Stats

Girl Stats provides a range of sex-disaggregated indicators that measure a number of issues including levels of empowerment, parity in education, labour market participation and health outcomes for girls and young women. The indicators shown here aim to provide users with an understanding of the outcomes for girls around the world as well as the attitudes and approaches that contribute to those. By understanding and analysing sex-disaggregated data, businesses can make better informed decisions that promote better outcomes for women and girls.

The Stats page allows users to compare indicators across countries and themes, as well as explore issues in greater depth through the stories within each theme. 'No data'  highlights where data gaps exist. The lack of sex-disaggregated data demonstrates the need for greater research on the situation of adolescent girls and young women around the world. 

Studies have found positive returns that go beyond regular health and safety compliance for businesses that invest in the specific health needs of their female employees. Health indicators can provide businesses with insights into the wellbeing of girls and young women in the countries in which they operate, providing information on where investment needs to be made. Businesses that provide female workers with information on and access to contraception, abortions, safe births, pre- and post-natal care will see positive returns on investment in terms of recruitment, productivity and retention.  

Investing in future generations to ensure economic benefits

Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone

The stats

With a maternal mortality rate of 1,360 per 100,000 live births, Sierra Leone is one of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to get pregnant. Factors such as high levels of adolescent marriage and low levels of contraceptive use, coupled with a lack of basic infrastructure and medical resources, mean that women are at high risk of death during childbirth. According to the Borgen Project, approximately 73% of births in Sierra Leone occur in rural areas, where the lack of access to medical care often dictates that women give birth at home rather than in healthcare facilities.[1] Today, a skilled birth attendant accompanies only 62.5% of deliveries in Sierra Leone, while only 50% take place in a medical facility.[2] Alongside this, the greatest burden of disease falls on rural populations in Sierra Leone, and particularly on rural women, many of whom work in subsistence agriculture producing rice, cassava, sweet potato and palm oil.


Health 1Health 2

Impact on business

At present, 71% of women in Sierra Leone are engaged in agricultural production. While the government continues to reduce annual expenditure on food imports as part of its Agenda for Prosperity, the health of women in Sierra Leone will be central to ensuring national food needs can be sustained by domestic production. As the government is encouraging value-added activities, such as turning commodities into products, large-scale formal agriculture looks set to be a key source of employment for women and girls in Sierra Leone in the medium to long term.[3] The visualisation below shows how the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates also have the highest proportion of women engaged in agricultural production.  With agriculture both the largest employer of women in Sierra Leone and a key target for economic growth, agri-businesses that invest in the health and wellbeing of their female staff in the region will benefit from  positive financial and social returns.

Business solutions

Lack of accurate healthcare data and incomplete hospital and clinic records means that information on why women are dying early is scarce, limiting progress in lowering high maternal and under-five mortality rates.[4] Therefore, businesses that want to improve outcomes for women and infants in Sierra Leone can support initiatives such as the MamaYe! Campaign, which uses evidence-based advocacy to hold politicians and health service providers accountable for the lives of women and children. Likewise, employers that offer their female staff information and access to contraception, pre-and post-natal care and adequate maternity benefits will actively contribute to reducing maternal mortality in Sierra Leone. 

Child mortality in Angola

The stats

Sub-Saharan Africa has the worst outcomes for under-five mortality, with levels for boys disproportionately higher than those for girls. The highest levels for both male and female under-five mortality are found across the same five countries within Sub-Saharan Africa. These are Angola, Chad, Somalia, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone. Angola is the worst performing country, with 148 female deaths and 164 male deaths per 1,000 live births.

