INTERVIEW – Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 and UN Women WEPs team announce global WEPs Activation & Acceleration Programme to bring women’s rights and empowerment to the forefront in the global watch & jewellery industry


Interview with Gender Champion, Iris Van der Veken, Executive Director and Secretary General of Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030, celebrating International Women’s Day

Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

It may sound cliché but we should celebrate International Women’s Day every day through actioning on this topic.

As the name says, International Women’s Day is about women from all around the world. It is a day to celebrate activists on a global level, raising awareness of their work and the challenges they face. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase best practices, connect with people committed to gender equality, and encourage everyone to step up.

INTERVIEW – Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 and UN Women WEPs team announce global WEPs Activation & Acceleration Programme to bring women’s rights and empowerment to the forefront in the global watch & jewellery industry

(From left to right: Iris Van Der Veken, Executive Director & Secretary-General, WJI 2030, and Anna Falth, Head, Women’s Empowerment Principles Secretariat, at UN Women.)

This day also highlights the urgent need to accelerate and work together to move the needle. While International Women’s Day celebrates how far women’s rights and gender equality have come, it’s also important to recognize what still needs to be done. According to the United Nations, women make up 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion people in poverty.

As we see more and more conflict around the world, women’s rights and children’s rights become the first casualties of war. As women flee conflict, travel, and settle in refugee camps, they are highly vulnerable to all forms of violence. They face exploitation, sexual harassment, and rape; they risk being sold into early or unwanted marriages or resorting to survival sex just to get their basic needs for food, shelter, and transport met. (Source OXFAM)

So it’s critical we all step up in our roles as citizens, parents, leaders, governments, investors, NGOs. We can’t be silent when facing these injustices.

We have seen you as an activist on this topic for over two decades. What drives this passion ?

Gratefulness that I wake up every day in a safe and secure home and my commitment to support other women. I reflect on my life and career, a life spanning over a half century, and a global career spanning over two decades. What are the set of circumstances, some within but many outside of my will and control, that have brought me to where I am today? Partly, it is the lottery of birth.

Being born in a family where I had access to a safe home, education, and career opportunities that countless women and girls do not. I had strong women in my family who were instrumental in shaping my life, and therefore my fate. My grandmother, my role model who passed away at 99, and my mother, my father and brother, all of whom empowered me to go out into the world and find my place and my voice. Who instilled in me a set of values, a simple yet unshakeable faith, that if I worked hard, I would have the same set of opportunities as anyone else.

Yet, millions of women around the world do not have the same opportunities. At the current rate of progress, it may take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality, as per the “Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): The Gender Snapshot 2022”. 

So we are not on track?

The picture today is worrisome. From 2020 to 2023, the world has experienced multiple global shocks including the COVID-19 pandemic, increased geopolitical tensions and war, climate related and humanitarian disasters, the cost-of-living crisis, and ongoing tightening financial conditions related to rising interest rates. From the perspective of gender equality, if current trends continue, an estimated 8 percent of the world’s female population (342.4 million women and girls) will live on less than $2.15 a day by 2030, and close to one in four will experience moderate or severe food insecurity.

By 2050, climate change will push up to 158 million more women and girls into poverty and lead 236 million more women into hunger. The climate crisis fuels escalating conflict and forced migration, in a context of exclusionary, anti-rights political rhetoric targeting women, refugees, and other marginalized groups.

Gender inequality underpins many problems which disproportionately affect women and girls, such as domestic and sexual violence, lower pay, lack of access to education, and inadequate healthcare. Conflict affects women and girls first and worst and amplifies pre-existing inequalities and discrimination. Sexual violence in embattled areas is widespread and is often used as a war tactic. Unfortunately, we are confronted every day by this horror.

What can our industry do?

Our industry has a double duty to care and action. We should remind ourselves every day that 90 percent of consumer behavior is influenced by women. We are in the business of creating beautiful watches & jewellery. These are purchases that are handed down for generations. We need to see that these creations contribute to development and do no harm.

When we look at the facts, we are still a very male-dominated industry. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion agenda needs to be prioritized by all.

