|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE ON UNIFEM-AVON PARTNERSHIP TO COMBAT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Today, 60 per cent of senior executives say that domestic violence was having a harmful effect on their company’s productivity, with losses due to “intimate partner violence” costing almost $1.8 billion in the United States alone, said Joanne Sandler, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), as she announced a dynamic partnership with Avon Products Inc. to advance women’s empowerment, at a Headquarters press conference this morning.
Ms. Sandler was joined by award-winning actress and Avon Global Ambassador, Reese Witherspoon, as well as Andrea Jung, Chief Executive Officer of Avon Products. The UNIFEM-Avon partnership will generate “badly needed” resources for the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, Ms. Sandler said, and serve as an example of a company stepping up to achieve a common purpose.
“Violence against women is the hidden pandemic”, she stressed. It was hidden in the estimated $9.5 billion that criminal networks earned from human trafficking, as well as in homes and other places where women and girls should feel safe, but did not. However, that snapshot did not have to be a picture of the future and, as the manager of the Trust Fund, UNIFEM was seeing the impact that could result from investment in successful strategies to end violence against women, particularly in South Africa and India.
To that point, Ms. Jung said that, in 2008, the Avon Foundation would match the first $500,000 in sales of a new global fundraising product, and donate -– along with Avon -- the $1 million proceeds to the Trust Fund, the largest corporate grant ever made to the Trust Fund in a single year. The donation would be used to create an Avon Empowerment Fund, managed by UNIFEM, to support initiatives to improve implementation of laws and policies focused on violence against women.
“Our partnership will allow UNIFEM to expand its efforts in this area,” said Ms. Jung, adding that such efforts included grants to assist the Government of Rwanda in establishing a special police unit to investigate cases of violence. “This is vital, vital work,” she stressed, expressing optimism about the potential for the new public-private partnership to make a difference in women’s lives. To commemorate International Women’s Day, special guests would include several winners of the Avon Hello Tomorrow grants, which, over the past year, had supported individuals working to improve women’s lives in communities worldwide.
In her role as Avon’s Global Ambassador, Ms. Witherspoon said she was working to give voice to critical women’s issues and encourage others to invest in women’s empowerment. Two thirds of those living in poverty around the world were women, and in every country, women earned less than men for similar jobs. “When you hear statistics like that, it’s impossible not to feel motivated to do something,” she said.
Taking up that mantle, she introduced the company’s new fundraising item -– the Women’s Empowerment Bracelet –- which was designed to save and improve lives. All profits from sales of the bracelet would be sent directly to the Avon Empowerment Fund. Modelling the item, she noted that its clasp was in the form of the infinity symbol, representing a “future without limitations for all women”.
Responding to questions, Ms. Witherspoon discussed Avon’s “extraordinary ability” to be in so many places globally. Avon operated in regions that were hard to reach, creating communities by going door-to-door. That generated opportunities for women to talk with each other about issues that were often stigmatized, such as domestic violence.
Asked how Ms. Witherspoon’s celebrity had helped the cause, Ms. Jung said the actress was the Ambassador of the Avon Foundation, the Avon brand and the company’s 5.4 million sales representatives. Avon was proud to have Ms. Witherspoon’s involvement, particularly because she brought personal passion to an endeavour shared by the foundation and the corporation.
Ms. Sandler added that it was crucial to have people like Ms. Witherspoon speaking out about the issue. The challenge in eradicating violence against women was that it was hidden, and Ms. Witherspoon’s involvement gave women everywhere the courage to step forward. “Until we understand the true scope of the problem, how can we develop meaningful strategies to address it?” she asked.
To a question about Avon’s role in achieving UNIFEM’s results-oriented strategy, Ms. Sandler responded that much of the work on women’s economic empowerment had been brought to the fore by networks of women. Avon was built on a network model; entrepreneurs were a very powerful network, which could support needed change. The partnership created an unparalleled opportunity.
Ms. Jung added that placing women first was the highest priority, for herself and for the company, which was how Avon had become “a better business”. The business model had been founded 121 years ago on the concept of empowering women. As a business leader, she looked at the need for large public companies to give back to communities and to partner in taking on causes. As for whether there was something for men to wear to show solidarity for the cause, Ms. Jung hoped that men would also wear the bracelet.
On depictions of violence against women in Hollywood, Ms. Witherspoon said she tried to create positive female role models, both through her acting choices and decisions on what films to produce. Since starting in the business, she had been motivated to depict women who were strong, accomplished and self-respecting. That had also been a personal goal, which made partnering with Avon a natural decision.
To a question on Latin American women, Ms. Jung said that Avon’s Latin American business constituted more than 40 per cent of the company’s total business. Brazil was the second largest business, after the United States, with other very large presences in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia. Latin America was among the fastest growing regions for the company, and Avon had more representatives there than in any other region. The company provided more independent earning opportunities in Latin America than any other company.
Regarding women in Tajikistan, Ms. Sandler said UNIFEM had found that globalization was creating different types of violence against women, such as trafficking and the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war. In Tajikistan, UNIFEM was making the issues known, supporting local groups through the Fund and raising concerns as public policy issues, rather than private issues. It was
important to support innovative solutions; in every country, there were community groups and leaders at the national level in need of resources and partnerships. She hoped that, with the partnership, UNIFEM was modelling how it would “scale up” and respond to horrible violations of women’s rights in Tajikistan and elsewhere.
Ms. Witherspoon added that she was interested in travelling, bringing awareness to such issues and, hopefully, giving people the incentive -- and ideas -- to apply for grants at UNIFEM.
As for discussing women’s issues with her daughter, Ms. Witherspoon said it was important to make everyone aware that there were women worldwide who lacked rights, education and opportunity. Ms. Witherspoon spoke with her daughter often, but it was hard for her daughter to understand that there were places where women lacked education and suffered from violence. However, “the more we make our children aware, the more they become socially responsible for change”, she added.
Asked about Avon’s networks, Ms. Jung said the company’s 5.4 million representatives conducted business on their own time and terms. Many worked out of their homes, had flexible hours and raised children. It was a modern way of maintaining a “high touch” business model. As the Internet had changed opportunities to reach customers, Avon had married its “high touch” business with “high tech”, to give women the tools -– mobile phones and Internet access -- they needed to work. “If you are economically empowered, you can act,” she said, explaining that one of the fastest ways to make a dent in ending violence against women was by economically empowering them.
Replying to a question about sexual exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers, Ms. Sandler said that opening -- and changing -– the discussion on violence against women was one way UNIFEM’s initiative could address violence by peacekeepers. There were solutions to what was long perceived as “inevitable” behaviour among peacekeepers, and the United Nations had rolled out protocols to address sexual violence among them. UNIFEM was opening the door by enabling women to speak out, and it was investing in strategies with the potential to significantly reduce gender-based violence.
Ms. Witherspoon thanked the press for attending the briefing today, as media involvement was central to keeping the issue at the forefront.
As for how the campaign would tackle differences in social and cultural mores, Ms. Sandler emphasized that people like Ms. Witherspoon had a powerful resonance with both women and men worldwide.
Ms. Jung added that, while Avon was a global company, its management and sellers were local, and it respected all social and cultural norms in its areas of operation. Moreover, it was Ms. Witherspoon’s voice -– above all else -– that had the worldwide resonance to take the cause to the next level.
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