The private sector: an ally in the fight against GBV in agriculture?
This post is written by Erin Markel and Julia Hakspiel, MarketShare Associates
The economic costs of gender-based violence (GBV) are immense and preventing and mitigating GBV saves money. For businesses, costs associated with GBV include absenteeism, loss of productivity, and time spent outside of work at court or participating in services for survivors. Specific data on costs to agribusiness are limited, but new research finds high incidences of GBV within agribusinesses and their supply chains, suggesting correlated high costs to businesses.
Given the individual, business, and economic costs of GBV, it is our responsibility as practitioners to address this issue from a “do no harm” perspective and increase our ability to achieve program outcomes. The more attention donors place on expanding women’s and girl’s engagement in the labor force, alongside the push to expand Private Sector Engagement, the more important it is to consider how to best engage the private sector around GBV.
The incentives look promising, so what are the potential benefits and risks?
Some of the potential benefits of engaging the private sector in addressing GBV could emerge from engaging a more diverse set of actors with their own skills and financial resources who, in some contexts, may more directly reach people that public services typically cannot. The private sector may also be better positioned to work directly to address GBV in the workplace and promote women’s entry into potentially higher-value segments of value-chains.
Incentives align and potential is here, but engaging the private sector to prevent, mitigate, or respond to GBV does not come without risks. Private sector actors may be reluctant to “rock the boat” in changing social norms or assess that the costs of intervention are higher than the economic benefits to the business. Not making the investments to address root normative causes or to have sustainable efforts will not be effective in decreasing GBV. Moreover, companies may not have the skill sets or resources to take on a sensitive issue like GBV or to do so holistically, potentially resulting in inadequate services or further risk of GBV for women.
How are agribusiness programs working with the private sector on GBV issues?
Despite challenges, we have more and more examples of development sector and private sector partnerships to reduce GBV. We see two promising examples in Egypt and Sierra Leone.
Addressing workplace harassment in Egypt
Research conducted by UN Women and supported by USAID in the Egyptian agribusiness sector found that women were exposed to violence during their daily travel to the field. Such violence also came with social stigma that made it less acceptable for women to work, contributing to high turnover of female staff.
UN Women worked with 10 leading agribusinesses to introduce a zero-tolerance policy and enforce rules against sexual harassment, alongside worker grievance mechanisms and awareness-raising activities. As a result of the intervention retention rates improved by 25 percent and absenteeism decreased by 9–31 percent. With lower turnover, the firms were better able to retain skilled and trained staff, improving their ability to comply with quality certifications and access higher-value markets in Europe.
Addressing intimate partner violence in Sierra Leone
Intimate partner violence (IPV) can be more challenging for the private sector, despite being one of the most common types of violence perpetrated against women and girls. Because it is seen as a family matter, businesses are reluctant to intervene. Firms are often unaware of the cost implications, let alone how such violence can be addressed. Yet, IPV has significant direct and indirect costs for firms: high absenteeism and turnover of both victims and perpetrators, low productivity when employees feel physically or emotionally unwell, and time spent by HR and management.
Working with Lion Mountain, a mid-size rice processor, the SOBA project identified IPV experienced by female sales staff as the lead reason for high absenteeism of both men (as perpetrators) and women (as survivors). The company responded with low-cost prevention and mitigation initiatives, such as including employees’ partners in staff inductions and referring staff to a professional counseling service. As a result, Lion Mountain was able to positively affect staff well-being and retain high-performing female sales staff. Management also reported less time spent on employees’ “private” matters, allowing them to focus on business growth.
What’s next for partnering with the private sector in agriculture?
An important next step is to further engage the market systems and agricultural development community in collecting cases of evidence-backed and anecdotal good practices. We also need to understand what tools are already being used in other sectors that can be adapted to use in our market systems and agricultural programming. This will help us to unpack the risks to working with our private sector partners on these issues.
There are significant reasons why market systems and agricultural development practitioners and donors do not already integrate GBV into their programming. It is important for us in the gender equality and female empowerment community to understand the risks from their perspective as well as explore the root causes that constrain people’s ability to take this on. Applying some of the same social norm and behavior change analysis that we use with communities could help us to better understand what is needed and design appropriate tools and support.