A better, more sustainable and fair future for the whole world: that is what the UN wants to achieve with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. And equality, or to be more precise, gender equality, is also part of their plan. Women and girls, for example, are still at a disadvantage. For this to change and for everyone to have equal rights, SDG 5 aims to promote equal opportunities and ensure women’s full and effective participation. This also affects the international fashion and textiles sector, which employs more than 60 million people, three quarters of whom are women. And 80% of garment workers worldwide are female. In Asian production countries, the gender pay gap is 18% and even in Western countries, only one quarter of all managerial positions are occupied by women. So the fashion business reflects the fundamental inequality that exists in the world: oppression, insufficient wages and poor working conditions.
Many women are employed in the fashion business, but mainly in lower paid jobs. And less than 50% of all womenswear by well-known brands is designed by women and just 14% of major brands have female managers in the senior levels. This was shown in the results of the study “The Glass Runway: How Gender and Sexuality Shape the Spotlight in Fashion Design”, which McKinsey & Company conducted together with Glamour and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in 2018. It seems as though the problems only become really visible if women themselves are affected: in the study, all the women surveyed confirmed that they perceived gender equality to be a worrying problem within the industry, while the subject only plays a role for around 50% of the male respondents.
By women for women: change needs to happen within the industry. A particularly important step towards achieving this change is gender equality, as set out in SDG 5. And the time to do that is NOW! 'Now' is also the motto of this year’s Neonyt, which has set itself the target of encouraging a shift towards a better, more sustainable and fairer fashion world through collaboration, communication and entrepreneurship. “It is so shocking that fashion, which benefits so greatly from women’s labour and money and influence, is still largely run by men. So to make progress on SDG 5, we really need to increase women’s leadership in the industry – from the boardroom to the supply chain,” says Megan Galvin, Member of the Programmes team at the UN Global Compact focusing on Gender Equality and Social Sustainability in an interview about gender equality in the fashion industry with Conscious Fashion Campaign founder Kerry Bannigan.
The sector needs to fill more managerial positions with women and stand up for the female gender within the industry. This comes naturally to the team of jewellery label and Neonyt exhibitor Wild Fawn. Established and managed by females and inspired by real and mindful women, the company produces ethical jewellery – for more social responsibility, fairness and equality. Swiss lingerie label Moya Kala, also part of the Neonyt community, offers ethically produced underwear and loungewear – by women for women. The durable, minimalistic and aesthetic pieces stand out with their high quality, sustainability and fairness throughout the entire supply chain.
Next step: gender equality in the industry. “This can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as mentoring programs in companies or entrepreneurial training to really support the women. Women are often thought to have a lot of power in the industry, but it is actually men who end up getting most of the top jobs. So really working with women from the ground up in the industry is super important.” Another way for companies to make a contribution to more equality is by signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs). The initiative by UN Women and UN Global Compact includes seven principles to empower women in business. Since 2010, it has been offering guidance to promote gender equality in the workplace and society. And the good news is that when the WEPs were established, there were only 39 signatories, but today it’s almost 5,000. Which shows that gender equality within the industry is becoming increasingly relevant. The development is well underway, but it still needs to pick up the pace to ensure that the vision of an equal fashion world will soon also become a reality.
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