INTERVIEW – Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 calls for action on International Women’s Day

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INTERVIEW – Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 calls for action on International Women’s Day

(Left: Anna Falth, Head of WEPs, UN Women; Right: Iris Van der Veken, Executive Director & Secretary General, WJI 2030)

On International Women’s Day, Jewellery Outlook Editor David Brough speaks to Iris Van der Veken, Executive Director of the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 on the state of gender in today’s world and why the jewellery industry needs to urgently take action.

The Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by UN Member States in 2015, set a 2030 deadline for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Now, with under seven years left to meet it, the world is not on track. Amid the intersecting crises of COVID-19, the climate emergency, and rising economic and political insecurity, conflict, progress on gender equality has not only failed to move forward but has begun to reverse. Around the world, a growing backlash against women’s rights is threatening even well-established rights, freedoms and protections. According to the global gender gap report 2022, it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap, and women’s workforce outcomes are suffering and the risk of global gender parity backsliding further is increasing.

Without heightened commitment from the global community, gender equality will remain nothing more than an unrealized goal. The time to act and invest in women and girls is now. The jewellery industry has a duty to step up.

Can you share a bit more info on the current state of the world on gender?

Even though more women have been moving into paid work and, increasingly, leadership positions, globally societal expectations, employer policies, the legal environment and the availability of care continue to play a key role in the choice of educational tracks and career trajectories. Geopolitical conflict and climate change both impact women disproportionately. In addition, the deepening of the current cost-of living crisis is also likely to impact women more severely than men, as women continue to earn and accumulate wealth at a lower level.

According to the The Gender Snapshot 2022 report this year roughly 383 million women and girls will live in extreme poverty, compared to 368 million men and boys. Many more will have insufficient income to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and adequate shelter in most parts of the world. If current trends continue, more women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa will live in extreme poverty by 2030 than today, according to the report. The invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the ongoing war there, are further worsening food insecurity and hunger, especially among women and children. The war has led to limited supplies of wheat, fertilizer and fuel, while propelling inflation.

We also cannot ignore that progress has been made to date. Women’s representation in politics has doubled in the last 25 years globally, and women’s share of senior and leadership roles have seen a steady global increase over the past five years. In 2022, according to the Global Gender Gap Report, global gender parity for senior and leadership roles reached 42.7%, the highest gender parity score yet. However, gender inequalities remain at a high level: in 2022 only 15% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies were female, and only 5% of companies globally were female-led.

We have a shared responsibility to leave no one behind. Leaving no one behind means prioritizing human beings’ dignity and placing the progress of the most marginalized communities first—women and girls being all too often at the top of the list. We need to address the systemic and structural causes of inequality and marginalization that affect them. No one can do this alone; this ambitious undertaking requires a collective effort to implement effective strategies to operationalize this agenda. As shared this week by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, “We need ‘collective action’ worldwide by governments, civil society and the private sector to provide gender-responsive education, improve skills training and invest more in bridging the digital gender divide.”

In light of this year’s International Women’s Day theme – DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality – it is worth noting that digital technologies are rapidly transforming society, allowing for unprecedented advances to improve social, economic and political outcomes for women and girls. However, digitalization is also giving rise to profound new challenges that may perpetuate and deepen existing patterns of gender inequalities. Women and girls are 25% less likely than men to have sufficient knowledge and digital skills to leverage digital technology for basic purposes. [Source: UNESCO, I’d Blush if I Could (2022).]

You have been an activist on this topic for over 20 years, why is it so important to accelerate on gender?

The World Economic Forum provides that across 134 countries, greater gender equality shows a positive correlation with per capita Gross National Product. The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific estimates that the Asia-Pacific region alone loses more than US $40 billion per year because of women’s limited access to employment, and $16-$30 billion because of gender gaps in education.

McKinsey & Company found that private sector firms with the largest share of women in top management perform best, arguing that moving from raising awareness about the gender gaps in management to implementing strategies to close those gaps is critical to private sector growth worldwide.

When it comes to investing in gender-responsive procurement, research shows that benefits include enhanced brand reputation, customer and staff loyalty, increased innovation, resilience and productivity in supply chains, positive impact in local communities and reduced costs from increased competition, and improved compliance on reporting commitments, e.g. ESG, legislation on due diligence in supply chains.

The evidence is overwhelming and unambiguous: while gender equality is a fundamental human right and is the necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world, it also drives development progress, and business growth and sustainability. 

How is gender integrated in the work focus of WJI 2030 ?

