It all starts with our right to be equal
This piece builds on my contribution to OECD Forum 2017, Bridging Divides, and conversations on the best ways to ensure that entrepreneurship inspires change, empowers the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society, and unveils solutions to global and local problems.
This article is part of the Forum Network series on New Societal Contract.
A world that cannot guarantee our rights can guarantee little else
November 25th is the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women. According to the United Nations it is estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. Stories of violence and abuse permeate our lives. Countless accounts of abuse and harassment have emerged over the last several months in environments as diverse as the Silicon Valley, governments and the film industry. We must also remind ourselves that these stories captured by statistics and reported by the media today are likely to be marginal compared to the underlying reality women face.
A world in which one third of women are subjected to violence will never be a world favourable to women entrepreneurs or women in tech, or any other industry for that matter. It may come as a surprise but, whether in entrepreneurship or in the workplace, women only do as well as the ecosystem that supports and nurtures them, or fails to do so. This is why it is so important to work together to address violence at its foundations.
Violence is only an external manifestation of a much deeper wound: inequality. The truth is that the world we currently live in was created by men to promote men. Although we have made incredible strides to fix this by narrowing the gap (in terms of rights and access) over the last hundred years, an inherent culture of inequality still permeates our world. Discrimination is still pervasive: it is just different from what it used to be. Only a century ago, women were banned from voting, accessing credit lines, holding leadership positions or starting companies. Today, women are often kept out of the places that matter; young girls’ confidence at school is not sufficiently taken into consideration and, as they grow up, women are often deprived of the opportunity to achieve big things.
Because we fail to acknowledge that history and most of today’s social and economic ecosystems were created by a male-dominated society, we often call something that was created for men “equal”, hiding the fact that it is truly discriminatory, and often unconsciously so. This is true for countless work cultures.
History tends to repeat itself and we simply cannot expect change to happen unless we speak out
To be treated as equal, you must be perceived as equal. This is why it is vital for a woman to speak out every time she is refused a promotion, faces pay discrimination or does not feel represented in a specific environment vis-à-vis her male counterparts. And women cannot do it alone. We need men to acknowledge this and speak out against this behaviour, too. It is only once we all acknowledge this that change will actually happen. As we speak up against inequality, we gradually define the contours of a new collective agreement with stronger, more inclusive values.
Reaching consensus on the fact that women are neither sufficiently represented in places that matter nor treated equally is a crucial first step. What comes next? How does society evolve from there? Our culture will change only once more women are in positions of power. Our job today is to get them there. We need to multiply initiatives that invest in their future and ensure their promotion. We need to raise the next generation of women around new values and role models. We need to act deeply and quickly to reverse thousands of years of inequity. We also need to create environments that foster women’s leadership: women count for half of the world’s population and should be entitled to claim half of its opportunities.
Until we create this world, each November 25th marks our renewed commitment to protecting women from the adverse effects of global inequality. We must ensure that women have the freedom and ability to seize opportunities in life. That means, first and foremost, living in a world free of violence or any other form of abuse and, beyond, turning our ambition for an equal world into reality.