UN Women China calls on private sector leaders to prioritise women in their COVID-19 response

Date: Wednesday, April 29, 2020

On April 25, 2020, Ms. Smriti Aryal, Head of UN Women China, attended the 12th Global Mulan Forum themed “Our New World”, urging Chinese business leaders to adopt a gender-sensitive approach to respond to COVID-19.

Ms. Smriti Aryal, Head of UN Women China. Photo: UN Women

The forum, hosted virtually by the Mulan Initiative, brought together the most influential female business leaders in China, with an aim to promote women’s entrepreneurship and leadership, and unleash women’s potential to build better and more profitable business practices to improve the lives of women and girls.

In her intervention, Ms. Aryal commended the great progress China has made to promote gender equality. However, she pointed out, gender gaps remain: Emergencies like COVID-19 exacerbate existing gender inequalities – women are overrepresented in the sectors hardest hit, working as small business owners and daily wage earners; women carry the disproportionate and unequal burden of unpaid care and domestic work; and domestic violence has increased during the lockdowns.

Underlining the gendered impacts of COVID-19, Ms. Aryal urged gender-responsive actions towards the crisis. She emphasized that everyone has a role to play in turning the crisis into an opportunity and encouraged business leaders to make commitments to Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), take actions to build better businesses, and accelerate progress on gender equality in the corporate sector.

Ms. Aryal recommended concrete measures, in line with WEPs, to be taken by enterprises in response to COVID-19, as set out below:

  1. Put solidarity, empathy and care at the forefront of our engagement in COVID-19 response. Reach out to employees, both female and male, to listen to their concerns and needs during this challenging time; offer support, services and flexibility and come up with solutions that work for both business and employees.
  2. Promote workplace preventive measures and ensure the safety of all employees. This includes promoting clean and hygienic working environment, availability of information, flexible working hours to avoid commuting in rush hours and provision of preventive and protective measures such as social distancing, etc.
  3. Practice zero-tolerance towards gender-based violence at workplaces. Invest in raising awareness of all employees, exercising zero tolerance against such behaviors of employees and offering support to survivors (who might be one of your staff) by referring them to hotlines, shelters, and other support services including counseling as needed.
  4. Support the small and medium enterprises in your value chain: take intentional effort to maintain business with SME suppliers, especially those led by women and those with many women workers.
  5. Support the most vulnerable people in the community, especially women and girls most at risk and impacted by COVID-19. Whether through donating, providing items and services to support their daily lives, and/or supporting recovery and resilience building.
  6. Speak out and share your gender-responsive COVID-19 stories and perspectives as part of your commitment to gender equality and to acknowledge and promote women’s leadership, contribution and needs. Be the Influencer among your peers, suppliers, and partners.

13,477 people watched the live speech. According to the organizer, the whole event has reached a total of 8,590,000 viewers in the end, more than 20,000 of whom were entrepreneurs. 

2020 is an important year – it marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a time to review and celebrate our progress and make renewed commitments to address the continued challenges. As we face a “new world”, gender equality and women’s empowerment should be put at the front and center, and must be integrated in all our efforts. “UN Women looks forward to continued collaboration with the private sector to bring women’s leadership and agency at the forefront of business practice, and to work together for an equal and inclusive future.” Ms. Aryal said.