International Women’s Day: My Take On Gender Equity
My Take on Gender Equity – About ten years ago I was at a conference, sitting in the back of the room, listening to one newly-minted MBA after another talking about his next brilliant idea for changing the world. From my years of experience, I knew that some of the ideas wouldn’t work, but I didn’t raise my hand. Other ideas were sound, but needed tweaking. I knew that because I had been down that road. But, I didn’t speak up. Conference after conference I sat there and listened, not sharing my thoughts or ideas because, like many women, I wanted to be 100 percent sure before I joined the conversation, 100 percent confident in what I was saying.
What changed for me? I got sick of seeing one more young dude with all the answers. I realized that to create the future and world I wanted my children to live in, my voice needed to be heard.
International Women’s Day
This was one of the things I first thought of when I heard the 2019 International Women’s Day theme, #BalanceforBetter. It’s about a gender-balanced world, where women’s voices, whether in the boardroom, classroom, home or conference room, are heard and welcomed equally—with thoughts and ideas equally valued. And creating that balance benefits everyone, because when women can engage as true partners, men will be richer, more engaged and happier as well.
In the Global North, we’re seeing women and engaged men galvanizing to combat issues like sexual harassment and discrimination, and to work to close the gaps in wages, government representation and many other areas. We have a long way to go, but I’m optimistic.
In the Global South, especially in some of the poorest countries in the world, gender balance often requires the elimination of long-standing systemic and cultural practices that undermine and undervalue women. This includes violence, conflict, early marriage, social inequality, polygamy, adolescent pregnancy, and barriers that often impact the poorest women, such as limited access to education, healthcare, property ownership, financial services and income.
In my years of experience in Africa, I believe that the single most powerful force that accelerates gender equality is putting money in the hands of women. It’s a game changer. With money in a woman’s hands, household dynamics and perspectives shift. The woman in the family is now viewed by her husband and children as a financial partner, contributor and role model. And studies show that when this happens, households invest more in children’s health and education. It’s a ripple effect that can also impact the broader community, creating jobs, stimulating the local economy and helping change traditional thinking toward women. I’ve seen this happen for hundreds of women, including Rosette.
Rosette is 19 years old and was living with her husband and one-year old son in a mud house, in a swampy area that flooded every time it rained. At first, her husband forbade her to attend Street Business School. She persisted, and was able to begin her tiny vegetable stand with the equivalent of just US$.85. Her business was so tiny—just a few eggplants—that her neighbors laughed at her, which made her angry. In response, she wrote “Work Not Words” on the side of her house. And then she got busy.
Rosette was able to grow her business, making more than US$11 a week in profits. She has now saved over US$115 to buy a plot of solid land where she and her husband can build a new house. Rosette laughed when she told me, “Now my neighbors say, ‘that lady is getting rich’ and don’t laugh anymore.” Even better, Rosette’s husband is proud of her, encourages her to work, and gives her a bigger role in making household decisions—after all, she is the one with a nest egg to purchase land! Rosette’s success is just one example of how teaching women to become entrepreneurs and earn sustainable incomes can help change perspectives and cultural views to create gender balance, not to mention lifting entire families out of poverty.
Although progress has been made toward a gender-balanced world, we still have a long way to go. Globally, according to a recent World Bank Study, countries are losing US$160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. And for all the Devins and Rosettes out there who found their voices, there are many others who are waiting for their turn to be part of the conversation.
On this International Women’s Day, let’s raise our voices together. Gender balance is a human right and the only path forward for society. It’s good for men and women, boys and girls. It’s good for families. It’s good for business and communities. It’s good for governments and economies. It’s good for the world.