Created in partnership with the Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights
Industry-specific Risk Factors
Gender discrimination and violations of women’s rights occur in virtually every sector. In some sectors, the job functions that women work in also make them more vulnerable. The following sectors are chosen as examples to illustrate gender discrimination issues prevalent in many other sectors. To identify potential gender discrimination risks for other industries, companies can access the CSR Risk Check.
Agriculture and Fishing
Although in some countries, women make up most of the agricultural labour force, they continue to face specific disadvantages due to entrenched practices of gender discrimination. Agriculture-specific risk factors include the following:
- According to the UN, women make up an estimated 43% of the agricultural labour force but on average own less than 20% of land globally. For example, in India, despite women constituting 65% of the total agricultural workforce, the majority do not enjoy official legal recognition as farmers and therefore face significant barriers to equal access to resources. The lack of equal rights faced by women farmers is a significant barrier to women accessing credit or subsidies, and can preclude them from engaging in negotiations to receive fair compensation for the use or purchase of their land. Compensation payments are typically paid to the male head of household, thereby subjecting women to increased food insecurity and economic dependence on men.
- Women tend to be mostly involved in subsistence production within agriculture, whereas men are mostly involved in commercial crops. This is a significant driver in the gender pay gap faced by women in the sector.
- Women, particularly female migrant workers, are at risk of exploitation, sexual harassment and violence in the agriculture sector. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions for these workers due to decreased checks and enforcement. Media reports have highlighted that women migrant workers, particularly undocumented migrant workers, in the sector are considered to be most at risk of situations of isolation, segregation and dependency on an employer. Labour exploitation is also often accompanied by employers’ sexual blackmail towards female migrant workers.
- The gender gap in education is particularly acute in rural areas, where most agriculture takes place, with female household heads having less than half the years of education of their male counterparts. Lower literacy rates contribute to the marginalization of women in bargaining power during land acquisition. The lack of educational opportunities and the rural poverty cycle drives child labour in agriculture. Both boys and girls work in fields and are often isolated for long hours, facing the risk of violence and abuse. Additionally, country-specific evidence shows that frequently girls work more hours than boys, and a higher percentage of girl child labourers are unpaid or are paid less.
- FAO-IFAD-ILO, Gender Dimensions of Agricultural and Rural Employment: Differentiated Pathways out of Poverty: Status, Trends and Gaps: This resource explores key drivers behind gender inequality in agricultural employment.
- FAO, Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development: This report looks at the business case for investing in women in agriculture.
- FAO, Regulating Labour and Safety Standards in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Sectors: This resource provides information on international labour standards that apply in agriculture, including those on discrimination (against women and other vulnerable groups) in employment and occupation.
- UN Women, Women’s Economic Empowerment in Fisheries in the Blue Economy of the Indian Ocean Rim: A Baseline Report: This report, developed in collaboration with the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), examines the roles of women in fisheries and aquaculture in the Indian Ocean Rim region and the challenges and opportunities for their economic empowerment.
- UN Women, Sexual Harassment in the Informal Economy: Farmworkers and Domestic Workers: This discussion paper identifies sector-specific challenges to ending sexual harassment in farm work and includes examples of how women’s and workers organizations have tackled this problem.
- World Bank-FAO-IFAD, Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook: Companies may use this resource as a guide in addressing gender issues and integrating gender-responsive actions in the design and implementation of agricultural projects.
- World Resources Institute, Making Women’s Voices Count In Community Decision-Making On Land Investments: This working paper presents findings from a project to promote gender-equitable community decision-making on land investments in Mozambique, Tanzania and the Philippines, three countries that are among the most targeted for land investments in the global South. Specific reforms are recommended for each country and outreach and advocacy strategies are discussed.
The extractives sector remains a male-dominated industry, with gender disparities evident at every level; for example, women account for just 15% of leadership roles in the mining sector. In extractive communities, women disproportionately suffer from the environmental and social impacts of the industry. Risk factors specific to the extractives sector are as follows:
- Women are under-represented in leadership positions and in the mining workforce. In industrial mining, women typically earn on average 40% less, and women in artisanal and small-scale mining operations are often pigeonholed into lower-paid and less valued roles.
- According to the World Bank’s survey of women working in, around, or with the mining sector, the primary challenge is limited inclusion of women in decision-making. In highly patriarchal societies, women are represented at even lower rates in decision-making discussions and are rarely consulted or informed about decisions, with the assumption that women are represented by their male family members and community leaders. Women also struggle to share their feedback through grievance mechanisms both due to fears of stigmatization and retaliation, and because they would be expected to issue grievances through male representatives speaking on their behalf.
- Land acquisition and resettlement/displacement resulting from extractive operations have greater impacts on women due to cultural and legal barriers that inhibit women from formally owning or inheriting land. In some cases, these obstacles preclude women from engaging in bargaining negotiations or receiving appropriate compensation when displaced. With the loss of land, women may be unable to meet the subsistence needs of their families and thus become more economically dependent on men.
