Successful companies not only meet their customers’ needs, they invest in innovation and new markets, build communities, and ensure they have a diverse staff. In today’s marketplace, companies play a critical role as corporate citizens and can be trusted partners with the public sector. A focus on gender equality, diversity, and women’s leadership is not just a philanthropic goal, it is central to business success and must be integrated into business operations.
Companies that are committed to equality and sustainability — both internally and externally — can expand market share, and burnish their reputation as good citizens, as consumers look for products reflecting their values. Globally, almost two-thirds of consumers prefer to buy from companies that reflect their personal values and beliefs.
Diverse teams increase profitability, innovation, and the ability to identify new markets and opportunities. A McKinsey and Co study found that companies in the top 25 percent for gender diverse executive teams were over 20 percent more likely to exceed average profitability. Diverse teams help companies benefit from different viewpoints and avoid missteps, such as Gucci’s launch of a sweater during Black History Month that reinforced racial stereotypes and Apple’s programming of Siri to respond inappropriately to user questions about sexual harassment.
There are other concrete steps that companies can make to achieve meaningful success through their equity strategies. Companies should buy more goods and services from women-led and other diverse businesses. Companies should identify barriers in their own systems, such as cumbersome and lengthy application processes, that prevent diversity in supply chains. For example, Walmart leverages its size and scale to source more from women-owned businesses, but this type of supply chain diversification doesn’t have to be limited to large organizations.
Companies can also partner with the public sector to develop strong enabling and legal environments critical to women’s success, including skill development and laws that make it easier for women to access quality education, child care, and health care. Legal frameworks that ensure non-discrimination, and protect against sexual harassment, assault and violence are good for business as they help attract and retain talent.
Enhancing enterprise-wide equality and diversity are not only the right thing for organizations to prioritize, but this effort is foundational to business success.
While COVID has upended everyone’s lives, women have borne the brunt of the pandemic in so many ways. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated gender inequalities and many of women’s economic gains have come to a standstill. Women business owners and entrepreneurs have suffered more than their male colleagues, as have women workers who have absorbed 54 percent of job loss despite comprising 39 percent of the global workforce. The public sector, private sector and civil society can all act to halt these losses. This article focuses on the impact COVID has had on women entrepreneurs and policies to address these issues.
Globally, the over 250 million women entrepreneurs drive growth, creating jobs and economic opportunity. In the U.S., more than 25 percent of small businesses have closed since December. Among those still operating, many fear for their futures, with only half saying they could survive another year under current economic conditions. Women are more likely than men to own businesses in sectors hard-hit, such as restaurants, personal services, and retail. Further, women and people of color often lack the same access to capital as White men whose businesses are more established.
According to a survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, only 47 percent of American women business owners rated their business health as “good,” while 62 percent of male owners said the same. Just 49 percent of these women expect revenues to increase in early 2021, a 14 point decrease from earlier in 2020. Only 32 percent of women-owned small businesses plan to increase investments in the coming year, compared to 39 percent of their male counterparts.
Similarly, Babson College’s Diana International Research Institute conducted a series of surveys to understand the business challenges faced by women entrepreneurs during the pandemic. The surveys found 67 percent said revenue had dropped; 23 percent closed down their businesses permanently, while 26 percent reduced employees’ hours and 38 percent preferred low interest federal loans to assist their businesses.
Findings were similar globally. A Cherie Blair Foundation survey of women in entrepreneurship mentoring programs reflected that 93 percent were negatively impacted by COVID, with 43 percent reporting reduced or no access to customers. WEConnect International, a global network connecting women-owned businesses to qualified buyers, also surveyed its members. That survey found 82 percent negatively impacted by the pandemic between April and June 2020, with 84 percent reporting decreased sales/revenue. And similar to U.S. women business owners, these entrepreneurs reduced the amount of time spent on work due to increased caregiving responsibilities (25%).
Government programs to address COVID-related financial stresses did not reach firms owned by women and men equally. While women own 40 percent of U.S. businesses, just 16 percent of firms receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans are female-owned. Similarly, 24 percent of the women surveyed by WeConnect said they were unable to access needed additional resources.
