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.
Late last week, Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek announced he would step down, the organization’s latest departure in the wake of an investigation into sexual harassment and workplace misconduct. His departure came one week after the resignation of Nature Conservancy President Brian McPeek amid swirling complaints about workplace culture.
Workplace sexual harassment and assault are wrong. And, they are costly — both to those who experience it and to employers. Between 25 and 80 percent of women in the U.S. will experience workplace sexual harassment in her lifetime. Working in geographically isolated environments and male dominated professions makes employees more prone to harassment and assault, as does not having legal status and working in workplaces with significant power imbalances (from my perspective, that is almost every workplace).
Employee cost is staggering and personal: depression and anxiety, loss of confidence, decreased opportunities, forced job change, unemployment, and career abandonment. Research shows that 80 percent of women who experience sexual harassment leave their jobs within two years (as compared to 50 percent otherwise).
There is also a large cost to employers: loss of talented employees and their skills, legal fees, retraining costs, high turnover rates, low morale, and decreased productivity. Research shows that companies lose $28,000 (in 2018 dollars) in productivity per each person working on a team affected by harassment.
No sector or workplace can afford these costs. Every institution is at risk and must take action. Mission-driven organizations, like civil society organizations, humanitarian and development organizations, and governments are not immune. In fact, there have been well-publicized incidents in these sectors over the last several years.
I recently moderated a session with civil society leaders at the Open Government Partnership Summit in Ottawa. We focused on the following questions:
- What has worked to prevent, and respond, to workplace sexual harassment, especially in mission-driven organizations?
- What can influence organizational leaders who are skeptical?
- How can you build strong support at all levels of an organization for addressing these issues?
- How can an organization create and maintain a supportive environment for those who come forward?
During this session, we heard from women who had experienced workplace harassment, and from organizations that have reformed workplace policies. Here are five takeaways:
- Organizations need both strong leadership and staff engagement: Leaders and managers set the tone for how an organization responds to anything, including sexual harassment. Leaders need to also empower and involve staff in developing solutions. These staff-driven conversations can be transformational and lead to policies that exceed legal requirements and create new norms.
- Organizations need to invest in internal capabilities, develop clear processes and safeguard those who report. Organizations need to have full time HR staff, clear standards for behavior, policies and processes for addressing complaints, and effective training. They also must support those who experience harassment, and not just address those who commit it. Everyone needs to understand the process and it must be as transparent as possible while protecting privacy.
- Non-staff actors, like board members and funders, play a key role. Boards of directors hire and fire organizational leadership. In doing so, they must hold the organization’s CEO accountable for policies she has put in place — or not — on this key topic. Not addressing workplace harassment is disrespectful to employees, is costly and undermines the organization’s mission. Funders are especially influential in the non-governmental world as NGOs are dependent on them to keep their doors open. Funders need to pay attention, ask questions about what policies are in place, and fund organizations to develop safe workplaces.
- But, having a sexual harassment policy is not enough. Addressing harassment needs to be part of developing a workplace culture that values every employee’s contribution. This includes policies that reflect how an organization values employees, such as equitable pay and promotion policies and family leave policies. This should be accompanied by regular meetings, training, and conversations on gender policy and other inclusion policies.
- Learning from others is key. It’s important to share best practices and understand how other NGOs and institutions are applying gender equality and inclusion principles. Mission-driven organizations, often with employees across the globe in remote locations, face unique challenges. There needs to be a way to share what has worked, and build in opportunities for coaching.
These can be difficult issues, but taking steps to build strong processes, implement them, and ensure that every employee feels valued will go a long way to ensuring a workplaces where people can do the best job possible.
52 women (and one man) from 53 countries. 11 cities. 21 days.
It’s not. It’s a snapshot of the itinerary for a recent U.S. State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), organized by Meridian International Center, to promote women and entrepreneurship. These 53 leaders were from Algeria to Zimbabwe and everywhere in between.
The participants were entrepreneurs, directors of business accelerators and non-governmental organizations supporting women in business, corporate executives, government officials, and academics. All play a role in their country’s efforts to support women entrepreneurs, whose enterprises contribute substantially to economic growth and poverty reduction.
