Today the world pauses to celebrate women’s achievements and contributions to society, but, with stark concern that gender inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, it is also a rallying point for the unprecedented global movement advocating for women’s rights and opportunities to be equal to those of men. Gaining or losing ground at this critical juncture, where calls are being made for a Global Reset, is expected to define the global gender order for generations to come, with irrevocable effects on humanity, society and the planet.
Recognising the urgent need for concerted action, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, acknowledges that “without gender equality today, a sustainable future, and an equal future, remains beyond our reach.” This sense of urgency is at the heart of the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s work, which leverages its unique legal and media expertise to build free, fair and informed societies, with a focus on women and girls who represent a majority of the world’s poor and vulnerable.
This piece outlines eight ways in which the Foundation’s work on advancing media freedom, fostering more inclusive economies and promoting human rights is supporting women and girls around the world to live freely and to be treated fairly.
- Closing the gender pay gap
Women are still paid less than men for doing the same work, and many countries remain without legislation that requires companies to publicly report on gender gaps.
To help promote pay equity, the Foundation’s pro bono legal service, TrustLaw, published a report ‘Gender Pay Gap Reporting: A Comparative Analysis’ in collaboration with the Fawcett Society and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, with the support of law firm Latham & Watkins. The report mapped international gender pay gap reporting legislation across 11 countries, highlighting good practices and concrete steps to hold companies accountable for their equal pay pledges.
Shortly after the publication, the worrying finding - that a majority of companies still pay men more than women - sparked a public debate around the gender pay gap. In particular, The Independent cited the report in response to British MP Stella Creasy introducing a new Equal Pay Bill to Parliament that would allow women to request data from their employer if they suspect a male colleague earns different wages for doing the same work.
- Protecting women journalists from harassment
From impersonation accounts to hateful slurs and death threats, journalists around the world are facing increasing levels of abuse. The consequences are significant, ranging from physical and psychological harm, to discrediting or preventing their work and effectively silencing their reporting.
In response to these surging attacks, the Foundation, in collaboration with its partners, has pioneered a range of initiatives that offer journalists practical solutions to defend their mission of free, fair and accurate reporting and protect them from harassment.
Last year, the Foundation partnered with UNESCO, the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute to develop a range of practical and legal tools for journalists, media managers and newsrooms to strengthen responses to online and offline harassment and to protect free and independent media.
To mark International Women’s Day, the Foundation has announced a new partnership with Google Jigsaw to create a bespoke tool that supports journalists who are regularly facing online violence to remove, block and report abusive content in a way that protects their well-being and takes action against perpetrators. The tool will be available for use from June.
- Celebrating women in journalism
Every year, through the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism, the Foundation honours brave and often unrecognised journalists, particularly women, for their reporting on conflict, corruption and human rights transgressions.
Last year, Khabat Abbas from Syria received the prestigious News Fixer Award. As one of the very few fixers in the country, she made headlines with stories of women on both sides of the Syrian civil war from Kurdish fighters to ISIS wives, through her local knowledge, journalism skills and extensive contacts. Hear from Khabat on what winning the award meant to her.
- Stamping out online sexual abuse
Online abuse towards women is on the rise, especially during COVID-19. Yet, legal frameworks designed to prevent and prosecute such borderless cybercrimes remain a long way off.
Through TrustLaw, the Foundation partnered with Equality Now, a human rights organisation, to launch a ground-breaking report ‘Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards’. The report, which examined legal frameworks on digital security, found no internationally binding legal instrument that defined online sexual exploitation and abuse or specified the responsibility of tech platforms.
Equality Now has been using the findings to push for legislative reforms for women’s safety online, including through setting up international standards that can coordinate laws and responses to online abuse, regardless of where it happens.
- Promoting a gender perspective in business practices
There is growing awareness that business activities impact women differently and disproportionately. This has put investors under increased pressure to consider the ‘S’ (social) performance of the companies in their investment portfolios. But, in the world of ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) investing, the integration of social performance assessment has seen little progress, undermining business impact on an array of social issues such as gender equity.
In response, the Foundation formed a working group of civil society actors, experts and business leaders to emphasise the importance of the ‘social’ criteria within ESG investing. The group, which included leading organisations such as Refinitiv and White & Case, produced a white paper: ‘Amplifying the “S” in the ESG: Investor Myth Buster’. The paper challenges the misconceptions often cited by investors to explain the lack of meaningful adoption of ‘S’ indicators and provides concrete actions they can take to enable wider adoption of social criteria in investment strategies.
The paper further explores why investors need to pay more attention to equity, diversity and inclusion, and how more gender-balanced and diverse teams outperform their competitors and yield greater profits.
- Holding power to account
With journalists reporting from 70 countries, the Foundation’s editorial team maintains a sharp focus on producing hard-hitting investigations that help to hold power to account, especially in vulnerable communities that rarely make the headlines.
The editorial team’s investigations with The New Humanitarian into a jobs-for-sex scandal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) found that more than 70 women accused aid workers from leading organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), of sexual abuse during the Ebola outbreak. The stories received global coverage, appearing in more than 700 publications.
As a result, five of the seven UN agencies and NGOs named in the exposé launched detailed inquiries, with WHO being the first to announce that all claims would be “robustly investigated” and that anyone involved would face “serious consequences, including immediate dismissal”. The findings of the inquiries are expected to be released in August this year.
Read more of the Foundation’s coverage on women’s rights here.
- Supporting survivors to escape domestic abuse
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data has shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. Women’s Aid, a UK-based charity, approached TrustLaw to seek legal assistance on arrangements to formalise the ‘Rail to Refuge’ scheme’, which was temporarily set up during COVID-19 to provide survivors of domestic abuse free train travel to a place at a recognised refuge.
The Foundation connected the charity with Milbank LLP, which assisted the charity in formalising the scheme. It was extended in March 2021, with rail companies in Great Britain agreeing to continue the scheme in partnership. To date, the initiative has enabled around 2,000 people, predominantly women and including 500 children, to escape domestic violence during the pandemic. On average, four survivors a day have utilised the scheme to reach a safe refuge.
Read more about this initiative here.
- Ending harmful practices
Despite significant progress, millions of girls are at risk of being subjected to harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), half of whom live in three countries that already have legislation around the practice.
Through TrustLaw, the Foundation connected 28 Too Many – a UK-based charity working to eradicate FGM in Africa – with a team of 120 lawyers. Coordinated by Latham & Watkins, the team produced pioneering reports that highlighted examples of best practices, lessons learned and recommendations for the formation of sound legal frameworks to eliminate FGM. The reports are having a positive impact in multiple African countries. In Kenya, the country report is helping activists in a court case against Kenyan medic, Dr Tatu Kamau. In Egypt, it has been used in conversation with parliamentarians.
These projects represent only a handful of activities being delivered by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment. To read about the full spectrum of the Foundation’s work in this area, please visit its organisational overview.