But, despite these daunting statistics, entrepreneurship is up. As of December 2020, there were more than 1.5 million new business applications in the U.S., up 82 percent. Many of these businesses are being started by women, whether out of necessity or because entrepreneurship gives them more control.
Key Steps to Support Women Entrepreneurs
The Public Sector plays a unique role developing legal frameworks and setting policy.
- Because of this role, the leadership (and membership) of all government bodies and teams focused on COVID-19 response, recovery and future preparedness must be gender-balanced. This is fundamental to an economic recovery that is effective, inclusive and responsive to the needs of women and men, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds. Women’s organizations, often at the forefront of community response, must be consulted in this process.
- Since women face a disproportionate burden of caregiving, governments develop a stronger policy infrastructure for caregiving, including equitable parental leave, quality and affordable care for children and other family members, and policies promoting equal participation of men and domestic partners in unpaid care and domestic work. Government can also promote investment in the care economy, including increased quality of care jobs. The European Union, for example, directs its Member States to grant maternity leave of at least 14 weeks to self-employed women workers.
- Governments need to support closing both the gender and rural/urban digital divides by investing in needed infrastructure and enhancing digital skills development. The pandemic has accentuated the urgent need for connectivity and digital literacy for women entrepreneurs. Those lacking access to the Internet, smartphones and other vital technologies are falling further behind.
- With a tailored and gender-responsive approach, governments can also buy more goods and services from women-owned businesses through procurement of goods and services. Kenya’s public procurement policy, for example, reserves 30 percent of government contracts for women, youth and persons with disabilities.
The Private Sector can address challenges faced by women starting and running businesses in terms of access to financial and investment products as well as supply chains.
- Access to credit, including credit guarantees, is important for women entrepreneurs who are more likely to see substantially reduced revenue. Moreover, financial services companies can support COVID response and recovery by streamlining access to new financing for women entrepreneurs. The Tory Burch Foundation, in partnership with Bank of America, provides women entrepreneurs in the U.S. the opportunity to access affordable loans through community lenders.
- Like the public sector, corporations can commit to buying more goods and services from women-led businesses, and encourage the production of goods and services from the same. The private sector can identify barriers in their own systems, such as cumbersome and lengthy application processes, that prevent diversity in supply chains. For example, Walmart leverages its size and scale to source more from women-owned businesses, seeing this as the “right thing to do” and foundational to providing products and services their customers need. When buying from women-owned businesses is not an option, companies can source from companies offering fair pay and benefits for women employees.
Civil society non-profit and advocacy organizations, academia, business associations and program implementers can foster policy change through the use of research-driven and evidence-based insights and advocacy.
- Civil society can underscore the need for the private and public sectors to create a more enabling environment for women entrepreneurs. Where discriminatory laws remain, it can advocate for legal reforms regarding business ownership, access to capital, and non-discrimination. For example, WE EMPOWER, a project of the European Union, UN Women and the International Labour Organization advocated for sustainable, inclusive and equitable policies around women’s economic empowerment in the public and private sectors in G7 countries.
- Civil society organizations, business associations and academia can identify the needs of women business owners, create opportunities for sharing useful practices, and provide skills training. Women’s business networks can provide peer-to-peer learning and assist women entrepreneurs as they seek markets for their goods and services. WEConnect enhances the capabilities of women entrepreneurs to transact business globally, and has worked with the Royal Bank of Scotland to develop a supplier diversity code of conduct and concrete plan to increase gender diversity in supply chains.
Across All Sectors and initiatives, it remains important to collect and report data disaggregated by sex, age, ethnicity and race to inform policy. This intersectional data helps ensure that resources are provided to those that need it most. This data should include information about access to finance, access to networks, and ability to compete for both public and private sector procurement opportunities.
This article originally appeared on the Diana International Research Institute (DIRI) at Babson College membership platform.
President-elect Joe Biden has a history of advocating on behalf of women and girls in the United States and around the world. In 1994, then-Senator Biden co-authored and advocated for the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, landmark legislation to strengthen legal and community-based responses to domestic violence. Further, he introduced the International Violence Against Women Act, which provided a framework for the United States to address gender-based violence globally. During the campaign, the Biden/Harris ticket made strong and substantive commitments to gender equality and to the role of women as leaders. In the first 100 days, we urge the new administration to showcase this leadership at the next annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
What is CSW?
CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Established in 1946, CSW meets each March in New York, and brings together representatives of the U.N. and member governments as well as civil society to promote women’s rights. CSW is an important opportunity for governments to speak to their commitments on women’s empowerment and gender equality. At CSW, governments set out their overall approach to addressing gender gaps, outline relevant accomplishments, and make commitments to future policy initiatives. For example, in 2012, the U.S. government highlighted the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), the first comprehensive and standardized gauge to directly measure women’s empowerment and inclusion in the agricultural sector.
At each session’s conclusion, CSW issues a set of non-binding “agreed conclusions” related to pressing issues facing women and girls. Member States also submit reports tracking their progress toward the goals set out in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Current and emerging issues of women’s political, economic, and social rights are raised at CSW, and as such, that influences U.N. policy and national policies. CSW has provided a gender lens on many U.N. programs, including those focused on increasing property rights, ending sexual violence in conflict, and increasing access to education, health, and self-determination.
History of U.S. Participation with the Commission
Both Democratic and Republican administrations have used CSW as a platform to signal their approach to gender policies and programs and to announce new initiatives for women and girls. In addition, the U.S. delegation has highlighted individuals and organizations from outside government whom the administration sees as important allies in shaping those initiatives.
At the CSW annual meeting in 2010, for example, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed U.S. leadership on women’s rights and gave a major address on gender equality and women’s rights, with examples of how this approach would be incorporated into Obama administration initiatives on global health, food security, and climate change. In addition to Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, and senior White House and administration officials, the U.S. delegation included leaders from the private sector and civil society.
The Trump administration, however, utilized CSW to step back from global leadership on gender equality, which otherwise would ensure that everyone has equal opportunity and access to resources. In 2019, for example, acting Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Cherith Norman Chalet led the delegation and stated, “Let’s be clear – we are not about gender jargon. Today, here at the Commission on the Status of Women, we are about women. Women and girls.” According to news reports, during negotiations on the agreed conclusions, the U.S. sought to prevent the word “gender” being used as a substitute for “women and girls,” haggled over the definition of the word “family,” and tried to restrict wording on migration, technology, and climate change. The U.S. delegation included administration officials from the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Health and Human Services, but no list of public delegates was released.
The Biden Administration
The Biden administration should use CSW65 this March to reaffirm the importance of women’s leadership and gender equality to its foreign policy agenda. According to incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Biden has asked his national security team to “reimagine” national security to address global crises, including inequality in all forms.
As a first step, the 2020 U.S. delegation to CSW should be led by senior administration officials, such as Vice President Kamala Harris or the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (assuming she has been confirmed). The delegation should also include executive and legislative leaders, and representatives of like-minded partners from the private sector and civil society.
CSW speeches and events should be used to highlight policy or program announcements that reflect a commitment to gender equality at home and abroad. Such announcements should include the creation of a White House Council on Gender Equality, as the Biden-Harris campaign pledged to do, and the designation of key appointments across the government with responsibility for integrating a focus on gender equality into policymaking.
This includes the ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues at the State Department and the senior gender coordinator at USAID. These are more than personnel announcements. These individuals spearhead and guide the work to embed and advance gender equality and women’s leadership across U.S. foreign and development policy. At the Department of State, the Office of the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues has a mandate to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls through U.S. foreign policy and leads these efforts in U.S. diplomacy, partnerships, and programs. At USAID, the senior gender coordinator provides guidance on a range of complex government programs and policies to the USAID administrator and other leadership, serves as a liaison internally between the Office of the Administrator and USAID bureaus, missions, and independent offices, and represents the agency both internally and externally regarding gender issues.
CSW is also an ideal backdrop for the United States to reaffirm Biden’s commitment to pursue ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which has been ratified by 189 countries. CEDAW is often described as the international bill of rights for women, but while President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW in 1980, the U.S. Senate did not ratify it. Only the United States, the Holy See, Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga have not ratified CEDAW.
In the U.S., ratification requires consideration and recommendation of the document by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and the support of two-thirds of the full U.S. Senate. The last time CEDAW’s ratification was recommended to the full Senate in 2002, then-Senator Biden chaired the SFRC. While ratification is likely an uphill battle, the landscape of women’s political and economic participation (and the U.S. Senate) has changed a great deal since 2002.