I met with the group in Washington, DC both at the beginning of their visit to the U.S. and when they returned from travel to cities as diverse as Kansas City, Missouri; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Pensacola, Florida. At the first session, they talked with each other about their role in the ecosystem of entrepreneurship and in supporting women entrepreneurs. They shared views about the fundamentals for advancing successful women’s entrepreneurship and business and how to ensure that more women have access to the tools they need to succeed. They each outlined their goals and objectives to maximize the IVLP for themselves, their business or organization, and their community. They listed the types of contacts and skills they wanted to gather as well as the types of policies and innovations that interested them, such as accessing supply chains, meeting angel investors and talking with successful women entrepreneurs.
We met again when they returned from their intensive program outside of Washington, DC. They talked about what impressed or surprised them, whether the IVLP changed their perspectives, and what new individuals and organizations they would connect with upon their return home. (Side note: they also talked about how their packing and unpacking skills had improved.)
They each had a unique experience, but overall, several things stood out:
- Globally, women entrepreneurs face common challenges. The most common takeaway was that women, particularly women business owners, across the world face similar issues. Participants were struck by how their everyday challenges were similar to those faced by their fellow participants from different countries and by women in the U.S. Bottom line, since there is so much we have in common, there is much we can learn from each other.
- Support systems and women’s networks matter. The IVLP participants met with organizations supporting women entrepreneurs and providing platforms for women business owners to connect. This strategic networking and relationship building is critical to business development, and to business success and growth. Many took away lessons about the types of organizations and platforms that exist in the U.S. for developing connections and business opportunities, as well as for helping women learn how to be effective networkers. While in DC, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) organized a roundtable with pioneers and leaders in building strong environments for women’s businesses. In Charlotte, NC, the group met with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which gives U.S. women business owners a place to organize as an economic and advocacy force.
- Broader policy support for women and girls is critical to economic empowerment and opportunity. Women can’t succeed as entrepreneurs if they can’t stay in school, learn critical thinking and financial literacy skills, or make their own life decisions. In several countries represented, child marriage is prevalent and the women participants are committed to changing that reality, as they see its negative impact on women’s economic futures. In the countries represented, most decision-makers are men and women are subject to restrictive laws that create barriers to business success, such as those that restrict women’s ability to get credit or have access to child care and family leave. The participants focused on the importance of advocating for changes in these laws and policies as well as those that narrowly target barriers to entrepreneurship.
- Government support of women’s entrepreneurship makes a difference. Participants were struck by the critical role that government in the U.S., at every level, plays in supporting women and business. This includes advocacy around increasing the allocation of government contracts and procurements set aside for women-owned businesses, and regulatory reforms that increase access to capital and markets for businesses.
These 53 leaders — representing almost one-third of the world’s countries — are already successful. The purpose of the IVLP, and their exposure to what is happening here in U.S, is to ensure that they become force multipliers. From my viewpoint, I have little doubt that will be the case.
Businesses ignore women — and a focus on gender — at their peril. Everyone from startup founders to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies needs to promote women’s leadership, create safe and fair workplaces, support and engage women in the community, and ensure that their products and services reflect the differential experiences, and needs, of women and men.
When women’s participation in the labor force increases, GDP rises. When women start businesses, communities flourish. When companies have more gender diversity at the top, they are 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profits.
Startups founded by women are more profitable. According to the Vinetta Project, startups founded by women are 20 percent more likely to be revenue generating and there is a 35 percent higher return on investment (ROI) when financing a company founded by women.
Founding teams that include a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent, according to First Round Capital,comparing performance data in their portfolio over a 10 year period. Women founders create companies targeted at new market niches. Many of the most innovative and promising women-led startups focus on how to manage and ease the time burdens women face. For example, in 2014, Kate Ryder founded Maven Clinic, an online platform connecting consumers with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals with appointments in real time and a starting price of $18.
I spoke recently on a panel, “Women=Change,” held during DC Startup Week, a festival of programming for founders and entrepreneurs. The standing-room session addressed how focusing on women and gender can increase profitability and sustainability as well as how to concretely build this approach into business planning and development.
Four of my key takeaways:
- Good news: investors are looking to invest more in women-led companies. In 2017, only two percent of venture funding went to women-led startups and ventures. That needs to change. But, more funds are investing in companies led by diverse founders. The Helm plans to only invest in women-led companies, and Backstage Capital announced a $36 million fund investing exclusively in companies led by black women founders.
