CSW 57: Women demand a piece of the economic action

CSW 57: Women demand a piece of the economic action

Date: March 5, 2013
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New York  5 March: Quotas for women in politics? Yawn. That is yesterday’s news. A powerful lobby of businesswomen have come to the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with a new agenda: to get women into business: big business!

“This is an idea whose time has come,” says Freda Miriklis, the vivacious Australian president of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW). “The fact that women are missing from politics is well known. But what is political power without economic power?” she asks.

Speaking at the annual consultation of Commonwealth National Women’s Machineries in preparation for the CSW that got underway this week, Miriklis called on the 53 English-speaking countries, representing one third of the world’s people, to “bring economic empowerment to women.”

In Australia last year, BPW seized a strategic moment to launch the Commonwealth Business Women’s Network as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar handed over to her counterpart Julia Gillard in front of the Queen. Never before in the history of the Commonwealth had a one woman head of state handed over to another.

The network of women from rich and poor members of the Commonwealth made a powerful statement in Australia: 30 percent women in political decision-making by 2015 (the Commonwealth target) is not good enough. The African Union, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and others have upped this target to gender parity by 2015. And, as many emerging markets register double digit growth, women are demanding a piece of the economic action, Miriklis says. “It’s the missing link,” she insisted in an interview.

In an article entitled “free trade needs free women” UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet says “there is mounting evidence from the World Bank, United Nations, OECD and others showing that increasing gender equality contributes to increased growth, productivity and competitiveness.”

She adds: “While the gender gap in labour force participation has narrowed significantly, gender gaps in wages, opportunities, access to resources, education and career fields and unpaid domestic work have narrowed only marginally. Men still make more money than women in the same jobs. Women continue to be under-represented in management and leadership positions. Women face discrimination in access to land, property and inheritance.”

BPW’s role is to connect the dots. “Many businesses tell us there are no women out there. We tell them that is nonsense: they just have not met them.” Armed with research from institutions like the Harvard Business School showing that diversity is key to competitiveness in today’s global markets, BPW has joined the International Trade Centre (ITC) and WEConnect International in support of the Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors.

“BPW is now sending out a clarion call to all its members, their clients and friends: Get involved and register as a woman entrepreneur or women-owned business ready to engage these large corporations as they continue to branch out into the developing world,” Miriklis says.

The Commonwealth Business Women’s Network – a partnership with the Commonwealth Business Council – reckons it has brokered $20 million worth of contracts in just over a year by facilitating links between big business and women traders who previously lacked such contacts.

BPW Africa coordinator Adenike Adeyanju-Osadolor, said her network had assisted women farmers in Nigeria and women fish farmers in Benin to access new markets. She added that the Africa chapter – strong in west Africa- is specifically targeting young women in Burkina Fasso afflicted with fistula as a result of Female Genital Mutilation.

Miriklis said the message on economic empowerment is especially relevant at CSW 57, focussing on violence against women. “There is a link between poverty and gender violence,” Miriklis said. “Women in developing countries are often forced into the sex trade, not because they want to, but because they have no choice. Economic empowerment gives women choice and voice.”

During the Commonwealth caucus meeting Australia announced a minimum targets of 40% either men or women on government boards. New Zealand has established the 25 Percent Group – companies that adopt a voluntary target of at least one quarter women on boards. The NZX Diversity Listing Rule requires listed companies to report on progress on their diversity policies.

Business women lobbyists are eyeing government tenders. “Governments generate an enormous amount of business,” observes Miriklis. “Imagine if women could tap into these.”

Bole Olabisi, CEO and Co-founder of Global Women Investors and Innovators Network (GWIN) is calling for nominations of women “innovators, not investors!” for the Women in Entrepreneurship, Infrastructure, and Sustainable Energy Development (WEISED) conference to be held in South Africa in May 2013.

Noting that in Europe women only account for 8% of all patents, she says more effort is needed to find and nurture women’s creative and innovative talents.

Colleen Lowe Morna is CEO of Gender Links. This article is part of GL’s special coverage of CSW 57.

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