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.
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(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.
How to Reframe the Discussion
What topics might a reframed discussion include? Here are a few suggestions:
- On the economy: Discussion of the global financial crisis at Davos could be informed by a recent report from the New York-based National Council of Research on Women. It asserts that women tend "to be more consistent in managing investments, to examine more conflicting data when making investment decisions and to be more methodical." Far short of critical mass, some reports indicate women currently manage only 3 percent of the trillions invested in hedge funds.
- On global development: Those in Davos should heed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's January 6 speech on gender. In it she acknowledged that "women and girls are one of the world's greatest untapped resources," adding that, "the United States is taking steps to put women front and center in our development work." She characterized women as "those most responsible for growing the world's food, caring for the world's sick and raising the world's children." Clearly she knows the enormity of the problem--and the opportunity for real solutions.
- On global stability and security: The evidence continues to grow for the link between gender equity and a nation's stability. Exxon Mobil has invested significantly in leadership, education and financial literacy for women and girls in Africa. Their work includes Ishrak, a program supporting Egyptian girls' education in which I am proud to be involved. The results have been dramatic--fathers who previously insisted on keeping their daughters home are now bursting with pride at their daughters' achievements and seeing the girls as valued assets.
- On women's political leadership: Although men still dominate, glimmers of change abound. One example: the lower house of parliament in Rwanda, a nation driven by conflict, is 55 percent female, the highest in the world. These Rwandan women, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other female leaders provide a laboratory for the positive change that's possible when women achieve critical mass in political leadership. Former U.S. Ambassador Swanee Hunt has for years, through her inclusive security work--where women from opposing sides in conflict areas are brought together for discussion and training--advanced women's leadership in 40 conflict areas around the world, including Rwanda and Liberia.