As COVID-19 continues to surge globally, communities and countries are facing the very real health, social, and economic impacts of the pandemic, and entire industries are being upended in ways we’ve never seen before. But girls and women — the backbone of the current and future global workforce — are disproportionately at risk. Companies must respond to the health and well-being needs of their female workforces, and many are committed to taking that responsibility.

Before COVID-19 hit, women in low-resource countries had been entering the formal workforce at unprecedented rates, particularly in the apparel and agriculture sectors. Women make up 60 to 80% of export manufacturing workers and three-quarters of the 60 million to 75 million workers in textile, clothing, and footwear supply chains. One of every four employed women is working in the agriculture industry. The average woman employed in these types of jobs is paid below a living wage, is a contract worker with little long-term stability or social safety net, and often faces other factors that marginalize her — maybe she is a migrant working far from home, or she is facing health challenges for which care is out of reach. Women’s health, rights, and well-being are too often neglected in these scenarios — and this is especially true now, in the midst of the pandemic.

COVID-19 didn’t make women’s health needs less important — it only amplified their importance — and companies are realizing that the health and well-being of their female workers is critical to building back long-term resilience. Companies, particularly those with global supply chains that primarily employ women, have a clear opportunity to meet their female workers where they are — in the workplace — with essential health and empowerment information and services.

Momentum has been building on corporate action on workers and women’s health. In 2019, 11 major global companies announced new and expansive commitments to improving the health and well-being of a combined hundreds of thousands of women working in their supply chains.

Read the full article about women in global supply chains by Seema Jalan at United Nations Foundation.