- Building a strong ecosystem is essential. Founders and new ventures need what is called an “ecosystem”: a supportive culture, enabling policies and laws, availability of financial and human capital, venture-friendly markets for products, and a range of institutional and infrastructural supports. In order to create such an ecosystem, government, business, financial institutions, investors and mentors must work together. More good news: there are groups bringing together these key actors, such as BEACON DC, a community-led campaign to make Washington, DC the most influential and supportive city for women entrepreneurs in the United States.
- Have tough conversations early. If you have issues with people assuming your male co-founder is in charge, or one of your male colleagues takes credit for your ideas, have that uncomfortable conversation early (and often). Discuss this with your co-founder (or employee) to ensure your leadership role is acknowledged. Be clear about who will represent the firm at conferences, and meetings, and how those presentations will be structured.
- Simple actions create a more inclusive culture. Rethink your recruitment and selection process. Job descriptions can be unintentionally biased by using phrases that emphasize an aggressive business culture. Use gender neutral titles, check the use of pronouns, and emphasize your commitment to diversity of all kinds. Hire people whose skill sets complement yours. Post jobs in multiple forums. Commit to the slate of candidates you interview being gender-balanced.
If you can embed this approach into your firm’s culture from day one, you are building for growth and sustainability. These actions can take time and thought, but in the end, will save you from playing catch up.
In many discussions, the term “gender” is often used interchangeably with “women and girls.” These concepts both get at gender norms and roles, but are different. Here’s a overview of these terms and how they differ. In short, we’ve learned that gender equality is are not just about women or girls, but about the different ways women and men experience their lives, have access to resources and can take advantage of opportunities. It broadens our perspective, so that policies and programs take into account those differential experiences of women and men, and address structural constraints to gender equality. Importantly, taking gender into account also encourages programs to include men and boys – political, business and religious leaders as well as husbands, brothers and fathers – because their gender or social roles will also change.
While “sex” refers to the biological characteristics that define us as female or male, “gender” refers to the economic, political, and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female. How gender is defined varies among cultures and changes over time.
Gender equality is the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal talents and abilities and make life choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles, or prejudices. It does not mean that women and men are the same, but that their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities should not depend on whether they are born male or female.
The role of women and the idea of “gender equality” in development has changed over time. For a very long time, development programs did not take sex or gender into account. Commodities or services, such as food, healthcare or education, were provided by richer countries to developing ones without attention paid to the characteristics of the beneficiaries.
A few decades ago, discussions and program implementers began to take into account that women might have different needs than men and/or might prioritize assistance in a different way. An example — for a long time rice was distributed around the world in 50 lb bags. While most men could haul the bags onto their backs and carry them home, the weight made collection of this food almost impossible for women. A simple change, made at women’s request, made the bags of rice lighter so that women could transport them.
Next, development organizations began to consider how men and women benefited from their programs. For instance, asking if both boys and girls were able to attend school, and what the barriers might be if there weren’t equal attendance rates. Or, if an agriculture program was teaching how to improve crop yields, were both male and female farmers benefiting from that knowledge. If all of the intended beneficiaries were not being reached or the outcomes were not being reached as planned, implementers started asking questions.
In the last ten years, technical experts have moved from a focus on women to gender. What was acknowledged was that in order to “empower” women, their social or gender roles had to change. For example, if the aim of a program is to create more women business owners in order to increase her family’s income and move them out of poverty, then the program cannot focus solely on the female entrepreneurs-to-be. Training women about how to start and run a business is key, no doubt, but the program must also take into account the local laws that prevent women from having access to credit, and, very importantly, how her income will create a new balance of power within her home. We now know that when a woman, a wife, earns her own income it can change the gender roles of both the woman and her husband. If a women begins contributing to family income (when she didn’t before), this can make her husband feel shame that he cannot solely support his family and lead to an increase in violence against her. And the same is true when women learn more about how their bodies function, play a greater role in politics or even stay in school a few more years.
The United States government, particularly the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has kept abreast of this growing field of gender and development just as it has with other technical fields, gaining new knowledge and improving its programs to spend U.S. taxpayer dollars more efficiently as it ends extreme poverty. USAID collaborates with other governments, private companies and implementing partners to know more and do better for women around the world.
While the gap between the number of boys and girls in primary school has been eliminated, the number of women in elected office has increased and the number of women in the formal workforce is higher than it has ever been, now is a good time to remind ourselves about the importance of these issues, how we arrived at this moment and the need to continue this critical work.
