More Protection for More Equality

While International Women’s Day allowed for reflection on progress towards gender equality, it is also an opportunity to discuss the alarming rates of gender-based violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, aggravated by the pandemic. The private sector has an important role in evaluating and addressing risks of gender-based violence, which is paramount to achieving equality.

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March is the month where we usually celebrate women and emphasize the importance of equality. Perhaps it is time to challenge this tradition.

The discussion about equality needs to be constant throughout the year and also focus on the need for protecting women and girls from violence, exclusion and discrimination in all that we do. While encouraging respect for rights and empowerment, we should focus on gender protection, being,mindful of intersectionality risks for women and girls from the LGBTQI+ community, afro descendants, indigenous groups and people with disabilities.

Even though the collection of specific data on violence against those groups is still scarce in Latin America & the Caribbean (LAC), making it harder to design effective preventive measures, it’s clear that there are still many obstacles for women to safely go to work, foster a career, travel, have a family life, study. To walk the streets alone.

LAC has one of the highest rates in the world of violence against women. Data from 2019 showed that 69% of women in the region suffered intimate partner violence and 47% suffered sexual violence), and in Central America, two out of every three women killed are victims of femicide. This is a persistent problem.

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Adding to that, the Regional Information Network on LGBTQI+ Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean reports that between 2014 and 2019 more than 2,900 LGBTQI+ people have lost their lives due to violence. These findings likely represent only a fraction of the actual cases due to underreporting and lack of sound databases.

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened this scenario. According to the United Nations, calls to helplines have increased fivefold in several countries, and many cases were unreported because of mobility restrictions preventing victims from reaching out for support.

Gender based violence and harassment (GBVH) have high social and economic costs to all, including businesses. Among the many negative effects, it interferes with women’s full and equal participation in the workforce and the realization of their economic potential. Violence affects physical and mental health and well-being, leading to stress, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and motivation, hindering career advancement and even resulting in job loss.

For businesses, GBVH occurring at home, at work or in the community increases liabilities, harms engagement with surrounding stakeholders, creates occupational safety and health risks, and reduces productivity. Additionally, GBVH in the workplace has important reputational risks for companies. Sexual harassment claims have a greater effect on a company’s reputation than other forms of misconduct like fraud, according to 2018 research in the Harvard Business Review.

A recent study on GBVH published by IDB Invest that compiled data from 10 countries in LAC showed that, despite some progress, there are still significant challenges to overcome.

On the positive side, results show how, in ten LAC countries surveyed, all have specific treatment and support measures offered to victims of gender-based violence. Free access to justice and legal aid is guaranteed by law and there are legal protective measures in place that help de-escalate the risk of continuous violence. Discrimination is considered a crime in almost all ten countries analyzed, the same being true for gender-based violence.

However, several challenges remain unattended, including insufficient resources to fully implement the commitments established in international treaties and lack of registered data about violence committed against transgender people. Some countries are debating at the judicial level, the protection framework necessary for LGBTQI+ people, as well as specific provisions for combating discrimination, sexual violence and hate crimes suffered by them. More national public policy incentives for the private sector to support survivors of gender-based violence such as a Colombian tax exemption program) could be beneficial.

As an institution committed to LAC’s sustainable development we partner with private sector clients by helping them to screen gender-based violence and understand how diverse gender identities are impacted differently by projects. We then work together on preventive measures to avoid and mitigate those risks.

Let’s be clear: hiring a more diverse workforce is fundamental, but so is ensuring that they will be safe. Offering gender adequate personal protective equipment, designing a sound grievance mechanism that is prepared to receive and address complaints of sexual harassment, providing safe working conditions with enough lighting and locking systems in changing rooms and employing female security personnel should not be nice-to-haves but imperative corporate commitments.

Experience has shown that an important number of our projects in sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing and agribusiness that incorporate a large migrant workforce offer opportunities for local communities, including for women-led small business, to flourish. Nevertheless, the same workforce could increase the risks of local women and girls suffering violence. To allow for positive outcomes in our projects and for the region, we require our clients to develop strong measures that prevent those risks and strive to leverage the opportunities for gender financial inclusion.

We believe that protection and promotion are two sides of the same coin. Strong leadership from the private sector can bring about significant changes, and combating gender-based violence and harassment can propel companies, communities and people one step further to achieving the sustainable development goal of gender equality.

 

Authors

Michelle Shayer

Michelle Muhringer Shayer is a lawyer specialized in corporate sustainability management with an MBA in environmental management from the Universit

Rachel Robboy

Rachel Robboy is Chief Risk Officer at IDB Invest. Ms. Robboy, a US citizen, previously led the IDB Invest Portfolio Management Team, supervising a

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