By Judy Njino (Executive Director, Global Compact Kenya)

With each passing day, the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects are becoming more apparent and alarming. We are all adapting to new ways of living: learning what it means to maintain social distance, working from home, home-schooling children and communicating. While the pandemic may appear like a shared experience, its impact reveals the different realities of men and women.

For many women and girls around the world, the pandemic presents additional challenges to their survival and quest for equality. In recent days, we have observed that many of the impacts of the pandemic are hitting women disproportionately hard from concerns to their health and safety, to additional care burden and increased exposure to domestic violence.

According to a World Health Organization survey of 104 countries, women make up about 70 per cent of health and social workers worldwide, placing them at greater risk while caring for patients. Added to this, women workers face elevated levels of stress as they worry about endangering their own families when they return home at the end of their shifts. Yet despite these enormous sacrifices, their jobs tend to be undervalued and underpaid.

The report further reveals that one in three women worldwide experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The risk of gender-based violence escalates in times of crisis - such as natural disasters and wars. With 90 countries on lockdown, 4 billion people are now sheltering at home. Kenya has already reported an increase by 36% of reported cases of sexual violence in the first two weeks of the pandemic breaking.

Sounding an alarm bell on this shadow pandemic, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, has urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key component of their national response plans for COVID-19. Mr Guterres called on governments to put women's safety first as they take actions through increasing investment in online services and civil society organizations.

Lowering vulnerability to infection among Kenyans will also require a re-look at economic issues facing a vast majority of women who make up 70 percent of low wage earners relying on informal sector jobs that provide little social security.

In our responses to the pandemic, we must not be gender blind or else women will bear an economic cost substantially higher than men which will lead to further widening the gender gap estimated to close in 257 years at current trajectory. Yet, the benefits of women's inclusion and participation in economic life and decision making are clear.

The crisis has been an acid test for what effective leadership looks like in the face of a global crisis. It is worth noting that a good number of countries with the best response to COVID-19 have one thing in common- all have women leading them. Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand and Taiwan are ahead of the curve in beating coronavirus and they have set a precedent on how to manage a pandemic with a decline in recorded new cases, whilst many countries are experiencing a rise in cases of COVID-19.

Government measures to cushion citizens from the impact of the pandemic have been swift and multi-faceted. Decision-makers at the front lines can further support women during this crisis by ensuring structures such as stimulus packages are designed around the reality of women's work and needs. The short-term and medium-term recovery strategies should also include women's economic resilience within this and future shocks.

The Private Sector, on the other hand, needs to rise to the occasion and join hands with government and other actors to offer immediate relief as well as support for long-term recovery. Companies that have already implemented family-friendly workplace policies and flexible arrangements for working parents have a 'head-start' during this crisis. They can also ensure that suppliers that rely heavily on female labour receive payment for existing orders promptly while providing leniency to women entrepreneurs.

With decision-making bodies still being predominantly male, how can we ensure that women's voices are reflected when policy measures are adopted?

The United Nations Global Compact is supporting gender-inclusive leadership, response and recovery to COVID-19 through women empowerment initiatives such as the Target Gender Equality which underscores the need for women's full participation and representation in decision-making roles.

By responding to women's needs and supporting women's leadership, companies can speed global progress in addressing the pandemic and other future crisis.

The propensity to recover from this crisis hinges on how we include everyone equally. If more women take part in formulating a new social and economic order, chances are it will be more responsive to the needs of all and make us all more resilient to future shocks.

First published on People Daily

By Judy Njino (Executive Director, Global Compact Kenya)

The battle against the Covid-19 pandemic is a pivotal moment for humanity. Coronavirus is spreading swiftly across countries, on a scale and magnitude never seen before.

Our lives have changed, with a demonstration of solidarity against a common enemy. We are all in it together.

As the crisis unfolds, the developing narrative suggests that the pandemic is multifaceted in nature. Covid-19 is a personal, business, religious, social, political, economic, national and global issue.

On a global scale, the Covid-19 pandemic is turning economies upside down.

Whereas the top priority of governments is to stop the spread of the virus, track and treat the sick, businesses have a critical role to play in joining government efforts to minimise any further spread and cushion the impact on the economy and livelihoods.

According to a poll conducted by Ipsos earlier this month, it is interesting to note that public concerns on the economic impact of Covid-19, is possibly only second to their own health.

Governments' pronouncements about economic rescue measures do not yet appear to gain the public's confidence.

The recent temporary suspension of trading by the Nairobi Securities Exchange is a possible predictor of depressed financial flows and weakened investor confidence.

The pandemic has also had a negative effect on job security. Several companies are grappling with the government's directive for workers to observe social distancing as a measure against the spread of the virus.