Despite being Africa’s second largest oil producer, Angola suffers from low levels of human development due to regional economic imbalances, pervasive corruption and damage to infrastructure during the country’s 27-year civil war. Widespread malnutrition, malaria and a lack of medical supplies are leading causes of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world, making Angola the deadliest place in the world to be a child. High levels of adolescent childbearing also increase both child and maternal mortality rates. The United Nations Population Fund states that 16% of all adolescent girls in Angola aged between 15 and 19 give birth each year; and many lack access to maternal healthcare services.[5] With 57% of the population outside cities, the burden of disease falls mainly on rural women and children, who are at high risk during pregnancy and childbirth and in the early years of life.[6]

Agriculture and agri-businesses represent key potential growth areas for economic diversification, and therefore the health of rural women and children will be vital in ensuring the development and sustainability of this sector. As the producers of 80% of all food consumed in Sub-Saharan Africa, women’s contribution to the agricultural labour force is indispensable.[7]

Child 1Child 2

Impact on business

Angola is classified as an upper middle-income economy by the World Bank and spends a total of US$355 per capita annually on health.[8] By contrast, its oil-dependent counterparts such as Colombia and Kazakhstan spend US$533 and US$580 per capita on health.[9] While there is no defined WHO recommendation for government health expenditure, it is clear that investment in health in Angola is lacking. Similarly, in 2013, the country spent the equivalent of 4.4% of GDP on the military, while health expenditure as a percentage of GDP for the same period was 3.1%, dropping to 2.1% in 2014.[10] Corruption and cronyism are largely responsible for driving public funds away from essential services such as health. Therefore, tackling child mortality in Angola begins with improving governance, transparency and accountability to ensure that public funds are invested where they are needed most.

Business solutions

Businesses operating in Angola, particularly those with interests in the country’s leading industries – oil, gas and diamond mining – can improve outcomes for children and communities by working with organisations such as the Ethics Centre of Angola. The centre encourages public and private sector institutions to incorporate ethics management into their organisations and partnerships to build an ethically responsible business environment that generates positive outcomes for society. Companies that operate ethically see returns in the retention of good employees, improved consumer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as a reduction in the risks of litigation. 


[1] The Borgen Project, 2015, ‘Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone,’ Available at: http://borgenproject.org/maternal-mortality-in-sierra-leone/

[2] UNICEF, 2013,  ‘Sierra Leone Statistics,’ Available at: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sierraleone_statistics.html

[3] Government of Sierra Leone, 2013, ‘ The Agenda for Prosperity: Road to Middle Income Status,’ Available at:  http://www.undp.org/content/dam/sierraleone/docs/projectdocuments/povreduction/undp_sle_The%20Agenda%20for%20Prosperity%20.pdf

[4] Amnesty International, 2009, ‘Out of Reach, The Cost of Maternal Health in Sierra Leone,’ Available at: https://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/outofreach.pdf

[5] United Nations Population Fund, 2012, ‘Status Report: Adolescents and Young People in Sub-Saharan Africa,’ Available at: http://www.prb.org/pdf12/status-report-youth-subsaharan-Africa.pdf

[6] World Health Organisation, 2015, ‘WHO Statistical Profile: Angola,’ Available at: http://www.who.int/gho/countries/ago.pdf

[7] Global Fund For Women,

[8] World Health Organisation, 2015, ‘WHO Statistical Profile: Angola,’ Available at: http://www.who.int/gho/countries/ago.pdf

[9] World Health Organisation, 2013, ‘Health Financing,’ Available at: http://gamapserver.who.int/gho/interactive_charts/health_financing/atlas.html?indicator=i3

[10] The World Bank, 2016, ‘Health expenditure, public (% of GDP), Available at: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.PUBL.ZS

Education is a key driver of economic and social development. Despite the narrowing gender gap in education in recent years, girls and young women continue to face disadvantages in access to education, especially at secondary and tertiary level. Reasons for this vary but include restricting cultural norms, poverty, conflict, pregnancy and child marriage. Understanding the education indicators of a country helps businesses to make meaningful decisions regarding labour force investment and the promotion of female employment.  

The burden of unpaid work on tertiary educated women 

The Stats

Women have traditionally taken responsibility for unpaid work, including looking after children or parents, cooking and cleaning. Even where women are highly educated, they still carry out a disproportionate amount of unpaid work in the home. This can lead to many choosing not to seek employment, thereby reducing the labour pool of highly educated women.    