- Rates of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are typically higher in mining communities. The Danish Institute for Human Rights reports that in communities facing influxes of transient and typically male workers with disposable income, the subsequent changes in social dynamics often result in an uptick of substance abuse, sexual harassment, domestic violence, sexual violence and STIs. The Institute also notes that indigenous women are more vulnerable to SGBV than non-indigenous women.
- Women in mining may find that their safety is compromised because the mining gear and equipment is designed to accommodate men. These oversights endanger women in the workplace; according to the Responsible Mining Foundation, women’s work is riskier and more difficult when forced to make do with ill-fitting safety equipment and protective gear.
- ILO, Women in Mining: Towards Gender Equality: This brief offers guidance on how to revise and update outdated legislation, and to formulate and implement an integrated and coherent package of policies and measures to advance gender equality and decent work in mining.
- International Finance Corporation, Unlocking Opportunities for Women and Business: This dynamic toolkit provides guidance for business units to address gaps in their gender approach within the workforce and community.
- The World Bank, Extracting Lessons on Gender in the Oil and Gas Sector: A Survey and Analysis of the Gendered Impacts of Onshore Oil and Gas Production in Three Developing Countries: This paper explores the existing gender inequalities in the industry, the ways that the industry perpetuates these inequalities, and recommendations for reducing these gaps.
- The World Bank, Impactful Women: Examining Opportunities and Constraints for Women in Mining Organizations Worldwide: This report presents findings from a research project on Women in Mining (WIM) organizations and suggests that the most critical challenges facing women in the mining sector include the lack of women’s participation in decision-making, women’s limited access to leadership positions and inadequate workplace safety, including gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
- The Danish Institute for Human Rights, Towards Gender-Responsive Implementation of Extractive Industries Projects: This report outlines key challenges facing women in the extractives industry, and provides best practices and resources to address these issues and implement gender-responsive approaches.
- The Advocates for Human Rights, Promoting Gender Diversity and Inclusion in the Oil, Gas and Mining Extractive Industries: This report examines women’s participation in the extractives workforce and the impact of extractives on women in local communities. It identifies underlying causes of these issues and provides recommendations to address them.
- University of Queensland and Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, Mining and Local-Level Development Examining the Gender Dimensions of Agreements Between Companies and Communities: This report explores the challenges and opportunities associated with negotiating and implementing agreements between companies and communities by considering issues relating to gender and local-level development, with a focus on Australian mining companies.
The apparel manufacturing industry is among the largest employers of female workers, particularly in lower-income countries, where women account for approximately 80% of the garment sector workforce. Risk factors specific to the apparel manufacturing sector are as follows:
- The apparel manufacturing sector is heavily reliant on women who are employed informally, who lack social protections and face the risk of more exploitative working conditions as a result. Informal workers who are without formal contracts are at a higher risk of unstable work, exclusion from trade union membership and increased risk of violence and harassment. Estimates of informality in the garment value chain range from 50% to 80%, with the overwhelming majority being female employees. Home-based workers, typically female, may also be subject to unpaid or underpaid work.
- The ILO reports that sexual harassment is a relatively common occurrence in garment factories. Most workers in garment factories are females under the age of 30, many of whom migrate from rural areas or from abroad for a first formal sector job. Supervisors, who are typically male, can use their position to sexually harass workers in their team. “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment was commonly reported in Cambodia, for example, where a job benefit is offered in exchange for sexual favours or a sexual relationship.
- Women are also subject to sexual harassment or violence commuting to and from their jobs. A 2019 report by Fair Wear Foundation and Care International found that nearly half of 763 interviewed women working in Vietnam’s garment factories claimed to have experienced violence or harassment commuting to and from their jobs.
- The garment sector is characterized by long working hours, which places extra burden on women who serve as primary caregivers in their families and communities. In times where a quick turnaround is required for orders placed by clients, employees are under immense pressure to work longer hours. Often, these business pressures mean employees are subject to verbal and physical abuse to intimidate them to reach production targets.
- Female refugees and migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitative conditions and face few legal protections and little recourse for mistreatment. For example, Fair Wear Foundation’s guidance on Syrian refugees employed in Turkish garment factories found that although they are legally able to obtain a work permit, registration restrictions and complications in the application process result in illegal working arrangements. Such arrangements put undocumented female migrant workers at particular risk of being subjected to excessive workings hours and/or wages below the legal minimum wage. The highly vulnerable status of female migrant workers also puts them at a higher risk of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation at work.
- Although most workers in the apparel manufacturing industry are female, women remain vastly under-represented in senior-level management or leadership positions. A PwC report found that only 12.5% of apparel and retail companies in the Fortune 1000 are led by women. The report states that key factors impeding female leadership include a lack of CEO championship, institutional blind spots serving to maintain a traditionally male-dominated status quo and the lack of a structure within the industry supportive of women leaders.
- OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector: This guidance aims to help fashion and apparel businesses implement the due diligence recommendations contained in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in order to avoid and address the potential negative impacts of their activities and supply chains on a range of human rights, including gender discrimination.