In an effort to mitigate financial risks, some firms are reported to have enforced short-term layoffs and production shut-downs on prorated pay. Some health insurance covers are treating coronavirus as an exclusion.

With the ongoing border closure and lockdown around the world, Kenya's flower industry, which is export-driven is one of the hardest-hit.

The ripple effect has caused the closure of various farms with over 1,000 seasonal workers sent home.

In the face of these grave challenges, what then should businesses do to remain resilient?

As the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative, the United Nations Global Compact is calling on business leaders everywhere to unite in supporting workers, communities and companies affected by the pandemic.

For every decision-maker, the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact can provide ideas and inspiration in uncertain times.

In upholding their corporate responsibility to respect Human Rights, businesses should ensure that any measures to address Covid-19 is accessible to people without discrimination of any kind.

Further, they should ensure the needs of the most marginalized and/or vulnerable are given the appropriate attention.

For businesses everywhere, ensuring continued productivity is crucial in these turbulent times.

Responsible businesses can respond with flexibility, compassion and solidarity to the impact on their employees and their business partners, especially SMEs.

Their efforts to limit financial impacts should not be made at the expense of workers' rights and welfare. 

They should also apply the principles of prevention and ensure a safe working environment by adhering to the protective measures in the workplace.

With every dark cloud, there's a silver lining. In a very short period of time, the corona crisis has had a positive impact on the environment by reducing pollution and carbon emissions. 

This crisis presents businesses everywhere with an opportunity to track positive environmental impacts of telecommuting and virtual meetings on their carbon footprint in order to assess which practices could be encouraged long-term to reduce emissions.

The challenges of this crisis notwithstanding, we can draw many lessons from the experiences.

The future of businesses will largely depend on their ability to demonstrate responsibility by working closely with government, civil society, medical and research entities and fellow citizens.

This battle is not between people, but one that unites the entire world in our shared humanity.

 

First published on People Daily

By Judy Njino (Executive Director, Global Compact Kenya)

Capitalism is great. It is the driver of innovation and it celebrates progress. Over the last 100 years, mankind has come up with endless new solutions. As a result, globally, millions of jobs were created, expanding access to education and poverty levels decreasing significantly. We are healthier, live longer than ever before in history.

Nevertheless, the form of capitalism we have today is not sustainable for business or the planet. We are facing a climate change crisis, and we know the FridaysForFuture campaign tells us the truth. The campaign is a youth-led international strike to protest government and business inaction on climate change. It is potentially one of the largest environmental protests in history, with 2,500 events scheduled in over 150 countries.

We need to act now. We need to have a conversation about what businesses can do. Although businesses play a massive role, current action does not match the ambition and pace necessary to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Sustainability is still considered a nice add-on. Business is doing business; afterwards, they try to get a little green on it.

As the world faces many complex and interrelated challenges, it is clear our fundamental systems are broken. Unless we grasp the larger picture in which these challenges sit, we will only end up addressing symptoms or offering simplistic solutions.

Running a business in a competitive environment may be difficult and there are other priorities for the survival of the company. However, it is possible to change how things are done. Business, as usual, is not an option for a future-proofed economy in which, by mid-century, nine billion people live well within the limits of the planet.

A variety of drivers are forcing companies to confront the inadequacy of business as usual. For instance, reactionists such as FridaysForFuture, consider the push towards boundless economic expansion being in conflict with the planetary realities.

Secondly, a growing number of studies show that workers and especially millennials want to work for companies that have a positive impact on the world and whose values align with theirs. Responding to this desire, smart companies are able to attract the right talent and keep them motivated to drive greater productivity and efficiency.

Thirdly, a company’s supply chain practices can generate significant positive or negative impacts in the areas of human rights, fair labour practices, environmental progress and anti-corruption. However, in a study conducted by the United Nations Global Compact, companies ranked supply chain practices as the biggest challenge to improving their sustainability in performance.

Businesses are here to serve societies needs and must do so in a sustainable way. They, therefore, cannot continue to operate as independent members of society disregarding the impact of their decisions and actions. 

Capitalism needs to evolve, and that requires different types of leaders from what we have had before. Not better leaders, because every period has its own challenges, but leaders capable of meeting today’s challenges.

The assertion that companies are responsible for the stewardship of multiple capitals is evident in a number of contemporary initiatives. The United Nations Global Compact exists to help companies of all sizes and from all sectors understand and put into practice good corporate stewardship.

Enlightened companies and investors understand the role business has to play in the economy. Those who do not are destined to be left behind in the coming years by missing opportunities and miscalculating risks and uncertainty. Such a future can, and must, be averted in the interest of business, society and the planet alike.