The G20 Commits to Development for Women
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In the hills overlooking Florence is the 15th century Villa La Pietra, originally constructed for Francesco Sassetti, a Medici banker. Now the Florentine campus of New York University thanks to the last will and testament of Lord Acton, Villa La Pietra plays host to conferences and gatherings of leaders and academic experts from around the world and it was just such a gathering three years ago that an ad hoc coalition of feminist NGO leaders and corporate officers took on the issue of women’s economic development globally – and vowed to put that issue squarely on the table for the world’s leaders in short order.
As the Group of 20 leading economic nations wrapped their meetings in Los Cabos, Mexico with a long statement of purpose and direction, that group that came together in the Tuscan hills took quite a bit of satisfaction in the results – which include an explicit call for “full economic and social participation” for women. What began in that first gathering in Florence became The La Pietra Coalition, a “breakthrough initiative” convened by the nonprofit Vital Voices Global Partnership and bringing together Nobel Laureates, leaders in business, media, academe, civil society, government and elected officials committed to the belief that “investing in women is smart economics.” (An important note of disclosure: I’m honored to be a volunteer member of the Coalition and I take part in occasional meetings and strategy calls. I support its mission fully).
Over the last year, the Coalition launched a campaign called the Third Billion – which refers to a billion women who will enter the global economy over the next decade – and took dead aim at pressing the G20 to put women’s development on the agenda in Mexico. That work paid off; according to the formal G20 declaration released by the White House:
We commit to take concrete actions to overcome the barriers hindering women’s full economic and social participation and to expand economic opportunities for women in G20 economies. We also express our firm commitment to advance gender equality in all areas, including skills training, wages and salaries, treatment in the workplace, and responsibilities in care-giving.
“This is HUGE, as women in many of the G20 countries – both develp0ed and emerging economies — have never had this type of clear mandate for equality,” said Sandra Taylor, senior director of the La Pietra Coalition. “Of course women’s groups must now identify just how equal opportunity can be realized in their country, participate actively in the policy process and keep the governments honest.”
The declaration comes at an opportune time. Never before has the issue of empowering women on an economic basis had such political currency across diverse regions. As someone who attends his share of NGO conferences and meetings, it has become an expected topic of plenary addresses and panel discussions. And it only takes a good pair of eyes to see the growth of feminism in economic development and global politics – women now outnumber men in the NGO world and their work, particularly that of young women who demand equal political access, is beginning to drive the global development agenda. And while the headlines around the G20’s work center on issues like Europe’s troubled economic policy and climate change, the section on women and development is the kind of breakthrough that recognizes a social and political shift that is already well underway.
“La Pietra Coalition has been working with the G20 for some time to expand access to financial services for women,” said Taylor. “We are very encouraged by their very direct instruction to the World Bank and the OECD to identify barriers and make a progress report by next year. We are ready to offer the evidence we have gathered on these barriers and make recommendations for solutions. Furthermore the G20 leaders made a commitment to take action in their own countries to remove economic and social barriers and expand economic opportunities for women, through gender equality in the full range of social and labor issues.”
What I might be tempted to call economic feminism is clearly a growing force. Over the next decade, the impact of women on the global economy – as producers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers – will be at least as significant as that of China’s and India’s, respective, one-billion-plus populations, if not greater, according to the La Pietra Coalition. In the words of the Third Billion campaign: “if women’s economical potential can be successfully harnessed and leveraged, it would be the equivalent of having an additional one billion individuals in the work force, contributing to the global economy: often referred to as the ‘third billion.'”
In the introduction to the first chapter of Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World, the excellent new book by Alyse Nelson about women’s leadership and the organization that created the La Pietra Coalition, Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and current director of UN Women and United Nations Under-Secretary, puts this evident trend into instant perspective: “Experience has taught me that there is no limit to what women can accomplish.”