The first step is a CEO commitment to lead that agenda and create a truly diverse culture in the workplace, marketplace, and community. This can be done by signing and committing to the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles offer guidance on how to empower women in our direct circles and in the wider global community. Established by UN Women and UN Global Compact, the WEPs are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that businesses have a stake in, and a responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

WEPs are a primary vehicle for corporate delivery on gender equality dimensions of the 2030 agenda and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. By joining the WEPs community, the CEO signals commitment to this agenda at the highest levels of the company and to work collaboratively in multistakeholder networks to foster business practices that empower women. These include equal pay for work of equal value, gender-responsive supply chain practices, and zero tolerance against sexual harassment in the workplace. 

How does WJI 2030 advance the gender agenda?

WJI 2030 is committed to the gender equality agenda and the wider topic of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. Inclusiveness is a core pillar of our Initiative. We believe it is critical to bring the whole industry on board.

The first step in implementing this WEPs programme will be to engage with global and regional stakeholders to collectively define the priorities and to co-create the transformative journey ahead. Companies must first commit to activating the WEPs. We ask all industry associations to join this collective action.

On March 7th leaders of US industry associations gathered at the UN Women WEPs Secretariat to discuss the launch of the WJI 2030 Equality for All programme for the industry’s associations. This roundtable served as an opportunity to reflect on the current status of the industry and launch a series of consultative roundtables across the world. These global consultations will support the design and curation of guidance and practical tools for industry associations to join collective actions to activate, accelerate and report back on progress, and ultimately make gender equality and women’s rights a lived reality for the current and future generations. We will be hosting other round tables globally. The programme will galvanize attention and action on key themes including governance, leadership, equal pay, workplaces that are diverse, inclusive and free of violence, marketing practices, community impact and more.

This programme is part of a wider WJI 2030 strategy that requires its members to sign the WEPs. Today 90% of WJI 2030 members have signed the WEPs, embarked on a gender equality journey, and they will be invited join the WEPs Activation & Acceleration programme as well. This WJI 2030 members programme is empowered by Pandora and Rosy Blue.

INTERVIEW – Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 and UN Women WEPs team announce global WEPs Activation & Acceleration Programme to bring women’s rights and empowerment to the forefront in the global watch & jewellery industry

Leaders of US industry gathered at the UN Women WEPS Secretariat on March 7, 2024, to discuss the launch of the WJI 2030 “Equality for All” programme for the industry’s associations.

WJI 2030 has at the forefront of this programme the topic on Gender Responsive Procurement (GRP).  Together with nine pioneering members including Cartier, Dimexon, Gucci, Italpreziosi, Julie Sandlau Vietnam, Monica Vinader, Rosy Blue, Rubel & Menasché and Swarovski, the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 partnered with UN Women in 2023 to launch a pilot programme that evaluates gender-responsive procurement in the jewellery industry. This global initiative marks the first-ever endeavour to apply the tool within an industry-specific context, aiming to assess and enhance gender equality practices within the jewellery sector.

As the first phase of the pilot project on gender-responsive procurement concluded, pilot companies demonstrated real commitment to gender equality, speaking volumes about companies’ dedication to fostering positive change for gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. However, the Case Study released in September 2023 also brought to light common challenges evidencing the need to move forward faster to create gender equality now as the global political landscape has seen backsliding in progress made on SDG 5.

WJI 2030, UN Women and the pilot participants are now launching a second pilot phase in March 2024 to involve their suppliers, and to co-design GRP tools and resources to continue to strengthen gender equality in global supply chains. 

What is the most important piece of advice you can give to the younger generation of women at the occasion of International Women’s Day?

Find your voice and be bold and step up. It took me quite a long journey. I feel at 53 years young, I finally manage to do so. It should not take so long. You should never be afraid to share your opinion, do it with kindness and respect. Keep learning from everyone around you, you also learn a lot from bad leaders you work with. You do not want others to experience the same, everyone has the opportunity to empower others. Be humble, empower other women and men on your journey. Be positive and never give up. Often we are confronted with politics in organizations, try to take a step back and find people on your journey that support you to move the needle in what you are passionate about. And have fun, enjoy the journey of life and career. Take enough time to cherish the beauty of life on the planet we live. 

INTERVIEW – Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 and UN Women WEPs team announce global WEPs Activation & Acceleration Programme to bring women’s rights and empowerment to the forefront in the global watch & jewellery industry