Taken together with campaign statements and recent Cabinet-level and senior staff appointments, these actions will demonstrate the U.S. government’s renewed commitment to meaningfully engage with other governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society organizations to further gender equality and women’s leadership.
It is imperative that those who make U.S. foreign policy reflect who we are as Americans. Today, most foreign policy and national security decisions are made in centralized and closely held processes. This is true across institutions. We recently reviewed the list of experts called to testify in Congress on foreign policy from 2017-2020 and found that most of them are men.
There are now discussions about what a feminist foreign policy would look like in the United States. Most recommendations have focused on the executive branch and, among other things, call for greater representation of women in the relevant institutions and decision-making processes. Yet, the legislative branch has a key role to play. As part of its constitutional responsibility, Congress holds hearings that include both government officials and outside experts.
In order to ascertain who is called upon for foreign policy expertise, we looked at 1,143 witnesses who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) in the 115th and 116th Congresses (between January 2017 and June 2020).
Overall, more men than women are called as non-government witnesses to testify about foreign policy. However, we are heartened by recent HFAC numbers outlined below and we expect that HFAC will continue to call witnesses at this rate. Further, SFRC should call at least this percentage of women to testify as experts going forward.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee: During both the 115th and 116th Congresses, the SFRC consisted of 22 men (96 percent) and one woman (4 percent). Of the 352 witnesses the committee called, 77 percent were men. Of the non-government witnesses, 75 percent of the experts were men and 25 percent were women.
House Foreign Affairs Committee: In the 115th Congress (2017-2019), the House of Representatives was controlled by the Republican Party; HFAC consisted of 38 men (81 percent) and nine women (19 percent). Since control of the House changed in January 2019, HFAC consists of 40 men (85 percent) and seven women (15 percent).
From January 2017 to June 2020, HFAC called 791 witnesses; 68 percent were men and 32 percent women. Of the non-government witnesses, 69 percent of the experts were men and 31 percent women. In the 115th Congress (2017-19), 76 percent of HFAC non-governmental witnesses were men and 24 percent were women. To date in the 116th Congress (2019-20), 58 percent of HFAC non-governmental witnesses were men and 42 percent were women.
In an effort to close this clear gap in representation, we recommend that the Senate and House leadership require a gender balance in witnesses called to testify. Informally, committee leaders should call equal numbers of male and female witnesses. At the same time, foreign policy experts who are often called to testify could pledge not to serve on a panel of three or more witnesses when no women are included.
Further, these committees must examine hearing topics with a gender lens and choose witnesses to include that point of view. Such an analysis will broaden and deepen an understanding of the policy landscape and the solutions considered. The committees must call more women to testify as foreign policy experts, on all subjects not just those related to gender. Policymakers need to understand that even “traditional” security issues, like force readiness, can be analyzed with a gender lens. Such an analysis will show how men and women are impacted differently by U.S. foreign policy interventions.
While increasing the number of women experts testifying doesn’t ensure a full gender analysis on foreign policy topics, it would be a great start to better ensure that policy is formulated and debated by a more diverse group of experts and policymakers with a broader range of expertise.
Molly Opinsky is an intern at Smash Strategies and a rising senior at Tulane University studying international relations and economics. She contributed to the research of this piece.
Analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing the role of gender in society sharply into focus. As we look at the impact of the pandemic in subjects as diverse as political leadership, violence in the home, caregiving and what constitutes “essential” work, we are confronting the role that gender plays across the world. As a point of reference, gender is the socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, entitlements, and obligations of females and males in societies. While many gender norms have shifted, these norms still inform our actions and roles every day. These norms translate into women being viewed primarily as caregivers, while men are viewed as leaders. In most of our societies, we see family violence is a private matter, but COVID-19 is bringing these issues to the forefront as our public and private lives have become more intertwined.
We’re able to discuss gender differently during this global crisis because gender impacts are being discussed in “real time”—as they are happening—rather than analyzed months or years after the fact. Advocates and practitioners have been working to include this type of gender analysis for years but topics like foreign policy, crisis response, and trade have traditionally—and wrongly—been seen as gender blind or gender neutral. This new focus on real-time analysis of gender impacts provides us an opportunity to create lasting change.
