Originally published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 23rd, 2016
On January 29th, 2009, a mere nine days after being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was his first piece of legislation as President, and it set the stage for a presidency that has been visibly committed to equal rights for men and women. Since that historic day over seven years ago, Obama has reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, signed into law the Affordable Care Act, created the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the White House Council on Women and Girls, issued an executive order that mandated federal contractors to publish pay data according to gender and race in order to combat the wage gap, and this May, the White House will host The United State of Women, a three day summit in Washington DC that will tackle gender inequality across a range of issues, including education, health, leadership, and economic empowerment. Throughout his presidency, Obama has never been shy in declaring his commitment to gender equality, often referencing his two young daughters as his inspiration, but with his presidency soon coming to an end, it’s time to look to the future. Come November 8th, the United States will have a new President, and regardless of who that President is, I have one question I want to ask them: What are YOU going to do to improve gender equality in this country?
Yes, this is another post about gender equality, and believe me, I wish it wasn’t. I wish I could ask the future President a different question. I would love to sit down and talk to the future President about foreign policy or how to grow the economy. That being said, gender analysis is an important consideration for both of these issues, as it is for pretty much every issue, and it is my belief that if the United States was a country that took the lead on women’s equality, we would take the lead on a lot of other issues as well. Sadly, we are far from being the leader in this arena.
In the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report, an annual paper published by the World Economic Forum that tracks 145 economies according to how well they are utilizing their female citizens, the United States ranked 28th in the world, directly below Mozambique. Additionally, with issues such as campus sexual assault, rape culture, gender pay gaps, sexual harassment, lack of quality childcare, inequitable access to capital, lack of women in leadership positions and TRAP laws dominating the headlines, it is clear that this country has a long way to go if we want to improve that ranking.
But just for a moment, imagine what would happen if we had a President who was dedicated to bringing greater gender balance and gender intelligence to their leadership and political agenda. Imagine what we could achieve as a country if every citizen, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, had a more equal opportunity to thrive and contribute. Imagine if the decision makers in all walks of life had diverse and varied life experiences to draw upon when making these important decisions. It’s an amazing vision for the future, and it’s what keeps me going in my work when all I want to do is bang my head against a wall. I recently attended the Skoll World Forum, a gathering of over a thousand of the world’s leaders and doers in the field of social entrepreneurship, and the issue of the lack of moral, authentic, and compassionate leaders came up more than once. Where are the world leaders that we truly respect, who are doing the “right” things, and who inspire us to be all we can be and do all we can do to make the world a more just and equitable place? Seriously, try to name some!
Thankfully, there are a few who while perhaps far from perfect, at least give us some hope. Last October, I was proud to watch as my fellow Canadians elected Justin Trudeau as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada. Almost immediately, Mr. Trudeau made it clear that gender equality was going to be a core component of his platform when he unveiled the 29th Canadian Ministry; the first gender balanced ministry in Canadian history. When a reporter asked he why he felt gender equality was important, he simply replied, “Because it’s 2015.” Frankly, that’s all he really should have to say on the matter.
But it isn’t just Mr. Trudeau and Canada where gender equality is being addressed by world leaders. From Finland and Sweden, to Indonesia and Rwanda, world leaders across the globe are realizing that the key to economic development and social prosperity is gender parity, and it’s not just because it’s the morally right path. Research across all sectors have shown that when women and girls are empowered, everyone, every man, woman, and child, reaps the benefits. Together with Women Moving Millions, I recently put together a list of the top 200 reports that supports this argument, but the effort continues. I am currently curating a list of the top 300 reports that should prove once and for all that supporting and empowering women and girls is indeed a powerful strategy if you want peace and prosperity. If you cannot wait for me to share the final list, you can download the current version that at present includes 269 reports here. If you do take that step and you find that I am missing your favorite report, add the link in the comment section and I will include it.
With so much research, evidence, and common sense behind the idea that making women’s rights and inclusion a priority is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do, why has no country ever achieved it? Well, the reality is that this sort of change is not going to happen overnight. As Elizabeth Banks put it so astutely at our Women at Sundance gathering earlier this year, “We are up against something, which is the entirety of human history”, but that doesn’t mean we stop pushing forward. If you were to be elected as the President of the most powerful country in the world, isn’t that be something you would want to be remembered for? Changing the course of human history for the better? My guess is that the answer would be yes.