Can Corporations Help Stem Violence Against Women?
Can Corporations Help Stem Violence Against Women?
Dec 19, 2010
UNITED NATIONS -- "On the day of the attack I woke up before dawn ... before I could even say anything he threw the acid at my face and fled. I was rushed to the hospital; my face and body were burned severely. As a result I am blind in both eyes, I have lost both earlobes have gone through 16 skin grafting surgeries"
This is the story of Florence, a 40-year-old woman from Uganda, whose testimony was read out last month at the United Nations as an example of violence against women, which is described as a "pandemic."
One in three women experience some form of physical abuse in their lifetime; most are harmed by their partners or family. The violence includes beatings, rape, human trafficking and female genital mutilation.
Probably no case has drawn more worldwide attention than the disfigurement of Afghan woman Bibi Aisha, whose father-in-law cut off her nose and her ears as her husband held her down. She was featured on the cover on Time magazine.
Alan Goldstein, AFP / Getty Images
Afghan teenager Bibi Aisha was horribly mutilated by her husband under Taliban rule. When she attempted to flee from his family, who abused her, her nose and ears were cut off. She is shown here after reconstructive surgery at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital in California.Her father-in-law was arrested, but more than 100 countries still don't have laws against domestic violence, and in others implementation is a challenge.
The U.N. is now trying to harness the power of the corporate sector to help combat violence against women. Some businesses already take actions such as distributing awareness-raising materials to employees and customers, but there is a push for the private sector to put its resources into community-based organizations.
There are only a handful of companies in this area, including Johnson & Johnson and Avon. Experts, however, point out the lack of incentive for CEOs, especially men, to pick this platform to fulfill their corporate social responsibility.
"Apart from the advertising and entertainment industry, which has been very supportive, it has been quite difficult to get corporates to address violence against women," said Mallika Dutt, who heads the human rights organization Breakthrough, based in the U.S. and India.
"Many corporates would like to stay with 'safer' issues like children, health or microfinance," she said.
On the other hand, Margery Kraus, the chief of a Washington-based global consulting firm APCO, asserted that the private-sector involvement was vital since the annual loss of productivity due to domestic violence is almost $1 billion a year.
Speaking recently at the U.N., Kraus also stressed that 50 to 85 percent of women missed work because of domestic violence, which led to the loss of 7.9 million paid work days annually.
"As leaders in the private sector, it is our responsibility to make sure that our companies become stakeholders in this very important issue," she said.
"At times abusive partners can deliberately jeopardize a survivor's career or income so as to cripple access to choices," said Purvi Shah, a consultant with the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence.
The few companies that have shown an interest, however, are run by women or cater to female interests such as cosmetics and fashion. Experts caution against this division, especially since combating women's violence is no longer viewed as solely a women's battle.
Because only 5 percent of CEO spots in the U.S. are held by women, Kraus said, "if we don't include the men, there is no solution."
Last year, the U.N. launched a plan to get boys and men involved in combating domestic violence that has met with some success, particularly the "Bell Bajao" (Ring the Bell) campaign that started in India and is now being advocated globally.
Under "Bell Bajao," if a man suspects that a woman is being abused inside a house, then he should immediately ring the doorbell under some pretext -- making a phone call or getting milk -- to show that someone is watching.
"Millions of men and boys in many countries are stopping this violence just by lifting one finger," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a recently launched public service message.
Breakthrough, the human rights group that created Bell Bajao, was financially supported by Johnson & Johnson, which has been partnering with the U.N. since 2005 to combat HIV as a cause and consequence of violence against women.
"Innovation" is the key ingredient that the private sector brings to the table, according to Sharon D'Agostino, senior director at Johnson & Johnson.
"We need to be willing to fund risk because it is what we do day to day in our business," she said, explaining how her company had switched to giving multiyear grants to a smaller number of groups when they learned that one-year grants were not helpful.
At the same time, D'Agostino emphasized that companies needed to leave the planning and execution of schemes to the organizations on the ground.
"As a corporate player, we can have this commitment and a legacy to philanthropy, but sitting in an office in New Brunswick or Sao Paulo or Shanghai, we don't really know what the best interventions are," she said.
Sponsored LinksOnly a handful of grass-roots organizations are supported by the U.N. Trust Fund, which provides money to different groups dealing with violence against women. This year, the U.N. has been able give $10 million, which is less than 3 percent of the worldwide requests.
The U.N. is trying to raise $100 million annually for the fund by 2015.
"We are looking to engage more sectors to contribute to this fund because there are many people from civil society who really asked for more funds in order to be able to reach those women and those girls," said Michelle Bachelet, former Chilean president and now head of the newly created entity, UN Women.
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