Women’s Unseen, Essential Role in Labor
According to a recent New York Times article, one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, and nonwhite women are more likely to be doing essential jobs than anyone else. These women are core to a part of the labor force which keeps the country running and takes care of those most in need, pandemic or not. In health care, 77% of essential workers are women and in essential retail, 53% are women. According to the New York Times, 83% of those in health care jobs paying under $30,000 are women. We know that women are paid less than men, and this is more pronounced for women of color. In the U.S., women overall earn 81 cents for every dollar a white man earns, while African American, Hispanic and Native American women earn 75 cents. We must use this window to address the twin issues of pay disparity and how we value certain jobs and types of work.
Successful Women’s Leadership During Catastrophe
Women leaders like Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan are taking bold action to stem the impact of COVID-19. They are praised as “voices of reason” for their clear and effective communication, decisiveness and empathy in the face of this pandemic. We need more leaders like them. As of January 2020, women serve as heads of state in only 10 out of 152 countries (6.6%) and women serve as heads of government in 12 out of 193 countries (6.2%). Women hold about 25% of the seats in parliaments globally and 24% of those in the U.S. Congress. This is a time to rethink the way we view leadership and the traits we value in leaders. These women demonstrate that a leader should be both decisive and empathetic.
Domestic Violence Spikes Amid the Pandemic
With 90 countries in lockdown because of COVID-19, billions of people are now sheltering at home. While this has kept many people safe from the virus, it has put many women at risk of violent behavior behind closed doors. Stay-at-home orders put those in violent relationships in close proximity of their abusers, with little ability to leave home or reach out for help. In Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., sharp spikes in the incidence of domestic violence and concurrent heightened demand for emergency shelter have been raised by government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society organizations. It is critical that countries make the prevention and redress of gender-based violence a key part of national response plans.
Shelter-at-Home Highlights Need for Caregiving Infrastructure
Finally, COVID-19 has laid bare the reality that most caregiving is still done by women. Even when both parents work full-time, women do the majority of the childcare and housework. Recent calls to build an infrastructure of care in the U.S. have gone unanswered. But now, with schools closed and large numbers of family members at home, or when people with school-aged kids or dependent parents have to go to work, it is clearer how much care and household work is needed and who does that work. Before COVID-19, many families relied on others (often women) to formally or informally care for children or other dependents, clean their homes or cook meals. Now, many of those workers are unable to continue these roles. Once again, it is important that organizations and governments recognize that many workers have a full-time job outside the office.
Make no mistake, we are facing a global crisis. But, we can use this as an opportunity to reimagine a different future, one that values gender equality, women’s participation and women’s leadership. Women must be part of COVID-19 response and recovery planning and decision making. We must value work the unseen work done by women. We must use every tool possible to restructure caregiving systems and address the causes of domestic violence. We can do this, using everyone’s talent, skill and experience to inform our choices.
Like almost everything, the current coronavirus pandemic has a gender angle. Why? Because the gender roles that each of us play – the socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, entitlements, and obligations of females and males – impact and are impacted by this crisis.
While it seems that men are more likely to die of this and other viruses because of genetics and chromosomes. But men may also be more susceptible because of gender norms that cause greater stress, higher rates of tobacco consumption and a reluctance to seek medical care. When we look back, research will give us a better picture of the outcomes for all of those affected and how it was divided by sex, gender, age and race.
At the same time, women are also bearing the brunt of much of the crisis. An April 3 U.S. Department of Labor report, shows the same unemployment rate (4 percent) for adult men and women. But, according to the National Restaurant Association, women account for 71 percent of all servers nationwide. Restaurants have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus. We will see in the coming weeks if a gender gap appears in the numbers due to the different kinds of jobs men and women hold.
The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by COVID-19, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing gender-based violence, in almost all countries. United Nations chief António Guterres put out a video statement on April 6 focused on the worldwide issue and the strains that institutions that often mitigate GBV – healthcare workers, police and support groups – are under.
Importantly, issues that are rarely part of a mainstream conversation, such as the issue of caregiving (for older family members and children) are being discussed. While women have traditionally taken care of the majority of care and other chores within the home, it has remained largely invisible. Calls from some like Anne-Marie Slaughter to build an infrastructure of care in the U.S. have gone unanswered. But now, with schools closed and large numbers of family members at home, or when people with school-aged kids or dependent parents have to go to work, it is becoming clearer how much care and household work is needed and who does that work. Once again, we will see how U.S. companies respond to the realization that many workers carry a full-time job away from the office.
