08/03/2017 09:26 GMT | Updated 09/03/2018 05:12 GMT

India Steps Up On Gender Equality

all women everywhere

To mark International Women's Day this year, United Colors of Benetton is taking an unprecedented step. For more than 50 years this iconic brand has campaigned on difficult social issues, recently focused on women under its Women Empowerment Program.

Now, we've turned to the developing world for our latest global campaign for gender equality.

Benetton was one of the very first global fashion brands to move into India and is now the leading international player. India is, after Italy, now the company's most significant global market. But we can't aspire to empower women if we ignore the challenges of millions across India and this sub-continent. Instead we've chosen to take their voice to the world.

This week we're rolling out a global campaign, under the hashtag #UnitedByHalf, for gender equality. Developed in India this is deliberately challenging because we'd like to help change gender stereotypes there and everywhere.

UnitedByHalf focuses on men seeing women as equal partners, which is important because we believe there has been too much focus on women themselves. Benetton India started to address this last year, with a campaign entitled #UnitedbyDonts. This challenged how women are often blamed for inciting hostility and even violence for everyday behaviors we take for granted in the developed world.

Now, with #UnitedByHalf, we want to challenge men. Social sterotypes and taboos limiting women in India and elsewhere will never change without the support of men. So we're calling on men to accept women as equal partners - in every aspect of their lives. And Benetton India is particularly well placed to do this because menswear is the biggest part of our business in India - and our customers are generally men in forward-looking urban centres who want India to be a leader in the new global economy.

The video created as part of #UnitedByHalf in India brings to life our vision of a world in which men and women everywhere can be equal partners, unrestricted by social taboo.

Of course, we know that talking about the issue alone is not enough. Poverty is at the root of the problem and disproportionately impacts women in developing countries. So as well as giving these women a voice, we are also trying to help them in very practical ways. For example, we are now embarking on a number of practical projects to help female textile workers gain greater control of their lives.

These initiatives, which we call the Sustainable Livelihood Project, also fall under Benetton's Women Empowerment Program and are starting in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

By directing funding to improve the conditions of female garment workers, we hope to help them genuinely become more equal partners to men - and so stronger, and less vulnerable, both at home and in the workplace.For example, our project with UN Women in Bangladesh, will support around 5,000 women working in textile factories. By organizing training courses, we hope to strengthen their professional skills and also help them to become more financially literate and independent. And at the same time we will start a dialogue with their employers aimed at increasing their safety at the workplace and in its surroundings.

In Pakistan, we have another project starting to support around 1,500 women living in the manufacturing district of Sialkot. This will prioritise women who are unemployed, working at home or in the fields and belonging to ethnic and religious minorities. In partnership with UN Women, the aim is to help each get their own ID - enabling them to vote, open a bank account or access training courses - and then we'll help them find proper employment.

#UnitedByHalf has already been running for nearly a month in India. We launched it on Valentine's Day, with backing from leading voices and celebrity influencers, and it's been hugely well received. Now we need to build on this, and change minds across the world.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email