The amount of unpaid work that women do on a daily basis has remained largely the same over the last 20 years, despite an increase in the number of women who work, and advancements in technology, particularly in developed countries. According to the UN’s World’s Women 2015 report, women in developing regions still spend an average of 4.34 hours daily on unpaid work, and women in developed regions 4.20 hours a day. The average time spent daily by men on unpaid work in developing and developed region is 1.18 hours and 2.16 hours respectively.[1] These figures demonstrate that regardless of a country’s economy and wealth, women continue to carry the burden of family care.

What happens when highly educated women are left with the burden of working a paid job coupled with a disproportionate amount of unpaid work? Japan presents a notable case in that it has both the second highest percentage of tertiary educated women in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), [2] as well as the highest percentage (32%) of those not working.[3] For Japanese tertiary educated men, this figure is at 5%. Equally, the employment rate for university-educated women in Japan is 69%, below the OECD average of 80%.[4]

Education 1Education 2

Business impact

Workplace culture, including long working hours and inherent gender discrimination, such as unequal pay, is a major contributing factor in the choice that many highly educated Japanese women make either to stay at home or to drop out of the labour force. The gender pay gap is among the highest in OECD countries, currently standing at 26.59%.[5] In order to boost economic growth, the prime minister has instituted policies to increase the number of educated women who work. A female empowerment law, passed in 2015, requires large companies to set targets for hiring and promoting women to managerial roles.[6] The provision of more childcare resources is another key policy priority that Japan has tried to address.

Business solutions

Businesses want to attract a diverse, skilled and talented workforce. Women make up half of the eligible labour pool but are underrepresented because they do more unpaid work than men. In order to tap into the educated female labour pool, businesses need to create flexible work environments for workers with families and other domestic commitments.

Business can also help to redistribute the burden of unpaid work through internal policies such as paid paternity leave and flexible working hours for men and women. This will help to offset the cultural and social norms by encouraging men to spend more time helping with unpaid work and with children. Businesses that take action to reduce the burden of unpaid work on women will benefit from higher levels of productivity during working hours, as well as a larger pool of skilled and talented women in the workforce. For example, BT has found a productivity increase of 54%, as well as a 99% retention rate following maternity leave, since introducing their flexible working policy.



[1] UN Stats, 2015, ‘The Worlds Women 2015,’Available at: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/chapter4/chapter4.html

[2] with level 4 or 5 in literacy proficiency

[3] OECD,  2014, ‘Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators,’ Available at: https://www.oecd.org/edu/Japan-EAG2014-Country-Note.pdfh

[4] World Economic Forum, 2014, ‘Japan: Gender Gap Index 2014,’ Available at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2014/economies/#economy=JPN

[5] OECD, 2014, ‘Gender wage gap,’ Available at: https://www.oecd.org/gender/data/genderwagegap.htm   

[6] Fortune, 2015, ‘This new law in Japan is a big step forward for women managers,’ Available at: http://fortune.com/2015/08/28/japan-women-workforce/


The legal status of women directly impacts the roles they can play at home, in the workplace and in the wider society. Discrimination against women is institutionalised in many countries through laws that limit women’s rights to work, access property, divorce, travel freely or to open a bank account. Countries in which women and girls have unequal access to finance or property and other assets limit their ability to achieve full empowerment. By understanding the legal position of women in the countries in which they operate, businesses will be better placed to adopt policies that contribute to women’s empowerment at work and in society. This in turn will lead to greater returns for both businesses and the local communities.

Child marriage in Niger: Opportunity costs for business

The stats

Out of the top 20 nations with the highest rates of child marriage, 16 are in Africa. Niger has the highest rate of child marriage globally with girls getting married younger than anywhere else in the world. In Niger approximately 75% – or three out of every four girls – marry before they are 18 years old. The legal age of marriage in Niger is 15 years, but roughly 25% of girls are already married by then. In 2015, the fertility rate (births per woman) in Niger was estimated to be 7.56. This is ranked as the highest rate in the world.