COVID-19 has caused many parts of the U.S. and the world to slow down and take a look at our society. It has allowed us to examine what we value and what we have forgotten to value in our lives. After we get through the next uncertain and unhappy weeks and months, I hope the business, academic and advocacy communities, as well as individuals, take the opportunity to rebuild our institutions, like work and healthcare, in a way that is more equitable and remembers those things we valued during these dark days.
This year is the 20th Anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which reflects the global commitment to the importance of women in building peace and security, and strong, inclusive societies. UNSCR 1325, and the nine UN resolutions that follow, recognize women’s central role in peace, security and stability; women’s right to be included in negotiations around war, peace and conflict resolution; and the importance of addressing the different needs of women and men in relief, recovery and post-conflict efforts.
Over the last several weeks, I met with several groups of international leaders visiting the U.S., all working in post-conflict countries to build peace and strengthen their countries’ institutions. Some of the participants were from urban areas; some from rural areas. Some are in government; some in civil society. These women and men — and many more like them — are key to efforts across the globe to make peace and security real in communities. Every day, they translate the rhetoric of the U.N. and governments to the lives of women, men, girls and boys. Their work defines and reflects the on-the-ground reality of this work.
Here are some key takeaways:
- Every issue is relevant to women’s lives: Despite the global commitment of UNSCR 1325, we often hear that “women’s issues” will be dealt with once there is a peace agreement. That approach doesn’t work.When women are included in discussions and peace talks, women bring a broad set of issues and solutions to the table, and agreements last longer. The women I met over brought both policy expertise and knowledge of their communities. They were experts in criminal justice reform, environment and sustainability, and election systems. Their expertise, and the perspectives they bring, matters in terms of strong policy solutions and ensuring that everyone’s views are being considered.
- Bringing women together who work on these issues is critically important. There are many lessons that women can learn from each other, from how to be an effective negotiator, how to represent community interests without being seen as partisan in peace negotiations, and how to engage men as part of these processes. It’s important that from various parts of the women, peace and security “ecosystem” understand how they complement each other’s roles: women in civil society raising issues and women in government drafting policies that bring those concerns and proposals to life.
- Women doing this work to build peace don’t always see the connections to work elsewhere. The UNSCR resolutions around women, peace and security provide a global and local framework for thinking about these complex issues and for analyzing progress. But women on the ground don’t always see their work as connected to that framework, or see what they do as part of a global movement. Ensuring that their work is chronicled and captured helps them see these connections and helps international actors understand the connections as well.
- Supporting peace builders is essential and we must listen to what these peace builders need from us. Local context and local leadership matters. It’s critical to listen to, and support, local leaders. Women and men engaged in peacebuilding and conflict resolution take many risks. They live in conflict zones and communities that have often been torn apart. They put their lives on the line, and they also push boundaries around about what is possible to resolve a conflict. Members of the international community need to support what they do, in whatever ways peacebuilders identify. In some cases, it may be highlighting their work publicly; in some cases not.
- We ignore engaging men at our peril. Just as women are central to peace building and building strong post-conflict institutions, so are men. Many of the women I met with talked about what contributions they were making, but also how they work with men in their communities and countries to support women’s inclusion. Men need to be engaged so that they understand how communities can be rebuilt in a more equitable way following conflict.
As we mark these last 20 years, and recommit to engaging women in peace and security, we need to keep learning from those who make this work real every day. They bring international commitments and resolutions to life.
Today, more women than men vote in the United States. For example, in the 2016 election, 55 percent of American women voted; only 52 percent of men voted. Women voters are courted by both political parties and by candidates, and our voting behavior is constantly scrutinized. More women are also running for office than ever before. Currently, 24 percent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 25 percent of U.S. Senators are women. Both major political parties have nominated women for either president or vice president.
