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The Missing Link: Need For Private Sector To Take Up Its Role As A Powerful Partner In Advancing Gender Equality In SA

  • 5 min read

The South African private sector has not yet fully embraced the role it needs to play in the achievement of gender equality.

  • To drive accountability and influence GBV-related system change and policy making in the private sector, Shared Value Africa Initiative (SVAI) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) embarked on a research project in collaboration with  Mid Sweden University and supported by KPMG South Africa.
  • Click here to read the full Report “The Costly Impact of GBV”.
  • Key findings and recommendations of this research include:
  • Strategic positioning and policy changes: GBV is not strategically addressed and should be positioned within company policies and structures of governance.
  • Reporting and multi-sectoral collaboration: Decisive action and a collaborative, multisectoral approach are required. Private sector should provide ongoing feedback on progress through Annual Integrated and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Reporting. CSI spend should include GBV awareness and prevention programmes.
  • Education and awareness training: More should be done to proactively change patriarchal ideologies and male-centric culture through strategy, HR-led policies, education, awareness, and behavioural change programmes as well as dialogue to break the silence and remove the stigma, shame and fear associated with GBV in the workplace.
  • Healthcare costs of GBV: Considering the out-of-pocket medical costs for GBV victims (estimated at almost R10 billion), human capital loss (estimated at R26 billion) and judicial costs (estimated at R104 million), the research conservatively estimates that South Africa has lost more than R36 billion in 2019 alone, due to GBV.

Gender inequality has been widely recognised as a key driver of gender-based violence (GBV). It is increasingly a term that connects all acts of violence rooted in some form of “patriarchal ideology” and can thus be committed against both women and men, by women and men, with the purpose of maintaining social power. It can take many forms, impacting on a physical, sexual, psychological, and economic level and can include bullying, mobbing, verbal abuse and harassment from work colleagues, supervisors, or managers.

Other types of violence such as trafficking, and new manifestations of abuse such as cyber harassment, trolling, stalking, body shaming, and non-consensual creation of sexual images through artificial intelligence, have also become prevalent. These affect communities and families and can prevent women from fully participating in the economy.

“While great strides have been made in recent years, there’s always been a missing link, and that missing link is the private sector. GBV is rooted in gender inequality, and the private sector is a powerful partner in advancing gender equality at work, due to its distinctive position as a catalyst and role model for change. Without private-sector engagement, gender equality, which is instrumental to realising the UN SDGs, will not be achieved,” says Tiekie Barnard, SVAI CEO and Founder.  

The research findings and recommendations were presented at an event held at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) today. The research Report titled “The Costly Impact of GBV” highlights the need for the private sector to address the reality of GBV in the workplace as it formulates company policy and structures of governance. The Report urges private sector companies to adopt and drive real and impactful behavioral change; to launch top-of-mind GBV-related education and awareness programmes, and to provide ongoing feedback on progress through Annual Integrated and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Reporting.

“ESG concerns, risks and opportunities are increasingly shaping the way companies do business around the globe. They are facing growing investor pressure to improve diversity among their leadership ranks, underscoring a greater awareness of the need to address environmental, social and governance issues. In addition, investors are progressively incorporating assessments of companies’ gender diversity and equity to determine how they might respond to ESG risks and opportunities,” says Professor Mervyn King, a keynote speaker at the launch of the Report. 

In 2014, KPMG South Africa published research titled Too Costly to Ignore – The Economic Impact of Gender-based Violence in South Africa that described the full economic impact of violence against women as well as the impact on their children. “The cost of GBV is far greater than any number can suggest. Survivors of GBV are vulnerable in a number of ways – financially insecure, more likely to be absent from work, and often unable to achieve upward professional mobility – which means there is numerous direct, personal costs to GBV that are seldom recognised,” says Ignatius Sehoole, CEO at KPMG South Africa.

The findings of the Report released at the JSE today builds on the KPMG research and was led by Prof. Corné Davis from UJ, in collaboration with Prof. Koustuv Dalal from Mid Sweden University.  

“Our research seeks to explore the human capital and healthcare costs of GBV and tracks the awareness, knowledge, and opinions about the prevalence of GBV and its prevention, among leadership and employees in private sector organisations in South Africa. Despite growing awareness around the issue, reliable and harmonised data on the understanding, prevalence, and real cost of gender-based violence in the private sector is still hard to find and an under-researched subject,” says Davis.

“GBV is not only a societal issue, but also a business issue that will continue to negatively impact our economy if we do not consciously address it,” insists Barnard, adding that the private sector has the resources to launch education, awareness and behavioural change programmes and create equal opportunities for men and women in their companies. 

“Organisational will and a restructuring of the employment relationship with women is not only necessary, but also good for business. As we focus on transformation and gender parity in the workplace, it is critical that we recognise the impact of GBV on meeting this agenda and change not only how we increase parity but critically how we address GBV at the highest level. This should form a key pillar to a company’s approach to ESG – it simply cannot be ignored, if we hope to level the playing fields in the workplace while addressing one of South Africa’s major economic stumbling blocks,” says Sehoole.