The drivers of child marriage include poverty, insecurity, gender discrimination, social and religious norms and lack of access to health services and education. Poverty is one of the root causes of child marriage in Niger, and the price fetched for a young bride can transform the life of a family.  The link between the lack of education and the prevalence of child marriage in Niger is also clear, as 81% of women aged 20-24 years with no education were married at the age of 18, compared with only 17% of women who have completed secondary education.[i] Girls who marry young are often denied a number of human rights and they experience harmful effects on their health, education and general wellbeing.

Legal Status 1Legal Status 2

Impact on business

The economic impacts of child marriage are significant at both the individual and national level. Many girls are unable to contribute to their communities and local economies due to a lack of skills and knowledge necessary to be competitive candidates for employment. This in turn translates into fewer small businesses and employment opportunities – the ramifications of which can resonate throughout an entire economy. According to research carried out by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the World Bank, eliminating child marriage in Niger and increasing educational opportunities would save the country approximately US$25 billion between 2014 and 2030.[ii] There is a clear opportunity cost facing companies operating in countries where child marriage is high if girls cannot realise their full potential as wage earners and consumers.

Business solutions

In September 2015, African leaders and other governments adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which includes a goal to eliminate all harmful practices, including child, early and forced marriage, in the next 15 years.[iii] However, ending child marriage requires collaboration across all levels and sectors. Companies now have a massive opportunity to make public commitments to fight child marriage alongside international donors, UN agencies and civil society groups. Through different community-based initiatives, businesses can help girls to go to school, build skills and knowledge, and advocate for change by mobilising families and communities. For example, in 2013, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched the programme ‘Action for Adolescent Girls’ in Niger. The programme is a multi-country initiative that aims to address both the causes and consequences of child marriage. The programme holds weekly meetings with adolescent girls, which include literacy training and health check-ups. The number of girls included in the programme is expected to increase from 1,600 in 2013 to 64,000 in 2017.


[i] Girls not Brides, 2016, Niger, Available at: http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/niger/

[ii] International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), World Bank, 2015, ‘Economic impacts of child marriage: preliminary findings from analysis of existing data,’ Available at: http://www.costsofchildmarriage.org/

[iii] United Nations, 2016, ‘Sustainable Development Goals,’ Available at: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

Research consistently demonstrates that societies in which women and girls are economically empowered are more productive than societies where women and girls are not. Yet, across the world, women have lower labour market participation rates than men. Understanding employment indicators for girls and women helps businesses to develop policies that improve outcomes for their companies and societies as whole. Encouraging women’s participation in the labour force not only diversifies a company’s talent pool, but also increases financial performance and contributes to substantial positive multiplier effects within communities.  

Women’s legal status and the impact on economic participation

The stats

Women face more legal barriers than men in joining the workforce or starting their own businesses. According to the World Bank report, ‘Women, Business and the Law 2016’, more than 100 countries have laws that decrease women’s employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.[i]

These discriminating laws range from being banned from certain jobs, not having the same retirement age as men, facing restrictions in opening bank accounts or accessing finance, not having equal property ownership rights as male relatives, to being restricted from working night hours. In many countries, women also need to obtain permission from husbands or male guardians in order to work, get a passport or open a bank account.

Women face disadvantages compared to men with regard to property and inheritance laws. Globally, property is the most common loan guarantor. Women’s unequal access to property reduces their ability to access the finance necessary to start a business or to invest in their studies, leaving them dependent on their families to invest in their businesses and education. However, where society does not expect women to contribute financially, families are less inclined to invest in girls.