Within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. For Goal 5, there are nine targets. In this blog post, we will focus on SDG5 Target 4, which focuses on the value of unpaid care and domestic work and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family.
The prevalence and invisibility of unpaid care work in the U.S. and abroad makes acknowledging and tracking data critical to developing policy solutions. UN Women’s “Progress of the World’s Women Report” acknowledges that “Domestic work makes all other work possible”—and this is true regardless of whether that work comes from domestic workers or unpaid family caregivers. The labor of domestic workers is critical to the function and growth of national and global economies.” (Source)
Unpaid care and domestic work are barriers to reaching gender equality as they reinforce discriminatory gender stereotypes that force women to stay in the home and limits participation in the public sphere, (Source) and contributes to the persistent gender gaps in labor force participation, activity rates, and wages. In terms of numbers, women comprise the majority of domestic workers, accounting for 80 percent of all workers in the sector globally; which means that approximately 55 million women participate in domestic work. (Source) There are at least two million domestic workers in the United States, and most of them are African American or immigrant women.
Around the world, women spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men. (Source) According to a 2014 OECD study, women and men in the United States also spend their time differently. While men spent an average of 19 minutes per day caring for a family member, women spent 41 minutes. While men spent an average of 82 minutes per day doing “routine housework”, women spent 126 minutes. (Source)
One way to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work is by creating more public services that can take care of the family care and household duties that are now disproportionately done by women. The United States remains the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Twenty-five years ago President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which included a provision giving eligible workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child. (Source) Because of the lack of support at the federal level, states and the private sector are now starting to address the issue. As of May 2018, twenty-one states had pending legislation for paid leave laws, in addition to the five states and District of Columbia that have paid family leave laws already. (Source)
Further, the U.S. Government also does not provide for child care, and quality child care is often very expensive. In a 2016 report, the cost of infant child care in 49 states plus the District of Columbia exceeded seven percent of the state median income for a two-parent family. (Source) Daycare is also often hard to find. A report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), found that 51 percent of the population in 22 states resides in “childcare deserts.” In those neighborhoods, the number of children under age five outnumber available daycare slots more than three to one. (Source)
Another way to reach this target of Goal 5 is through the provision of infrastructure and social protection and the prevention of abuse of those who work in the care sector. Of the 67 million domestic workers worldwide, 60 million are excluded from social security coverage. In the U.S., while the infrastructure for domestic work, such as access to clean water and availability of household appliances, generally exists, laws protecting domestic workers are often not enforced, or domestic workers are excluded from certain legal protections. (Source) As a result, beginning with New York in 2010, eight U.S. states (Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Nevada, Oregon and California and New York) have passed Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which protect workers from racial discrimination and sexual harassment, provides for one day off a week, and overtime and paid leave. Other states have yet to catch up. (Source)
Finally, in order to reach this SDG target, governments can actively promote shared responsibility for care and domestic work. From what I can find, the U.S. government has never had a campaign to increase the burden sharing for unpaid care and domestic responsibilities. There was a three- year “Make it Work” campaign centered around the 2016 U.S. elections that asked candidates to focus on child care, pre-Kindergarten and elder care; pay transparency and the fight for a higher, national minimum wage; as well as paid family and medical leave, earned sick days, fair scheduling, and workplace fairness for pregnant women. Family Values@Work is a network of coalitions in 21 states working to pass policies that value families at work such as paid sick days and affordable family leave. These policies are not only good for individual women and families, but provide support on a policy level for a more equitable division of labor and family responsibility.
When women’s participation in the labor force increases, GDP rises. When women start businesses, communities flourish. When women are promoted to senior management and appointed to corporate boards, companies do better. We ignore this compelling data at our peril.
Business leaders, advocates and policy makers committed to economic growth and prosperity must use every strategy and tool to open doors and opportunity for women to participate in today’s global economy.
In early May, I moderated the opening plenary of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society in Toronto, which convened 600 influential business, institutional and political global leaders to strategize about breaking down entrenched barriers to women’s participation and developing concrete
solutions. The Forum focused specifically on influencing the agenda of the G7, a powerful group comprising the U.S., Japan, Germany, the U.K., France, Italy and Canada, as well as the European Union. This discussion was particularly timely as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made empowering women one of the main themes of Canada’s 2018 G7 presidency.