- ILO-IFC, Gender Equality in the Global Garment Industry: This resource identifies challenges to gender equality in factories participating in the Better Work programme, set up by the ILO and IFC. Companies may use this resource in identifying where they can intervene to improve gender equality in their garment manufacturing supply chain.
- ILO-IFC, Sexual Harassment at Work: Insights from the Global Garment Industry: This brief addresses the underlying conditions that lead to sexual harassment. Companies may use this guidance for ideas on implementing programmes to combat sexual harassment in garment factories.
- BSR, Empowering Female Workers in the Apparel Industry: Three Areas for Business Action: This resource proposes three areas where apparel companies should invest to drive improvements in outcomes for women workers and promote women’s economic empowerment around the world.
- Fair Wear Foundation and ILO International Training Centre, Ending Gender-based Violence: The apparel industry-focused NGO provides specific case studies, modules, reports and guidance on ending gender-based discrimination.
- BetterWork, Gender Equality in the Global Garment Industry: BetterWork’s 2018 — 2022 Strategy aims to promote women’s economic empowerment through targeted initiatives in apparel factories, and by strengthening policies and practices at the national, regional and international levels.
- Business for Social Responsibility, HERproject: BSR’s HERproject provides briefs, toolkits and guidance on women workers in the apparel and garment manufacturing sectors.
Information, Communications and Technology (ICT)
Globally, women remain significantly under-represented in high-growth, high-impact STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) roles, making up only 22% of artificial intelligence (AI) professionals globally. Within the technology industry, women represent only 34.4% of the workforce in the five largest tech companies in the world. According to the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT), in 2020, only 25% of the computing workforce in the US were female. This number declined even further for African-American (3%), Asian (7%) and Hispanic (2%) women.
Risk factors specific to the tech sector are as follows:
- Sociocultural gender bias perpetuates the gender gap in the tech sector. On average, across OECD countries, only 0.5% of girls express a desire to become ICT professionals, compared to 5% of boys. This is reflected in the lower proportions of women graduating in ICTs, with only 25% female ICT graduates in 2015. Despite an industry-wide push, the proportion of women employed in the tech sector remains unchanged. Women entering the ICT sector, therefore, face a male-dominated workplace and barriers to their career development from the start.
- A predominantly male work environment in tech is one of the key drivers of gender discrimination. The lack of mentors, female role models, gender bias in the workplace, unequal pay for the same skills and unequal growth opportunities compared to men are among the most significant barriers experienced by women in tech. A 2020 ISACA report found that 22% of women surveyed felt underpaid relative to co-workers, as compared to 14% of men who were posed the same question.
- High-profile cases of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in tech companies underscore the widespread risks to women in the sector. Harassment runs throughout company ranks, with a 2020 survey by Women Who Tech finding that 44% of women founders have experienced harassment. The survey also found that women of colour were harassed more by investors, with 46% facing harassment as compared to 38% of white women.
- The gender gap in entrepreneurship is another key example of discrimination against women. Women-owned tech start-ups receive 23% less funding and are 30% less likely to be acquired or to issue an initial public offering compared to men-owned businesses. Inherent biases, such as perceptions among investors of women over a certain age wanting to begin a family life, drive discriminatory attitudes towards female tech founders.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has also severely impacted the career progression of women in the tech sector. A 2021 Kaspersky report stated that while some women appreciated the greater flexibility of work-from-home arrangements due to the pandemic, others were on the verge of burnout. Working remotely can be a challenge for women as they experience less access to top management than when working from offices, which may decrease their chances to be considered for stretch assignments that lead to promotions.
- This further compounds gender discrimination trends prior to pandemic. A 2021 TrustRadius report found that 78% of women felt they had to work harder than their male co-workers to prove their worth. The report also found that women of colour were even less confident than white women about their prospects for promotion, with 37% reporting racial bias as a barrier to promotion.
- OECD, Bridging the Digital Gender Divide: Include, Upskill, Innovate: This report provides policy directions for consideration by all Governments, including G20 economies’ Governments through identifying, discussing and analyzing a range of drivers at the root of the digital gender divide.
- UNESCO, Women and the Digital Revolution: This resource provides statistics on women in STEM sectors.
- TrustRadius, 2021 Women in Tech Report: This report looks at key trends arising out of the past year of women in tech, and the biggest challenges they face, particularly throughout the pandemic period.
- Kaspersky, Women in Tech Report: Where Are We Now? Understanding the Evolution of Women in Technology: This report explores how women perceive the tech industry, the opportunities available to them and the barriers still presenting challenges.
- PwC, Women in Tech: Time to Close the Gender Gap: This report includes a call to action that features four actions the tech sector can take to boost the number of women working in technology.
- Women Who Tech, The State of Women in Tech and Startups: Top Findings for 2020: This resource provides poll findings of 1,003 tech employees, founders and investors surveyed on their experiences in the tech sector.