace, and as a freelance consultant. Ulrike holds a Ph.D. from Germany and has published various reports and articles on responsible business conduct. 

This post originally appeared on the SEEP Network blog as a part of the WEE Global Learning Forum blog series. Read posts one and two.

Almost 1,500 business leaders have joined the Women’s Empowerment Principles developed by UN Global Compact and UN Women to support businesses in empowering women in the workplace, the marketplace, and the community. Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of IKEA Switzerland, was appointed Co-Chair of the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Both large and small companies including Unilever, Mondelez, Coca Cola, and Marcatus, have set up initiatives that aim to promote women’s economic empowerment (WEE).

Companies are increasingly playing an important role in addressing women’s economic empowerment in their supply chains. Indeed, their position provides them with unique opportunities to respond to the growing pressure and adopt practices that benefit women: making women more visible along their value chains; introducing flexible working arrangements; supporting childcare; addressing the gender pay gap; increasing the share of trade and procurement from women-owned enterprises and female cooperatives; or providing trainings that are specifically targeted at women are some of the practices that can genuinely make a difference in women’s lives.

These interventions can contribute to address complex social, political, and economic hurdles that limit women’s empowerment, including heavy care duties, norms that determine the types of roles that women can take, and legal barriers. However, companies cannot overcome these complex challenges alone. Sustainable change at scale requires coordinated action by multiple actors, so that economic and non-economic barriers can be jointly addressed through mutually reinforcing interventions.

Learning at #WEEForum2017

Oxfam has developed partnerships with businesses, alongside women’s rights organizations and governments, to identify innovative ways in addressing key systemic barriers to women’s economic empowerment within a set of agricultural value chains. Taking place during the WEE Global Learning Forum on 23-25 May in Bangkok, the session “Systems Change for Women’s Economic Empowerment: How to Work with Companies” will explore the experience of companies and organizations working with them in advancing WEE. We will look specifically at the unique contributions that private companies can make to women’s economic empowerment, and will debate the pros and cons of adopting multi-stakeholder approaches to achieve change at scale.

The panel discussion, co-organized by Oxfam and Care International, will bring together multinational and mid-sized companies, including Coca Cola and Marcatus, alongside an international organisation that promotes a multi-stakeholder approach (FAO) and organizations that support and work with companies on WEE in different ways (CARE International and World Cocoa Foundation).