1. About this page

This page is designed to help fund managers and companies to familiarise themselves with issues relating to gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH). It gives an overview of the risks and impact of GBVH, why these are important, and how to manage and respond to GBVH incidents.

Importantly, this guidance does not introduce new standards or requirements for fund managers or companies that have committed to the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards (in particular IFC PS2 and PS4) as expectations to reduce and manage GBVH risks are already referenced in the IFC Performance Standards. This guidance provides more specific direction on how to manage this aspect across the due diligence and portfolio management stages of an investment.

Our aim is to provide a practical approach to integrating a GBVH lens into investments and company operations, aligned with international standards. Fund managers and companies should have systems in place to identify and mitigate GBVH risks, and to properly respond to GVBH incidents when they happen. In addition, they should understand how risks, impacts and opportunities relating to a particular company, sector or country can change over time for a number of reasons (for example changes in the applicable laws and regulations, the company’s activities or assets, and other contextual factors).

This page is not intended to be a detailed or comprehensive technical guidance document. Further support can be found in the ‘Further resources’ section, which includes our detailed guidance: Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment: Emerging Good Practice for the Private Sector, which focuses on emerging markets.

2. Understanding GBVH

GBVH is an umbrella term and can take many forms – including physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm – and is characterised by being directed at a person because of their sex or gender, or by disproportionately affecting persons of a particular sex or gender.

While sexual and physical violence are the most known types of GBVH, all forms are damaging and require appropriate attention and response. Verbal harassment and bullying, such as shouting and swearing; emotional abuse, such as systematic humiliation, controlling behaviour, degrading treatment, insults, and threats; and financial abuse, such as restricting access to financial, health, educational, or other means of controlling or subjugating a person, are all forms of GBVH.

GBVH affects both men and women, but is most often perpetrated by men against women and girls. GBVH is rooted in gender inequality and unequal power, which can leave people, especially women and girls, vulnerable to violence and harassment and prevent them from reporting cases. More than one in three women have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence during their lifetime, and research suggests the cost of violence against women is 2 per cent of global GDP, equivalent to $1.5 trillion.

It is also fuelled by gender stereotypes, targeted at those who do not adhere to gender stereotypes, as a way of punishing them for deviating from what is viewed as normal or expected behaviour.

Importantly, there is growing evidence that COVID-19 is exacerbating GBVH risks – both at work and in supply chains (where the labour force may be more vulnerable to abusive labour practices) – and in domestic settings (as a result of lockdowns, and increased proximity during periods of intense stress). Investors should therefore be particularly mindful of this risk in circumstances where they believe COVID impacts may be evident (by context, sector or geography).

3. Why companies and fund managers should address this topic

GBVH is a widespread and serious global issue that affects individuals in the workplace, their communities, and home. Given the importance of the issue, a number of development finance institutions (DFIs) have taken actions to improve standards, best practices and guidance on preventing GBVH in their organisations and operations. It is now widely recognised that the private sector has an important role to play in addressing GBVH.

Companies and investors need to be alert to GBVH risks in situations where they have influence, especially where their investments or operations may contribute to these risks. GBVH can occur in a range of circumstances directly relevant to the private sector: it can happen among workers in a company and its supply chain; between workers and community members; within workers´ families and intimate relations; by local authorities against workers; community members and service users (e.g. customers accessing healthcare and education services); and among users of company services or infrastructure.

If not addressed properly, GBVH can pose a range of risks such as:

  • Litigation, compensation claims and reputational damage: GBVH can prompt workers, community members or service users to take legal action against companies and investors and make a claim for compensation. Unexpected costs through litigation, loss of confidence among investors and partners, damaged relationships with local communities and service users, are some of the risks that GBVH entails. Ultimately this can reduce access to markets and capital.
  • Decrease in productivity: The physical and mental health effects of GBVH on individuals can result in poor performance at work, increased absenteeism and staff turnover.
  • Reduced health and safety: Distracted workers are more likely to cause accidents, which can pose wider health and safety risks for other workers, as well as community members and service users.
  • Reduced access to talent and worker retention: GBVH – or the fear of it – can affect the decisions people make about where they work, when they work and with whom they work.

Conversely, companies and investors acting to prevent and respond to GBVH can improve the wellbeing of workers, community members and service users. Doing so can improve health and safety in the workplace, boost productivity and retain talent. In addition, they can protect and strengthen their reputation among communities, and reduce corporate exposure to litigation and compensation claims, not to mention financial and reputational damage.

4. Advice for fund managers, investors and companies

Fund managers, investors and companies should assess the risks of GBVH in their investments, operations, and supply chains proactively and take the necessary steps to tackle identified risks. For further information on how to assess risks investors and companies should refer to the main guidance document and can also watch the video below that provides an overview.

