According to the World Economic Forum, we are 217 years away from achieving gender equality. That means that at this rate none of us will see or experience equality in our lifetimes.
This is why Led By HER, my nonprofit organization, has worked on narrowing this gap by using entrepreneurship to counter the crippling effects of violence towards women, which according to the United Nations impacts one in three women around the world.
Our recent crisis has heightened our awareness about this issue. COVID-19 and related pressures will unleash 31 million new cases of domestic violence.
There is little else we can promise in terms of equality & empowerment if we cannot assure women a world free of domestic violence. And if one in three women face violence in their lifetimes, this impacts their performance in the workplace, costing employers and the overall economy… particularly when women lose their jobs and are unable to reintegrate into the working world.
Economic independence is the basis for gender equality
When starting Led by HER, we knew that women subject to violence are often dependent… and this dependence can be anything from financial, emotional, and physical. We have worked, over the last six years, on mobilising the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Paris to help women who have suffered from violence rebuild their professional lives. And through our work, we have observed that even if violence occurs in the personal sphere, it nevertheless impacts a woman’s career trajectory and life.
Women can only do as well as the ecosystem that supports and nourishes them.
With Led by Her, we wanted to create the right ecosystem to help them rebuild their professional life based on three fundamental pillars: education1Education gives confidence to everyone. Having knowledge opens a reserve of tools that is meant to help individuals craft their future. Our organisation offers women (in collaboration with educational institutions) classes that will give them the practical know-how to realise their entrepreneurial idea. , mentorship and support2Mentorship and support is crucial to personal and professional development. Most women subject to violence are often isolated, lacking little support to make the needed change in their lives. We all need role models, support, and a safe place to express ourselves. Through a network of mentors, we make sure these women are guided and supported as they navigate their projects., and access to economic resources3Access to economic resources is key to realising any entrepreneurial vision. Women today lack this access to financing in comparison to male entrepreneurs. Led by HER might not be able to provide the capital for our participants… However we do organise events that give participants and their project exposure to those capable of possibly opening the right doors.. Through our support I have seen women transform their talents and passions into businesses and build a future for themselves and their families. Empowering women economically transforms them.
If our aim is to balance the scales of gender equality and create a world free of domestic violence, then employers have a major part to play in providing this support.
Supporting women subject to violence starts in the workplace
We have seen that because of isolation, days off from work, and many difficult situations surrounding their lives, victims of domestic violence4“Domestic violence (sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence, family violence or domestic abuse) includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence, as well as coercive control, carried out by an intimate partner. This can include, for example, control over women’s social interactions and autonomy, control of children and parenting, verbal, emotional, economic control, and threats of abuse and violence. All of these can have devastating psychological consequences, affecting a woman’s confidence, her ability to leave a violent relationship and to sustain meaningful employment.” Pg 22 https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—europe/—ro-geneva/—ilo-ankara/documents/publication/wcms_731370.pdf are faced with poor mental and physical health, as well as administrative and organizational hurdles related to their situation. This subjects women to numerous challenges in the workplace such as absenteeism, lower workplace performance, organisational difficulties for single mothers, and many other challenges that heighten their precarity in the workplace. In some cases, the workplace may even serve as a place of harassment for perpetrators. As a result women lose their jobs and fall into greater precarity and isolation, aggravating their inability to leave their violent situation because of economic vulnerability.
Preserving women’s economic independence is fundamental if we want to counter domestic violence.
The right workplace measures prevent women from losing their job & falling prey to economic vulnerability
Based on a comparative legal research report that Led By HER has carried out with the Kering Foundation, Dentons and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the measures below could constitute a good start for policy level actions for governments to implement in legislation.
1. Leave from work
Laws should provide leave of absence (10 days minimum) for women who have suffered from violence. Numerous countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Italy have created laws to provide a minimum number of days for women in this situation. This would allow them to handle private matters such as moving, court cases and proceedings, childcare, etc. without fearing repercussions with management for their absence.
2. Protection from discrimination
We need to give sufferers of domestic violence protections similar to those facing workplace discrimination on other protected grounds such as race or gender. Most women subject to violence are pressured into silence because they fear judgement from friends or colleagues. Providing a judgement free space will help these women seek the help and support they need. A social worker or HR reference person responsible for assuring that the victim’s interests are met to help in any transition out of an abusive situation could potentially help victims feel less isolated.
3. Flexible hours, mobility and transfer
For women who have suffered from violence, employers should take every reasonable precaution to protect workers if they are aware. Giving women more options to better manage themselves, or to distance themselves from their violent perpetuator could also be detrimental in preserving their autonomy. Options empower us. If we leave women subject to violence without options, it would make it that much harder for them to get out of their situation.
4. Creating a safe workplace… but not only
Ensuring the safety of women in the workplace is obviously a must. In Australia,5Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Australia) New Zealand,6Section 36 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (New Zealand) France,7Article L 4141-1 of the Labour Code (France) Italy,8Legislative Decree no. 81 of April 9, 2008, published in the Official Journal no. 101 of April 30, 2008 (Italy) and the UK,9Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (UK) there are laws which impose upon employers a “duty of care” to employees in relation to their health and safety at work. However, the Australian Law Reform Commission and WorkSafe in New Zealand have gone a step further by recognising that risks posed to the health and safety of employees at work may include risks posed by domestic and family violence. This extension of coverage can make an important difference in mobilising companies to act faster on behalf of women facing violence.
These are just a few examples of measures we can adopt amongst a pool of possibilities. However, if we succeed in laying out these four measures on a European-wide basis to start, that in itself would already constitute a great stride.
Unleashing the potential of women for tomorrow’s world requires us to take measures
Gender equality is one of the core values of the European Union (EU)… and equal pay was included in the Treaty of Rome as early as 1957. However, if we really think about it, how can any policy help women succeed without assuring their basic right to live and work without fearing violence or domestic abuse?
Violence today remains one of the most dangerous manifestations of inequality and discrimination. Though the media has covered the rapid rise of domestic violence related to COVID-19, and MeToo campaigns have attracted an increasing amount of attention to the problem, domestic violence will continue to rise. To make a true difference, we still need to federate a movement that translates into policy change.
Policy frameworks do exist, however there are differences in implementation. Reducing and eventually eliminating violence against women in Europe will require a homogenous cross-border effort that only the EU can implement. And even before such an undertaking takes place, economic actors can already display their avant-garde mindset by putting in place such measures (cited above) to provide women that all encompassing support capable of truly empowering them.
Women represent half of the world’s population. Imagine how our world will look like if we create the ecosystems today that will unleash the social and economic potential of women tomorrow…
Given that our current crisis makes this subject more relevant than ever, we need to start addressing it today.