The plenary examined how governments, the private sector and multilateral forums like the G7, can take action to accelerate women’s economic opportunity, and in the process, create more jobs, increase innovation, and transform societies. It highlighted the importance of enabling environments and corporate culture, the role of technology, and the importance of measuring impact. I was joined on the panel by four dynamic women leaders from the private, public and NGO sectors.
Here are my key takeaways.
First, most private sector leaders today recognize the competitive advantage of women’s economic participation, whether in the corporate c-suite, in non-traditional jobs, or as entrepreneurs. But, talk isn’t enough. Companies that make their commitment real have been able to attract, and importantly, retain women employees by challenging assumptions, promoting work/life balance, and creating an environment where everyone is valued. For example, Salesforce took an honest look at how women and men were being paid, and increased salaries when it found discrepancies. But these actions aren’t only important to women. Today, both men and women are seeking jobs and starting businesses that value their contributions, are flexible, and give them a sense of ownership.
Second, strong enabling and legal environments are critical. To succeed, women need skills, networks, and access to capital and markets. At the same time, women also need access to quality education, child care, clean water, health care and a sense of personal security. This includes legal frameworks that ensure non-discrimination, and protections against sexual harassment, assault and violence. There is good news. According to the most recent World Bank Women, Business and the Law Report, over the last two years, governments in 65 countries took concrete steps to improve women’s economic inclusion. However, women still face legal barriers in over 100 countries, and those barriers adversely affect their economic choices.
Third, technology is both a tool and a challenge. Technology is driving change and innovation across the globe, and has a tremendous impact on economic competitiveness. As we embrace technology, however, we need to be mindful that globally, there is a gender gap in online access. In urban poor areas, women are 50 percent less likely than men to be online, and 30–50 percent less likely to use the internet for economic or political empowerment. A 2015 report, Connected Women, found that women are 14 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone. And, when women own phones, they use them differently than men do.
Finally, measurement matters and helps tell the story. We know that making the business case is important, and macro-level data, like that contained in the studies cited in this article, makes a difference at the policy level. We also need to look closely at what works on the individual and business level. Measuring success is about understanding how many women graduate from a vocational program, and also how that translates into impact and value.
Under the Canadian presidency, the G7 is deepening its focus on these critical issues. As advocates, policy makers and business leaders, we can help by continuing to gather data about how women are central to economic growth. Interventions must ensure women are treated equally and fairly, and have access to the tools they need to succeed, wherever they are on the path of economic participation and leadership.
Kuwaiti women: quick, what image comes to mind?
Truthfully, it’s a mixed picture. According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, Kuwait ranks 129, of 144 countries, on gender parity overall. Having said that, however, 50 percent of Kuwaiti women are in the labor force. They have higher levels of educational enrollment than Kuwaiti men, have access to financial services and bank accounts, although at lower rates than men. They marry in their 20’s, have their first child at 30, and on average live the same number of years as Kuwaiti men.
One area where Kuwaiti women are not represented is in elected office. Having won the right to vote in 2005, Kuwaiti women voted for the first time in 2006. Four women won seats in the Kuwait Parliament in 2009 (out of 65 members), but currently, there is only one women serving in the Parliament.
In April, I worked with a group of exceptional Kuwaiti women interested in expanding their participation in public life, whether that means running for political office, supporting other women’s campaigns, leading in civil society and business, or working to address legal issues that impact women’s ability to fully participate in society, such as gender-based violence.
They were in the U.S. for two weeks, and visited Washington, DC, Annapolis, Maryland, and Dearborn, Michigan. They met with leaders from a cross section of institutions and communities: the federal government, Congress; state and local government; the judiciary; non-governmental organizations; experts in political leadership and campaigns; and academics. They met men and women, Arab Americans and not, elected and appointed officials, and those seeking political office. They got to see American political fundraising upfront and personal by attending a large DC gala dinner, supporting women candidates in the upcoming election cycle.
Of course, the reason behind such a visit is exposure to American people, places and viewpoints. These experiences gave these women a sense of what has worked here and why and what hasn’t, so they can think about what might work in their context when they return home and strategize about their way forward. As always, it is interesting to me to see our institutions and our democracy through their eyes.
They grappled with existential issues, such as what it means to be an Arab American, and the tension between assimilation and integration. Meeting with young elected officials, they were taken by how those officials balanced their own values and views with respect for others in their family and community who may not hold the same views.
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Economic Empowerment
- Empowering Girls
- Foreign Policy
- Gender Equality
- Human Rights
- Open Government
- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
- Sustainable Development Goals