The Watch and Jewellery Initiative 2030 founded by Kering and Cartier aims at bringing together watch and jewellery brands across the globe to begin a collective journey towards a low-carbon future and ensure the industry creates positive outcomes for the planet and for people. The initiative welcomes all watch and jewellery brands with a national and international footprint willing to commit to a set of ambitious and common objectives in three areas: building climate resilience, preserving resources, and fostering inclusiveness. Our work on gender equality is included in the third pillar.

The case for supporting women’s empowerment is particularly strong in the jewellery industry. Women drive demand for a vast majority of the world’s jewellery. Furthermore, in the rapidly growing ethical consumer movement, Millennial and now Gen Z women and girls are driving consumer decisions toward products and companies that act consciously and sustainably to protect their employees and supply chains and the broader society.

Women’s roles in the jewellery supply chain have been conditioned by existing gender disparities, skewing them towards lower skilled activities in which they are not fully rewarded or recognized. Public commitments by companies have been largely related to women in retail-facing operations and corporate leadership, and less toward lower-income roles, particularly further down the supply chain. It is crucial to expand gender equality considerations to the entire jewellery supply chain. The evident complexities in jewellery supply chains, and the fact that large parts of the upstream involve artisanal small-scale mining (ASM), make these efforts even more challenging. A significant portion of these workers are located in developing countries where low wages, poor working conditions and exposure to health and safety hazards are more prevalent. Best practices suggest that development programmes and business operations in the ASM sector need to tackle gender inequality as a cross-cutting issue. It should be an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of ASM development policies and programmes, and business operations.

In February 2023, members of the WJI 2030 were invited to participate in a pilot project, led by the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) team at UN Women to test a newly developed assessment tool on Gender-Responsive Procurement (GRP). The tool allows companies to assess current progress on their policies and practices on gender-responsive procurement. It can be used by any business or company seeking to assess the gender-responsiveness of its procurement mechanisms and supply chain, and to develop a clear action plan on how to implement GRP, and generate positive impact in its supply chain. The tool is currently available to the WEPs signatories only. As a WEPs signatory ourselves, we are pleased to launch this pilot together with 9 WJI 2030 member companies, that are also WEPs signatories, including: Cartier, Dimexon, Gucci, Italpreziosi, Julie Sandlau Vietnam, Monica Vinader, Rosy Blue, Rubel & Menasche, Swarovski.

Today, we launch an active campaign to the global jewellery industry. We are starting a WEPs Roadshow ”Advocate to Championing Women Rights”. SMEs will receive training and tools to embed gender equality in their operations. Stay tuned for our upcoming activities that will boost gender equality and women’s empowerment in the industry.

We need a truly multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral approach. That’s why I so strongly believe in partnerships. Within the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030, inclusiveness is a key pillar from which we want to make a real impact. Gender equality is at the heart of this pillar.

What can companies do?

Make a public commitment on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and act on it. Track it, measure it, monitor it, and let the world know about your progress.

We recommend you to start by signing the WEPs. WEPs are a set of Principles offering guidance to business on how to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community, developed by UN Women and UN Global Compact. WEPs provide a blueprint for companies to follow their journey to gender equality, and they offer many toolkits to accompany you on that journey.

WEPs are also the 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 shows commitment to the agenda at the highest levels of the company and to work collaboratively in multistakeholder networks to foster business practices that empower women.

Companies of any size and industry, industry associations and chambers of commerce are invited to join the WEPs community, and we strongly encourage this if you want to commit to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community.

What is the priority? 

A call for action. Let’s just do it now together.

‘To do it, we need to do it together. Collaboration. North, South, East, West. Black, Brown, White. Strengthen the diversity of the human family is what we need right now. It might sound like it’s impossible, but that’s what we work towards. Making the impossible, possible.’ United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed

What initiatives is WJI 2030 driving forward now?

Today, we launch an active campaign to the global jewellery industry. We are starting a WEPs Roadshow ”From Advocate to Championing Women Rights”. SMEs will receive training and tools to embed gender equality in their operations. Stay tuned for our upcoming activities that will boost gender equality and women’s empowerment in the industry in collaboration with Black in Jewelry Coalition and Women’s Jewelry Association. We will also be working closely with CIBJO and BJOP.

We need a truly multidimensional and multi-sectoral approach. That’s why we so strongly believe in partnerships. Within the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030, inclusiveness is a key pillar from which we want to make a real impact. Gender equality is at the heart of this pillar.INTERVIEW – Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 calls for action on International Women’s Day

  • Picture shows: Left, Jennifer Markas, Executive Director, Women’s Jewelry Association; Centre, Iris Van Der Veken; and Right,  Annie Doresca, Board President, Black in Jewelry Coalition.