By Roxanne Mankin Cason
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
A gender-mindful approach should fuel the discourse and agenda at the World Economic Forum, which starts today in Davos, Switzerland, says Roxanne Mankin Cason. This change is possible, as there are people at the forum qualified to lead a new conversation.
Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Many of the world's most powerful leaders are now gathering in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum, which starts today and ends Jan. 31. For years, the gathering was almost exclusively male and its discussions lacked consideration of the gender angle.
But change is more possible than ever and it is time for the World Economic Forum to move gender issues to the heart of its agenda.
Despite the lack of gender issues on past agendas, ironically the forum's annual Global Gender Gap report has become a trusted source of information on progress made--or the lack thereof--by the world's nations towards gender parity. Its premise is that a nation's well-being is correlated to the status of women. One has only to look at the top of the report's rankings, dominated by Scandinavian countries, to see the connection. At the bottom of the 2009 list: Yemen.
The discourse at the forum itself, however, hasn't been focused enough on the undervalued asset, in terms of human capital, represented by women and girls. Last year, during a Davos conversation on the collapse of Lehman Brothers, an investment bank, it was agreed that the 2008 economic crisis might have been averted had the firm been "Lehman Brothers and Sisters."
There is much more to say, though.
As this year's program explores its theme, "Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild," perhaps another word should be added: Reframe.
What topics might a reframed discussion include? Here are a few suggestions:
How do we consider these and other vital issues, such as sex trafficking? It isn't easy.
Christine Grumm, CEO of the global Women's Funding Network, cites a term from the field of social and technological innovation in describing these interconnected issues: "the wicked problem," one that defies easy solutions.
Isobel Coleman, writing in the current issue of Foreign Affairs about Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's groundbreaking book "Half the Sky," reminds us that the fundamental challenge around gender bias is cultural. "Many people in the West," she says, "too often ignore the problems confronting women in other parts of the world by dismissing, or even condoning, the oppressive practices there as those of a different culture." It is safe to say this mindset has been present in Davos.
That is changing, however, and there are those at Davos who are eminently qualified to lead the gathering in a new direction. The Gates Foundation, Exxon Mobil, Ernst and Young, Goldman Sachs, the Nike Foundation and many others are seasoned in integrating gender considerations into the collective conversation. If only others who are present could keep in mind their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and granddaughters--and extrapolate that awareness into their public thinking. The possibilities are positively breathtaking.
A gender-mindful approach should permeate the discourse at Davos. Let's reframe, rethink redesign and rebuild.
Roxanne Mankin Cason is a Women's eNews 21 Leader 2009 and currently serves as chair of the Global Advisory Education Board and as a trustee of Save the Children.