4.1 Assessing the contextual risks

It is essential that investors and companies undertake a contextual risk assessment to identify risks of GBVH linked to their specific geography or sector. Annex 1 of the GBVH Guidance provides information on different GBVH risk factors, and associated data sources. The assessment and monitoring of risks should be a continuous effort, reassessed with appropriate frequency, as circumstances of increased vulnerability to GVBH may change over time, including when new supply chain relationships are created.

To understand a country or region’s context, GBVH risks tend to be higher where:

  • Gender inequality is high and gender stereotypes are strong and widespread.
  • Intimate partner violence (IPV) is prevalent and national legislation on GBVH is weak.
  • Poverty and discrimination are high, increasing people’s vulnerability to exploitation.
  • Corruption among local authorities is widespread, reducing action against GBVH and enabling perpetrators to act with impunity.
  • Fragility and conflict exists, which weakens the rule of law and often increases other GBVH risk factors.
  • GBVH and COVID-19
    The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of incorporating GBVH into risk and mitigation analyses – because domestic violence and harassment has intensified all over the world. Lockdown has left millions of people trapped with their abusers and with less access to support systems.

    The United Nations Population Fund Impact assessments estimate an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence perpetrated in the first six months of the pandemic alone. As the pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow, with multiple impacts on women’s wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health, their mental health, and their ability to participate and lead in the recovery of our societies and economy.

Tools and resources

4.2 GBVH and the investment cycle

Preventing GBVH
Investors and companies can take action to prevent GBVH and to be ready to respond to reports by:

  • Strengthening leadership and company culture.
  • Developing and communicating GBVH policies and codes of conduct.
  • Strengthening recruitment and performance assessments.
  • Delivering training and awareness, both internally among workers and externally among communities and service users.
  • Working with contractors and suppliers to address GBVH.
  • Improving the physical design of worksites and service delivery locations.
  • Screening
    Investors and companies should look at GBVH throughout the investment cycle – starting at screening, where a high-level assessment of risk is undertaken and the depth and extent of due diligence is determined. Beyond country context, certain features of an investment, project or operation can also affect levels of GBVH risk, which tend to be higher where:

    • A large new workforce or an influx of male workers is required, for example on greenfield and project finance projects where the likelihood of community engagement increases.
    • Temporary, informal or migrant workers are commonly needed.
    • There are seasonal deadlines, with heavy fluctuations in workload, for example, in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors.
    • Circumstances where positions of power or trust can be exploited, for example, in sectors with wage-based tipping and where there is a strong emphasis on the belief that “the customer is always right”.
    • Transportation of goods over long distances and overnight is required, which is most common in the logistics and distribution sectors, but also in other key sectors such as agribusiness and infrastructure.
    • Services are provided, especially luxury services or highly sought-after basic services.
    • Security personnel are used, especially where they are armed.
    • Worksites are in remote locations, requiring long or isolated journeys to and from work, such as rural agricultural work.
    • Engagement with vulnerable or marginalised groups (e.g. children, young adults with disabilities, migrant women).

  • Due diligence
    Where contextual factors and screening suggest a risk of GBVH, companies should dedicate resources to conduct a basic assessment of a company’s capacity and resources. They should also perform an in-depth assessment of GBVH risks if needed and where heightened risks may be expected, as well as the governance, oversight and grievance recourse mechanisms that are present. The environmental and social due diligence (ESDD) scope should seek to include an assessment and engagement with key functions such as human resources, procurement and supply chain management to ensure GBVH risks are understood. The ESDD scope should also include an assessment of company level commitment and ensure that appropriate governance structures are in place, including the allocation of roles and responsibilities, senior management commitment and board oversight.

  • Basic assessment
    This type of assessment involves the following aspects:

    • Company leadership, to motivate and oversee action, and to establish a positive organisational culture.
    • Company policies to publicly state commitments and codes of conduct to clarify expected and prohibited behaviours.
    • Grievance and investigation mechanisms to enable reporting and follow-up.
    • Transparent recruitment and performance assessment systems to reduce opportunities for GBVH.
    • Training and awareness-raising activities to motivate attitude and behavioural change.
    • Efforts to work with contractors and suppliers to prevent and respond to GBVH.
    • The design of physical spaces to increase safety and reduce opportunities for GBVH to be perpetrated.

    It is important to pay particular attention to the presence and use (efficacy) of grievance mechanisms. GBVH is widely under-reported, and there are often barriers to people reporting any incidents of GBVH. It is key that people both inside and outside a company have channels through which they can report GBVH, including options to report anonymously. Grievance mechanisms should be tailored to the needs of different groups (including workers, community members and service users), so multiple reporting channels are likely to be necessary. All channels used to report GBVH must be safe and confidential, and it is important to build-in accountability mechanisms to ensure total independence and protection of those using the mechanism.

  • In-depth assessment
    An in-depth assessment of GBVH risks may be needed where companies or investors identify:

    • High levels of GBVH risk.
    • Gaps and weaknesses in company capacity and resources to prevent and respond to GBVH.