Charts 1charts2

In 20% of countries[ii], mostly the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), widows do not have equal inheritance rights to widowers. This puts widows in an extremely vulnerable position of dependency on their sons. Likewise, women in the MENA region have unequal child custody rights, which means that divorced women may be cut off from their ex-husband’s financial support as well their children’s future support for their old age. In 10% of countries[iii], mainly in Africa, married women do not have the same property rights as their husbands. Where they do, often only husbands have administration rights, reducing women’s capacity to manage their own assets.  

In 15% of countries[iv], predominately in the MENA region, girls do not have the same inheritance rights as their male siblings. In these countries, women are also less likely to own land and property or to manage or invest in a business. When women do not have equal inheritance rights, they are less likely to borrow starting capital for a business from financial institutions, because they cannot provide a house or land as collateral for a loan.

The World Bank’s 2012 Gender Equality and Development Report states that “the most promising policies to increase women’s voice in households centre on reforming the legal framework so that women are not disadvantaged in controlling household assets (...); land laws and aspects of family law that govern marriage, divorce, and disposal of property are particularly important.”[v] In the last two years alone, 65 countries have passed 94 legal reforms to improve the situation of women and girls, mostly in the developing world. These reforms concern women’s ability to get a job, women’s protection from violence, and the facilitation of women’s access to institutions, credit and the courts. However, very few reforms focused on increasing women’s access to property. South Asia as a region had the lowest number of reforms, followed by the MENA region, where women face the highest number of legal disadvantages compared to men globally.

Employment 1Employment 2

Business impact

The above map compares indicators for women’s participation in the labour force with girls’ inheritance rights. The map shows how female labour force participation rates in the Middle East and North Africa are among the lowest in the world, corresponding with unequal property rights. The positive correlation between the percentage of women participating in the labour force and women’s equal inheritance rights demonstrates that where women have equal access to assets, they are more likely to contribute economically.

According to Booz and Company’s 2012 ‘Women and the World of Work Report,’ equal participation of women in the labour force would raise GDP in the United Arab Emirates by 12% and in Egypt by 35%.[vi] This is true for the majority of emerging economies, as the ILO also estimates that 93% of the 865 million women worldwide who could contribute more fully to their national economies live in emerging economies. This demonstrates the enormous untapped potential in these countries for businesses willing to invest in women.[vii] Various studies have shown that companies further benefit from female board members and senior female staff members, as they tend to have fewer corruption scandals and a higher growth rate.[viii]

Where governments remove legal boundaries that impede young women from accessing work, and where companies contribute to this trend by employing women in formal workforce arrangements, a more diverse workforce can be created. In the case of the Middle East, employers in Iran and the Gulf states would also have access to a highly educated female labour force. Tackling female workforce participation will contribute to diversifying these oil-dependent economies and, as a result, not only help economic growth, but also contribute to stability. 

Business solutions

Business can use its influence by hiring more women, paying them the same wages as men for work of equal value, promoting them to leadership positions, and creating working conditions that are culturally sensitive. As the Bangladesh example in the table below shows, 50% of young women (aged 15-24) now participate in the labour force, mostly in the garment industry, despite their unequal legal status. By contrast, female labour force participation is lower in countries such as Egypt and Jordan, due in part to the fact that the law requires women to obey their husbands, who might prefer their wives not to work because of cultural norms. Finally, comparing these indicators with those for the Netherlands, we see a positive correlation between a female labour force participation of 71.7% and equal property rights.

By including women in the workforce, businesses can demonstrate to governments that women’s economic participation benefits the economy and future generations. Research shows that women are more likely than men to invest earnings in the wellbeing and education of their children. The employment of women also increases the tax base for governments, while also attracting more foreign investment with a larger pool of skilled workers.



