Jewelry industry

A call for gender equality in the jewelry industry


REPORT… This year we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl. The day, which falls on October 11, focuses on addressing the challenges girls face and promotes the empowerment of girls and the realization of their human rights.

Over the past 10 years there has been a greater focus on gender equality with more opportunities for girls to have their voices heard on the world stage. Yet we continue to fall woefully short of where we need to be to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 by 2030. Simply put, we are not on track to achieve gender equality by the end of this decade.

A number of crises in recent years have caused further setbacks in achieving our goal. These include the global pandemic, violent conflict and accelerating climate change. These challenges have tested and even reversed progress made in expanding women’s rights and opportunities. It threatened women’s participation in industry and government, their income and the gains made through education.

There is an urgent need to accelerate progress. I firmly believe that cooperation, partnerships and significant investments are essential to get us back on track.

The present reality

The current situation does not look good. Here are some surprising and heartbreaking facts from a recent report published by UN Women and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA):

Achieving full gender equality could take almost 300 years at the current rate of progress.

It will take 140 years for women to achieve equal representation in leadership positions in the workplace, and 40 years for the same to happen in national parliaments.

· Women have lost an estimated $800 billion in global income due to the pandemic.

About 383 million women and girls will live in extreme poverty by the end of the year, compared to 368 million men and boys. Many more will have insufficient income to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and adequate housing in most parts of the world.

Only 47% of the data needed to track progress on SDG 5 is currently available, making women and girls effectively invisible.

These findings are sobering and should spur us to even stronger action. It is clear that without action, the erosion of the rights of women and girls will continue. A clear example of this is the current events in Iran, where a 22-year-old woman died while in the custody of the “vices police”, sparking outrage and protests in Iran and beyond.

We have a long way to go and no time to waste. We must regain lost ground and recommit ourselves to our efforts with renewed zeal and vigor.

A matter of values

I was fortunate to be raised, mentored and guided by many strong and inspiring women. Thinking back to my childhood, my grandmother has a strong female presence – a young widow who raised three children largely through courage and resilience. I have a mother and a father and a younger brother who have always fully empowered me.

First in my family and then in my workplace, it was these women and men who taught me what I know today about justice, beauty and the power of individual expression. It is thanks to them that I have come to believe in our shared responsibility to act and strive for a just and equal world for all.

I am also concerned and passionate about our planet and know that the accelerating climate crisis is disproportionately affecting women and girls. We cannot save the planet from the impending climate emergency without meaningful advances in women’s rights and gender equality. There must be a reason we call the planet Mother Earth!

What can be done?

The case for female empowerment is particularly strong in the jewelry industry. Women drive the demand for the vast majority of jewelry globally. Additionally, in the rapidly growing ethical consumer movement, millennial and now Gen Z women and girls are directing consumer decisions towards products and companies that act consciously and protect their supply chains.

The role of women in the jewelry supply chain has been conditioned by existing gender disparities, steering them into less skilled activities in which they are not fully rewarded or recognized. Public corporate engagements have been largely tied to women in retail operations and business leadership, and less to low-income roles. It is crucial to extend gender considerations to the entire jewelry supply chain.

The obvious complexities of jewelry supply chains and the fact that much of the upstream involves artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) make these efforts even more difficult. A significant portion of these workers are in developing countries where low wages, poor working conditions and exposure to health and safety hazards are more prevalent. It is estimated that 100 million or more people work or depend on ASM. The majority of ASM communities are in sparsely populated, rural and often remote areas.

Best practices suggest that development programs in the ASM sector should address gender inequality as a cross-cutting issue. This should be an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of ASM development policies and programs. ASM sector programming should aim to:

Reduce gender disparities by enabling women and girls to access, control and benefit from resources;

Reduce gender-based violence in and around mining sites; and

Empower women and girls economically, socially and politically

For truly meaningful progress, the private and public sectors will need to collaborate and put women and girls at the center of all aspects of decision-making, including through gender-responsive laws, policies and budgeting. We need a truly multidimensional and multisectoral approach. That’s why I believe so much in partnerships. Within the Watch & Jewelery Initiative 2030, inclusivity is a key pillar from which we want to have a real impact. Gender equality is at the heart of this pillar.

Personal experience

I started in the jewelry industry about 20 years ago. It was an entirely new environment, coming from an exchange technology company. I was in a family business, which gave me a head start that was essential and extremely stimulating at this stage of my career. Based in Antwerp, I had the chance to visit operational sites in countries as diverse as South Africa and India, while raising a five-year-old son. The industry was clearly moving at an accelerating pace.

I feel lucky to have had the opportunity and the mentorship I received. However, this has not been the case for women in so many different industries and organizations. It would not be an exaggeration to say that at the time, in the year 2000, the ratio of men to women in our industry, especially at the upper levels of management, was very skewed. I visited sites in China and India and saw many women working in the fabrication shop, but unsurprisingly their contribution diminished as you rose through the management ranks. I grew up with a strong work ethic and value system that taught me to push my limits. I learned that the path to real growth was neither linear nor smooth, and sometimes, no matter how hard we tried, things didn’t go the way we wanted.

Today, I find myself talking more and more about inequalities and injustices. Like most women, I’ve had my share of sexism, and I’ve met people who don’t share the same principles of gender equality as I do. However, I have also had mentors and role models at every stage of my professional and personal journey. Men and women, inside the industry and beyond, who continue to inspire and renew my faith in the principles of human dignity and the transformative power of collective effort.

Today, I am grateful to work with such inspiring leaders to build our initiative. I pledge to continue to champion gender equality and to work closely with our members and key stakeholders to find meaningful opportunities that accelerate our impact on this topic.

A call to action?

I call on our industry leaders and stakeholders to join forces and accelerate efforts to make gender equity a reality for all. We know that the origins of these challenges are structural and secular. Therefore, we need approaches and solutions that are also systemic to achieve holistic and long-term results, leading to both structural and cultural transformations. Join our initiative and work closely together to drive the change needed.

Despite recent setbacks, there is reason to hope. The world is home to more than 1.1 billion girls under the age of 18, and they are poised to become the greatest generation of female leaders, entrepreneurs and agents of change the world has ever seen. There are countless examples of women around the world taking leadership and taking their destiny into their own hands to inspire us all. It’s time for all of us to invest in a future that believes in the agency, leadership and potential of girls everywhere.

I will end with the inspiring words of a young woman, Malala Yousafzai, who overcame the insurmountable and daunting challenges she faced, and who now continues to inspire countless women and men around the world: “I raise the voice, not so that I can shout, but so that those who have no voice can be heard. We can’t all be successful when half of us are held back.

To learn more about the Watch and Jewelery Initiative 2030, please visit

Photo: Iris Van der Veken. (Watches and Jewelry 2030 Initiative)

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