Supply Chains Give Us the Opportunity to Measure and Fight Violence against Women

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage, Images of Empowerment

December 5, 2018
  • Lauren Shields

    Former Director, BSR

  • Dominic Maes

    Former Manager, Communications and Marketing, BSR

“There are times when a woman deserves to be beaten.”

That’s what 34 percent of approximately 11,500 workers and managers in factories in India believe, according to a survey conducted by BSR’s HERproject, which works with global brands, their suppliers, and expert local partners to empower women working in global supply chains.

In many countries at the heart of supply chains (such as India), unequal power relations between men and women facilitate and excuse violence and sexual abuse against women. Yet while this may be common knowledge, it is not always easy to demonstrate—and it is certainly not easy to tackle at a societal level.

Workplaces like factories bring together large numbers of women and men every working day. As such, they can be an ideal location to measure and tackle the norms that underpin violence against women.  

That’s why leading global brands and their suppliers are putting their weight behind efforts to address violence against women through workplace-based interventions. 

BSR’s HERrespect, a pillar of HERproject, provides training sessions for managers and both women and men workers, joint sessions between workers and managers to facilitate dialogue, and support for managers to develop and communicate policies. It invites workers and their managers to reflect on the different ways violence might manifest in a relationship, how to recognize it, and its consequences at home and at work. It helps both men and women explore how power relationships might be abused. And it works to change managers’ preconceptions around how supervisors should motivate their workforces.

BSR has implemented HERrespect trainings in nine factories in India (four in the South and five in the North), which included approximately 11,500 women and men workers and managers. Before the training begins, we present all participants with a series of statements and ask them whether they agree or disagree. A month after the training is complete, we return and repeat the process.

The results from the final survey are encouraging. Across all participants, including workers and managers, agreement with the statement, “There are times when a woman deserves to be beaten,” dropped by 55 percent (from 34 percent to 15 percent). In three factories, female workers did not see any justification for violence at the end of the program; the percentage of female workers in agreement with that statement dropped from 34, 48, and 36 percent to zero.

Similarly, we presented participants with the statement: “If a male supervisor makes suggestive comments to a female worker and she seems interested, it is not sexual harassment.” Following the implementation of HERrespect, agreement for this statement dropped by 50 percent (from 36 percent to 18 percent).

These are preliminary data: BSR will continue to review and expand our evidence base on violence. Nonetheless, two things are clear.

First, the scale of the challenge is enormous, because these are issues that stem from deeply unequal norms that workers and managers have internalized. When 34 percent of a group—including a high proportion of women—agrees that there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten, we see how deep the problem runs.

But secondly, there is hope for progress—and business can be a major player in the solution. Global brands and their suppliers have not created discrimination against women, and they cannot be expected to end it on their own. Nonetheless, smart businesses are recognizing that the manifestation of these attitudes in the workplace constitutes a major business risk. Moreover, as employers of millions of women and men in countries like India, global brands and their suppliers have an opportunity to push positive messages that counteract discrimination and reduce violence, playing a positive role as corporate citizens.

The surveys we conducted at the end of the program leave us optimistic that real change is possible. As one worker put it after completing the HERrespect training:

“There was a time when men in my floor would not listen to me. They not only believed that women can’t speak, but also condemned all those who are not educated enough. The combined sessions with men and women really helped to create our own identity in the workplace. During sessions when our male counterparts saw me speak so confidently, I began to realize my own value.”

We encourage other leading brands to join us in HERrespect and become a force for positive change for women. Please contact us for more information.

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