[i] World Bank Group, 2016, Women, business and the law 2016, getting to equal, key findings, available at: http://wbl.worldbank.org/~/media/WBG/WBL/Documents/Reports/2016/WBL2016-Key-Findings.pdf

[ii] For which data was available, in this case 170 countries

[iii] For which data was available, in this case 159 countries

[iv] For which data was available, in this case 154

[v] World Bank, 2012, Gender Equality and Development Report, available at: http://bit.ly/1pEs9ts   

[vi] Aguirre, DeAnne, Leila Hoteit, Christine Rupp, and Karim Sabbagh, 2012, “Empowering the Third Billion. Women and the World of Work in 2012,” Booz and Company, available at: http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/media/file/Strategyand_Empowering-the-Third-Billion_Full-Report.pdf

[vii] Aguirre, DeAnne, Leila Hoteit, Christine Rupp, and Karim Sabbagh, 2012, “Empowering the Third Billion. Women and the World of Work in 2012,” Booz and Company, available at: http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/media/file/Strategyand_Empowering-the-Third-Billion_Full-Report.pdf

[viii] Financial Times, March 2015, Boards without women breed scandal, available at: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cdb790f8-c33d-11e4-ac3d-00144feab7de.html

 


 


Data shows that levels of both voluntary and involuntary migration are increasing, with many girls and young women moving to escape hardships such as conflict, child marriage and poverty. Although migration presents many opportunities, it also brings new challenges, including vulnerability to exploitation, language barriers and lack of social support. Understanding the situation of migrant girls will help businesses to capitalise on skill sets and minimise the likelihood of association with forced labour and human trafficking. 

Investing in refugee women and girls to mitigate risks of exploitation

The stats

According to the United Nations Population Fund, there were 244 million migrants globally in 2015. Today, more than half of migrant and refugee women and girls are living in cities as opposed to camps, with refugee women and children now outnumbering men arriving in Europe.[1]  As a result, women and girls are more at risk of losing their lives in the Mediterranean Sea, or being exploited on journeys across land.[2]

Population displacement is affecting the integrity of European supply chains. In the vacuum caused by delays in registration of arrivals and denial of work permits to those with refugee status, businesses are experiencing significant increases in the number of people attempting to work informally. Without the legal protections of the formal economy, refugee women and girls in Europe are at increased risk of forced labour, child labour and sexual abuse.

Migration 1Migration 2

Impact on business

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by sexual and labour exploitation, particularly in Turkey, which is home to the largest number of refugees and a major supplier to the European textile market.  The manufacturing industry is largely unregulated, with an estimated 47% of women working in textiles, leather and wood production employed informally. Agriculture in Turkey accounts for 20% of paid female labour, with 97% informality even before the refugee crisis began.[3] As well as being vulnerable to conditions of forced labour, refugee women and girls in Turkey are at high risk of sexual exploitation both in and outside the workplace. NGOs have reported Syrian women and girls being harassed and pressured into having sex by workplace supervisors.  Likewise, many adolescent Syrian girls are forced by their families and circumstances to marry older Turkish men for money. This is more common in families where there is no father or old brother to provide financial support.[4]

Business solutions

OECD and EU indicators reveal that labour market outcomes for female refugees lag behind other groups, particularly in the short to medium term. This is due to a variety of factors including the influence of traditional gender roles in home countries, lower levels of education and skills than male counterparts, and lack of family support and other resources for childcare.[5] However, with populations ageing in Europe and the demand for low-skilled labour increasing, particularly in the caring and services sector, refugee women and girls represent a potential future workforce. Forward-thinking businesses can invest in programmes to educate and train refugee women and girls in Europe to integrate them into the workforce. To date, over 36 German companies have launched initiatives to promote the integration of refugees into society and the labour market.

By becoming involved in the process of integration and training refugee populations, businesses not only have the opportunity to shape policy, but help protect their supply chains by establishing guidance and training programmes to mitigate the risks of exploitation.  The Women’s Refugee Commission advocates specific investment in skills-building for adolescent girls to improve future labour market participation and reduce their risks of gender-based violence.[6]  Responsible businesses can do this by providing mentorship programmes and internships to girls who may not be old enough for full time work.  


