Business Call to Action > News & Highlights > Women, Inclusive Business, and the Bumpy Road to Equality

Women, Inclusive Business, and the Bumpy Road to Equality

Blog by BCtA’s Tatiana Bessarabova

Photo Credit: Natura Cosméticos

Today marks the 103rd year of International Women’s Day – a day that celebrates progress toward achieving women’s equality around the world.  While recent achievements are ample, the road to equality is long and seemingly unyielding. Women produce half of the world’s food and are primary caregivers, yet they earn 10 percent of the world’s income, own less than 1 percent of world’s property, and comprise a staggering 70 percent of the 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day.[1] Hence, it is impossible to speak of tackling global poverty without focusing on the role of women. There is a clear business case for it too. Expanding women’s economic opportunities through income generation and entrepreneurship that contribute to higher wages leads to improvements in child health and education, increased agricultural productivity, and overall economic growth. Women simply cannot be ignored, they are too vital to the economy.

With this in mind, the role of Inclusive Business in incorporating women into the markets has enormous potential to accelerate development outcomes and contribute to poverty alleviation in a sustainable way. Inclusive business combines profitability with development impact by expanding access to goods, services, and livelihood opportunities for low-income communities. Such practices can have a valuable impact on the demand side of markets by extending affordable goods and services with a potential for high development impact to women consumers of goods and services. From the supply side, development impact can be achieved by incorporating women into the value chains as employees, producers, and business owners.

The Business Call to Action (BCtA) leadership platform highlights inspiring examples of what business can do not only to expand inclusive business models but also to strengthen women’s empowerment around the world.

Women as Consumers of Goods and Services

One of the BCtA’s recently admitted member companies, Unicharm Corporation, a Japanese consumer products giant, has pledged to bring affordable diapers and sanitary products to 36 million low-income women in the Middle East/North Africa and Asian regions. Unicharm’s international expansion is expected to more than triple the company’s annual production of diapers and feminine napkins from 10 billion and 12 billion by the year 2020. Forty percent of Unicharm’s total hygiene products are expected to be manufactured and sold to low-income consumers in the Middle East/North Africa and Asia.

As part of its localization strategy, the company will also train and employ an additional 8,000 women throughout Egypt, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Vietnam —nearly doubling its female workforce in these countries. By localizing production, streamlining manufacturing, and simplifying packaging, Unicharm will offer feminine napkins and diapers to of low-income consumers previously unable to afford them. Lack of access to hygienic products remains a huge socioeconomic burden on many low-income women around the world, with one in ten school-age African girls staying at home or dropping out entirely during her period.[2] Access to sanitary napkins will allow women and girls to remain active in school or work throughout their menstrual cycles.

Another BCtA member, LifeSpring Hospitals, a chain of small hospitals providing low-income clients in India has been a key voice for women’s empowerment.  By expanding access to maternal and child health care services, LifeSpring has committed to provide an estimated 82,000 Indian women and their families with access to quality health care. Over a five year span of the initiative, LifeSpring will have increased the number of hospitals serving mothers and children throughout India from nine to 200, all of which will improve the overall standard of care and reduce rates of maternal and childhood deaths.

Two years into the initiative, LifeSpring Hospitals has delivered more than 7,000 babies, and its doctors have treated over 100,000 outpatient cases at the hospital chain of nine clinics. This news is particularly encouraging as the vast majority of LifeSpring’s customers fall between the cracks of the healthcare system in India. The patients, typically women, are either too poor to benefit from private clinic care or lack the access to any other kind of care. Therefore, LifeSpring fills an important gap by providing affordable, high-quality maternal health care to low income women.

In addition, by reducing the burden of maternal healthcare on low-income families, LifeSpring is helping to ensure that more babies are born with qualified physicians rather than at home in high-risk situations. Thereby this model contributes to the reduction of child and maternal mortality rates by increasing institutional deliveries.

Women as Suppliers in the Value Chains

One of the BCtA’s earliest members, Cadbury/Kraft (now Mondelez International), launched the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership in 2008 to encourage the development of thriving cocoa communities in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. The Cocoa Partnership is a £45 million ($73 million) commitment to sustainable cocoa farming. Through this initiative, the Cocoa Partnership has promote sustainable livelihoods for one million cocoa farmers, increased cocoa crop yields, and created a new sources of income in 100 cocoa farming communities.

In two years since the inception of the initiative, ten thousand farmers and their families in these cocoa-farming communities, as well as 55,000 members of the Kuapa Kokoo farmer co-operative in Ghana, have benefited from efforts to more than double cocoa production and to improve incomes in farmer communities. Approximately 30 percent of Partnership communities are now run by women as a result of the program.

Women as Entrepreneurs

Increasingly, members of the Business Call to Action are addressing the problem of access to finance and entrepreneurial skills for women. For example, BCtA’s newest member, Natura Cosméticos of Brazil, one of Latin America’s largest cosmetics firms, has pledged to provide new skills training to low-income sales representatives in Mexico. Natura expects to integrate all of its nearly 74,300 beauty advisers into a specialized job training programme aimed at optimizing and upgrading job skills and self-development over the next three years. The training modules, designed by Natura, are expected to increase productivity as well as earning potential by teaching essential business skills and self-knowledge.  Some of the training offered includes strategic planning, direct sales, computer skills, customer service, accounting, and project management. There is also a focus on creating self-awareness and helping the consultants become agents for change in their own communities.

Enhanced and specialized skills training provide valuable support that prevents people from falling into poverty and primes them for social and economic success. Through its commitment to BCtA, Natura will expand training for low- and middle-income consumers in Mexico and introduce affordable new products in the fast-growing cosmetics industry.

Some 98 percent of Natura’s beauty advisers in Mexico now are women who lack formal education or prior work experience. Natura, as part of its focus on sustainability, hopes to empower its advisers with entrepreneurial skills that will serve them well in the future.

Challenges Ahead

While these examples of women’s economic and social empowerment through Inclusive Business are inspirational, they represent a small drop in the sea of ongoing challenges ahead. The majority of business remains committed to “business as usual” rather than exploring more inclusive practices. According to Harvard Business School, out of 82,000 multinational companies in the world, only 3,000 are exploring or practicing inclusive business models. The barriers that historically impeded women’s participation in the economy – such as the triple burden of child care, household and paid work, access to assets, and gaps in education – are present even in the Inclusive Business movement. The BCtA continues the call for action to address these challenges on a systematic level, and to highlight the successes, one business model at a time.

To learn more about BCtA company initiatives, go to:


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