American women did not always have the right to vote. Women gained that right 99 years ago — in 1920 — when the 19th Amendment was ratified. As we mark this anniversary, there are numerous programs and exhibits illustrating the struggle for women’s suffrage, which isn’t often taught in school or widely known. The fight spanned over 70 years, culminating in the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment. The struggle here in the U.S. took place as women across the globe also fought for their right to vote. Between 1918 and 1921, women gained the right to vote in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Women in the U.S. began fighting for the right to vote in the mid-1800s, after passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which granted African American men the right to vote. Make no mistake, the women who fought for suffrage were held back by legal barriers to their participation in public life as well as social norms about their role in society. Despite this, American women organized, marched, went to prison, committed civil disobedience, lobbied office holders and candidates at every level and in both political parties, and navigated complex political and legal terrain.
And, they organized across the country, riding trains, sending telegrams, having no access to social media and cell phones. They were called names, castigated as agitators who would tear apart society and family, and their appearances often mocked. They dealt with the legacy of the Civil War and racism, which was often used by those opposing suffrage and at times, by those favoring it.
From the time of the first bitter referendum in 1867 to ratification of the 19th Amendment, the suffragists undertook 480 petition and lobbying drives to get state legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 277 campaigns to get state party conventions to include women’s suffrage planks in their platforms; and, 56 state referendum campaigns. Women in the Western U.S. gained rights to vote before the rest of the country and in many places, women could vote for some, but not all, offices.
The ratification of the 19th Amendment came down to one state (Tennessee) and the vote of Harry Burn (the youngest member of the Tennessee General Assembly, who changed his vote because of a note from his pro-suffrage mother). It’s an iconic and heartwarming story.
As I moderated a panel last month on this topic, the lesson I took away was that women’s suffrage was not inevitable, and neither is any social change. Change happens because citizens organize and fight for it. As Casey Cep recently wrote in the New Yorker: “Apart from inaccuracy, one of the greatest flaws in any historical account is a sense of inevitability. The idea that women were always going to get the right to vote in the U.S. ignores the reality that women only got that right in Switzerland in 1971 and Saudi Arabia in 2015. It also fails to explain why the right was granted to American women in 1920, as opposed to 1919 or 1918, or perhaps more pointedly in 1776.”
It is easy to look back and see women’s suffrage, and Harry Burn’s vote, or the passage of civil rights, or the election of women to office, as inevitable. They aren’t. They happen because committed individuals and organizations lay the groundwork, take risks, challenge norms, revise laws and policies, and work to convince others. The suffragists did just that, so that each of us can participate in American politics and public life. We owe it to them and their struggle to keep working towards a society where everyone can fully participate.
Today we are launching The Smash Index to measure gender equality on each presidential campaign. Why are we doing this?
- Gender issues and the role of women in our society are on the front line of current policy discussions due to the rise of the #MeToo movement, advocacy around pay equity, and attacks on women’s reproductive rights.
- Campaigns today are multi-million dollar small businesses. They should build in strong diversity and inclusion policies, and consider gender. This is analogous to movements to push corporations and businesses to take actions to hire and retain women at all levels, and ensure that women are engaged in decision-making and product design.
- One of these candidates will begin their term in January 2021, we want to ensure that the President has considered these issues as she or he implements both domestic and foreign policy.
The Smash Index covers how the campaign is running and how gender is addressed in the campaign’s policy and programs. With regard to internal management, questions focus on women’s representation, pay at every level of the campaign and how issues such as sexual harassment, computer usage and leave are addressed. On the policy side, we question how women voters are targeted and how gender issues are integrated across policy plans.
Every presidential campaign is invited to complete the Index. Submissions are open now and will be accepted through August 15, 2019. All campaigns will be scored out of a total of 100 points based on their responses and publicly available information. Campaigns which do not respond will receive a zero. The full Index results will be released in early September.
The Smash Index is a tool for campaigns and voters. Campaigns from both parties can use it to showcase their gender equality efforts across their public policy and their campaign organizations. Voters can use it to compare the presidential campaigns on specific data points related to gender equality.
At Smash Strategies, we have decades of experience, internationally and domestically, working on politics, policy and advocacy. We understand that information is powerful in driving sustainable change. We think it’s time that voters can understand how candidates for president and their campaigns translate rhetoric into reality.
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Economic Empowerment
- Empowering Girls
- Foreign Policy
- Gender Equality
- Open Government
- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
- Sustainable Development Goals