[1] UNFPA, 2016, 10 things you should know about women and the world’s humanitarian crises, Available at: http://www.unfpa.org/news/10-things-you-should-know-about-women-world%E2%80%99s-humanitarian-crises

[2] Council of Europe, 2016, ‘Human rights of refugee and migrant women and girls need to be better protected, Available at: http://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/human-rights-of-refugee-and-migrant-women-and-girls-need-to-be-better-protected

[3] The World Bank, 2015,  ‘The Impact of Syrian Refugees on the Turkish Labour Market,’ Available at: http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2016/02/09/090224b08415e3b5/3_0/Rendered/PDF/The0impact0of00Turkish0labor0market.pdf

[4] Al-Monitor, 2014, ‘Syrian women refugees humiliated, exploited in Turkey,’ Available at: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/en/originals/2014/03/syria-refugees-women-exploitation-harassment.html

[5] European Parliament, 2016, ‘Labour Market Integration of Refugees: Strategies and Good Practices,’ Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/578956/IPOL_STU(2016)578956_EN.pdf

[6] Women’s Refugee Commission,2015, ‘Strong Girls, Powerful Women,’ Available at: https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/resources/document/1036-strong-girls-powerful-women-report

Conflict disproportionately affects women and young girls due to increased rates of sexual and physical violence during conflict, and the changing of social roles due to community disruption. Understanding how women and girls are negatively impacted by conflict and security arrangements is crucial to responsible business operations in emergency contexts. Businesses sourcing from or operating in countries affected by conflict may be exposed to weak or absent rule of law. Therefore, they may choose to invest in the protection of women and girls in emergency situations, while developing internal strategies to keep women and girls safe at work. 

Women, girls and sexual violence: what is the responsibility of business?

The stats

Sexual violence is often under-reported by victims, as well as by state authorities. Under-reporting is especially likely in countries where local culture leads families and communities to shun victims; or, where state institutions are dysfunctional due to conflict. Consequently, in some countries, low rates of reported sexual violence may simply indicate that victims are not free or encouraged to report. In contrast, a higher reported rate may reveal a functional and tolerant reporting environment. The following trends, which are identified in the quantitative data provided, may therefore be impacted by the freedom of the reporting environment. 

According to the latest data collected by UN Women for selected reporting countries, over one-third of women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime in Equatorial Guinea, Costa Rica, Mexico and Fiji.

The same survey indicates a higher trend of sexual violence across African countries. Approximately 45% of the reporting countries in Africa – including, for example, Kenya and Tanzania – record that over 20% of women experience sexual violence at least once in their lives.

Rates of sexual violence are considerably lower in the Asian economies included in the survey: India reports that only 8.5% of women have experienced sexual violence; in Vietnam the proportion is 10% and in the Philippines 6%.

Although rates all fall below 20% in the European Union, there is considerable variation. The bigger northern economies tend to record higher rates of sexual violence: at 19%, Denmark reports the highest percentage of women who are victims of sexual violence; in the UK, the rate is 14%. Rates fall below 10% in more than half of all the EU countries listed, such as Ireland, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Greece. The lowest rates of sexual violence – under 5% – are found in Portugal, Poland, Croatia and Cyprus.

The large advanced economies of the US and Australia, similarly to those in Europe, also record significant levels of sexual violence. In both countries, 19% of women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

Conflict 1Conflict 2

Impact on business

High levels of sexual violence in society have a direct negative impact on the workforce.

Experiencing sexual violence during adolescence may disrupt girls’ attendance at school and negatively affect their expected level of educational achievement. In the long term, this means that more girls are likely to be excluded from the pool of qualified workers available to an industry, and more girls will be restricted to lower skilled and lower paid work.

Women who are subject to sexual violence as adults are more likely to miss work, or to quit or lose their jobs as a result of the trauma suffered.[i] Not only does this mean that workforce continuity or productivity will be disrupted, but in cases where women perform important roles or highly skilled tasks, the business is at risk of losing valued employees.

