The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential. This sentiment, articulated by Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, was one of the central themes of the recent Global Forum held in Vatican City. Business and government leaders gathered to discuss how companies can support economies and workers globally to the benefit of all.
Making the Case for Women as Economic Drivers
Women’s issues were front and center, highlighted by The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and Cherie Blair, wife of British former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Bineta Diop, Special Envoy for Women, Peace, and Security for the Africa Union. They make the case for women’s equality not a matter of moral rightness, but economic sense. From a column by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times:
“Grant Miller of Stanford University found that when states, one by one, gave women the right to vote at the local level in the 19th and early 20th centuries, politicians scrambled to find favor with female voters and allocated more funds to public health and child health. The upshot was that child mortality rates dropped sharply and 20,000 children’s lives were saved each year. Many of those whose lives were saved were boys. Today, some are still alive, elderly men perhaps disgruntled by the cavalcade of women at the podium in Philadelphia. But they should remember that when women gained power at the voting booth, they used it to benefit boys as well as girls.”
Empowering Women Globally
In the US, we have made significant progress with women’s equality. While we still have work to do, women in other countries, particularly in the developing world, have far greater obstacles. Cherie Blair, who runs the Cherie Blair Foundation for women, notes that when women are given development money, they spend 90% of it on their families and communities, which in turn brings economic benefits to everyone. Blair believes that women’s equality globally can be achieved by a combination of government policies such as affordable child care, parental leave, and favorable tax policies buffeted by programs offered through the private sector, such as loan programs, education, and training.
The moral obligation of women’s equality is clear. Yet, it is also nearly beneficial for all involved. Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF, says: “empowering women can be an economic game changer for any country. For instance, if women were to participate in the labor force to the same extent as men, national income could increase by 5 percent in the U.S., 9 percent in Japan, and 27 percent in India.”
No Conflict Between Social Consciousness and Business Success
In a larger context, there does not need to be a choice between socially conscious business decisions and the bottom line. Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, does not believe they are mutually exclusive: “Global businesses need to do more than merely navigate these challenges. We must help the world solve them. To start, we must work with governments around the world to advance free and fair trade policies that benefit everyone in the countries that participate.”
Gender equality is seen as an after thought, and many, particularly in the US, think we have more or less achieved gender parity. Yet, both in the US and globally, there is work to be done. It is essential work, not a “nice to have” from a humanitarian perspective. The work will be incremental, but the benefits will be global.
photo: freedigitalphotos.net by xedos4