  • Investment decision and legal agreements
    Within the negotiation and structuring phase of the investment, investors can introduce terms to mitigate identified GBVH risks. Examples of the reporting and legal agreements investors can consider include:

    • Mandatory serious incident reporting on GBVH incidents to investors.
    • Representations and undertakings within legal/investment agreements committing to develop systems to reduce or prevent GBVH risks, and incident management systems to address GBVH incidents should they occur.
    • Regular monitoring and reporting requirements on the policies and processes companies have in place, such as specific questions in annual or quarterly monitoring reporting templates.
    • Establishing appropriate grievance mechanisms that enable GBVH to be reported in a safe and confidential way.

  • Monitoring
    Ongoing monitoring provides assurance that GBVH risks are being tracked, and that investors and companies are making meaningful efforts to prevent and respond to risks. New GBVH risks may emerge, and existing risks can change over the course of an investment, project or operation, so undertaking a regular risk reassessment is important. Monitoring can also help investors and companies to identify whether improvements are needed to strengthen prevention and response efforts.

Tools and resources

  • Annex 2 outlines a phased approach that companies can adopt for GBVH prevention and response.
  • Annex 3 features a list of questions that investors and companies can use to assess whether basic capacity and resources are in place as part of initial efforts to prevent and respond to GBVH.
  • Annex 4 provides guidance to companies and investors when commissioning an in-depth assessment of GBVH risks.
  • Annex 8 presents examples of the types of key performance indicators that companies and investors could use to track GBVH risks, as well as measuring the effectiveness of efforts to prevent and respond to GBVH.

4.3 Responding to reports of GBVH

  • Survivor-centered approach
    Survivor-centered approach is the lens companies and investors should use when addressing GBVH. Its key elements are:

    • Treat survivors with dignity and respect.
    • Enable survivors to make informed decisions about what they want.
    • Help survivors to be safe.
    • Treat survivors equally and non- judgementally.

  • The company response to GBVH
    When GBVH is reported, companies should respond in a thoughtful and considered way, maintaining confidentiality and upholding a survivor-centred approach. Responding inappropriately to reports of GBVH can undermine the credibility of a company’s efforts to address GBVH, and may cause further harm to those involved. A company’s response to a report of GBVH ought to include:

    • Access to immediate support options and monitoring needs.
    • Assigning someone who has had adequate training to lead the company’s response.
    • Deciding whether to investigate, only ever using trained investigators to conduct investigations.

  • The investor response to GVBH
    The reputational and financial risk involved with GBVH means investors have an interest in knowing whether GBVH is taking place in their investments, and whether grievances are managed and investigated in an appropriate manner. Investors should:

    • Agree on what needs to be reported to them, how it should be reported, and the reporting frequency.
    • Agree on what needs to be escalated, depending on factors such as severity of incident, level of control, reputational damage, and direct involvement.

  • If an incident occurs
    If an incident occurs:

    DO:

    • Provide survivors with immediate professional support: Companies should provide private spaces and a range of support options depending on the nature of the incident including legal and psychological support, and work with survivors, witnesses and whistleblowers to identify safety measures to protect them from further harm.
    • Ensure an incident management procedure is in place: All staff should understand and be trained on this.
    • Ensure all staff understand the princples of a survivor-centered approach: Refer to Section 3 of the GBVH Guidance for the key principles to prevent and address GBVH risks.

    DO NOT:

    • Undertake an assessment or investigation yourself unless you are trained: Responding poorly or inappropriately to reports of GBVH can undermine the credibility of a company’s efforts to address the issue, and may cause further harm to those involved. The person assigned to lead the response to an incident must be trained in how to respond to reports of GBVH, and have the skills and confidence to take a survivor-centered approach. Although all reports of GBVH require follow-up, not all reports of GBVH will require an investigation. The decision on whether to investigate will be determined by various factors, including the severity of the reported behaviour, its impact and the wishes of the survivor (see Section 6 of the GBVH Guidance for further detail).
    • Put the safety of anyone at risk: Survivors, witnesses and those who report and seek to address GBVH can be at risk of retaliation. It is important that companies and investors prioritise the safety of those who are experienced, witnessed or reported GBVH. Confidentiality, and checking with survivors and witnesses about sharing identifiable information, are important aspects of ensuring safety.
    • Jeopardise confidentiality requirements: Maintaining confidentiality – and checking when and with whom survivors want information to be shared – are important aspects of a survivor-centered approach.

Once a company’s response to a report has been concluded, an investor can work with the company to draw lessons from the process to inform future efforts to prevent and respond to GBVH.

Tools and resources

  • Annex 7 of our Guidance outlines points to consider when developing GBVH grievance mechanisms and investigation procedures.

In-depth assessments should only be conducted by GBVH experts. If a GBVH expert is not available locally, it may be necessary to identify a regional or international GBVH expert to conduct an in-depth assessment of GBVH risks. Though GBVH experts should ideally have experience of the country context, it is not essential, especially if they are working with someone who has knowledge of the local social, political and legal context.

5. Further resources