The threat of sexual violence may also have wider ripple effects on the workforce – especially where businesses are reliant on lower skilled women, but fail to provide a safe environment.

The following three case studies illustrate different ways in which sexual violence impacts workers and business in the US, Cambodia and Turkey.

United States: Analysis of the impact of sexual violence on the US economy by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates the degree to which it can impose substantial costs on female workers, the businesses where they work and the economy as a whole. Using data from the 2003 US National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS), the CDC estimated that 5.3 million cases of intimate partner violence (involving a spouse, ex-spouse or boyfriend) resulted in the loss of 8 million days of paid work (equivalent to 32,114 full-time jobs each year) and the loss of nearly 5.6 million days of household chores. In total, they estimated indirect costs associated with lost productivity, both in and outside the home, at US$1.8 billion.[ii]

Cambodia: High levels of sexual violence in Cambodia negatively impact productivity and industrial relations in garment businesses that rely on a majority female workforce. For example, according to a 2015 survey by the NGO ActionAid Cambodia, women working in garment factories in Phnom Penh regularly suffer sexual harassment and rape on their commute to and from work, as well as in the workplace from male supervisors.[iii] In an earlier 2006 ILO study, 9.3% of female garment workers surveyed said they or a close friend had been raped the previous year.[iv] This study reported that sexual violence disrupted workforce continuity and undermined social dialogue – women who had been harassed by a manager in the previous year were more likely to have joined strike action, or to have quit their jobs.

Turkey: Some women, including refugees, cannot leave a workplace where they are subjected to sexual violence, due to their precarious economic situation and uncertain legal status. For example, Syrian women refugees working in Turkish factories report being harassed by male employers or supervisors.[v] These refugees may already have been subject to sexual violence in the conflict in Syria, or on the journey to Turkey. In such cases, there is a high risk that women will continue to suffer sexual violence while working in factories supplying multinational brands.

Business solutions

Businesses have a responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for women in the workplace. By conducting proper due diligence of their sites to understand the types of risks that women may encounter, businesses can take the necessary actions to protect their female employees.

Training is a key tool by which safety can be strengthened in the workplace. For example, the HERproject led by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) helps to reduce the risk of sexual violence by training factory workers, line supervisors, clinic nurses and human resources staff in all aspects of feminine health, including harassment and abuse. The HERproject derives its success from the empowerment of women by sharing knowledge and transforming them into health ambassadors.

Sexual violence in society also has a direct impact on workers, and there is a strong imperative for businesses to invest in programmes that are designed to improve the safety of women outside the workplace.

Examples of societal initiatives include, for example, the programme led by Sulabh International to build covered toilets for women living in rural villages in India, so that they do not have to risk their safety by going in darkness to the fields in the evening. [vi] The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also funded an initiative to reinvent the toilet to bring sustainable sanitation to rural communities.[vii] In big cities, campaigns like Safe Cities for Women have taken up the challenge of keeping women factory workers safe by raising awareness and encouraging schemes to improve street lighting and factory transport.[viii]


[i] Re:gender, no date, ‘Gender Stat: Sexual Violence, Work and Financial Precarity,’ Available at http://regender.org/GenderStat/SexualViolenceWorkFinancialPrecarity

[ii] National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control, 2003, Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States, Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipvbook-a.pdf 

[iii] Cambodia Daily, March 2015, ‘In Phnom Penh women still don’t feel safe on the streets,’ Available at: https://www.cambodiadaily.com/opinion/in-phnom-penh-women-still-dont-feel-safe-on-the-streets-79250/

[iv] ILO, 2006, ‘Cambodia women and work in the garment industry,’ Available at: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:0kVsqf_P0NEJ:etiskhandel.no/noop/file.php%3Fid%3D1545%26d%3Dfnjoowoj+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

[v] ALMonitor, March 2014, ‘Syrian women refugees humiliated, exploited in Turkey,’ Available at: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/en/originals/2014/03/syria-refugees-women-exploitation-harassment.html