I’ll admit, I was feeling more skeptical than usual when planning our presence at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this year. It would be WEF’s 50th anniversary and my fifth time there, and it was initially hard to see our core issues — gender equality, and the health and rights of girls and women — substantially reflected on the formal WEF agenda. In addition, space for civil society organizations, including those working on gender issues, seemed limited due to the many heads of states and corporations arriving for the anniversary.
But off we went with heavy boots; gender lenses in the hand; facts, figures, and tested arguments in the bag; and a calendar full of events and meetings that got even more packed as the week progressed.
Coming down the Davos mountain after five days of working the floors, speaking from the podiums, and having both fly-bys at receptions and events, as well as substantive sit-downs and late night huddles with current and future partners, politicians and CEOs, inspiring young leaders and other agents of change, I am tired but definitely more hopeful than when we came up. Yes, the world is still on fire, and yes, there is a long way to go before we are on a proper path to sustainability, but there is also room for hope, and some good predictors that 2020 will be a super year of action both in regards to conservation and climate change, as well as gender equality and #GenerationEquality.
Here are some of my key points and takeaways:
- Girls, women, and gender equality — not least pay and income equity, the need to get more women into leadership, or how gender equality drives sustainable development — while not prominent on the formal agenda, rose to the top of nearly every discussion we had and heard, sometimes organically, sometimes with a little nudge. In fact, several major media summaries of the week include both climate change and gender equality as key issues discussed at WEF.
- Women Deliver helped fuel the focus on gender equality through the many great conversations and social media posts provoked by our ‘gender lens’ — a small magnifying glass we gave to leaders and influencers to bring down and apply to their businesses and lives — and through an infographic and a series of recommendations on male engagement in gender equality, which we launched with our partners Promundo and Unilever / Dove Men+Care.
- There definitely wasn’t much of a queue at the ladies’ room when only 24% of the 2,700 formal participants are women. While that of course is way too little and something serious has to be done, it still was more than previous years. WEF has pledged to double female participation by 2030, and Women Deliver and other groups like Women Political Leaders are ready to help to speed it up.
- Outside of the formal program and participants, there were 1,000+ more panel debates and events — on climate change, inequality, innovation, the economy, technology, research, etc. Gender equality and global health were well represented there. There even was a full house and stage dedicated to different issues under the gender equality umbrella. The Equality Lounge hosted by the Female Quotient was a wonderful place to come, speak, and listen to talks, meet fellow gender justice advocates from across the globe, and to recharge.
- It was great to see young people unapologetically take the stage, the street, and social media channels. Greta Thunberg addressed the climate change crowd in the street and the participants in the conference center. On stage with her was Women Deliver Class of 2018 Young Leader Natasha Wang Mwansa, who many of you know from the opening plenary at the WD2019 conference, where she brought the audience and world leaders to their feet as she gave her speech. On stage at Davos, Natasha very eloquently wove together the arguments for addressing both people and planet, and for linking climate change, health, education, nutrition, water, human rights and meaningful youth engagement in the action that must happen. “The older generation has a lot of experience, but we have ideas, we have energy, and we have solutions,” she rallied (hear hear!).
Through it all, we and many others relentlessly urged participants to use their power for good, and take bigger and bolder action for girls, women, health and equality. And we did see companies and investors step up, speak up, and commit to hardwiring gender equality in the future of work. Even more brought the gender lens down the Davos mountain to apply it to their businesses, governments, and organizations — today, tomorrow, and always.
While of course more could have been done, and a lot more needs to be done, it was a good kickoff to the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals and 2020 — the ‘Super Year’ for gender equality — where we will mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration with the big Generation Equality push.
About the Author: Katja Iversen is the President/CEO of Women Deliver.