The Women and the Law: Leveling the Economic Playing Field symposium was held at CFR in New York on December 12, 2018. This symposium highlighted legal barriers to women’s economic participation and explored how nations can boost growth by leveling the economic playing field for women.
Despite the positive relationship between women’s labor force participation and GDP growth, legal barriers undermine female economic potential in every region of the world. Gender-based legal restrictions exist in almost 90% of nations, ranging from limitations on property ownership to prohibitions on signing contracts. Christine Lagarde discusses the economic implications of gender inequality under the law and outlines policy recommendations to accelerate women’s economic participation.
For more information, visit the Women's Workplace Equality Index.
VOGELSTEIN: Good morning. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Rachel Vogelstein. I lead the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at CFR, which analyzes how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign-policy objectives.
On behalf of Richard Haass, the president of the Council, it is my great pleasure to commence our first CFR Symposium on Women and the Law. I want to begin by extending my gratitude to our esteemed speakers for joining us this morning. I also want to thank all of you for participating today, and welcome everyone tuning in to our live cast. And I’d like to extend a special appreciation to those of you who traveled here from out of town. We are very glad to have you with us.
Today’s Symposium on Women and the Law is focused on an issue that has been part of our national and global dialogue for well over a year—how to level the economic playing field for women.
In capitals and boardrooms, in the workplace and on the streets, through hashtags and social media, even around the proverbial water cooler and dinner table, good men and women alike have grappled with the persistent barriers that hamper women in the workplace in the 21st century, as well as the question of how to address them.
To help answer this question, scholars in the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at the Council have created several new tools to assess the status of women in the workplace around the world and explain why leveling the legal playing field for women is so critical to economic prosperity and stability.
To that end, today we are launching the Women’s Workplace Equality Index, which is the first-ever global ranking of countries based on gender equality in the workplace. Under CFR’s gender-equality ranking, which draws upon World Bank data, Australia comes in first. Canada is second. Mexico is fifth. And notably, the United States is not even in the top ten, falling at 20th. At the bottom of the list are Iran, Sudan, Qatar, Syria, and Yemen.
The index highlights the pervasive nature of legal barriers to women in the workplace, finding that over one hundred countries restrict the kinds of jobs that women can hold, that fifty-nine countries lack any legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace whatsoever, and not a single nation of 189 covered has a level legal playing field for women at work.
Today we are also issuing a new report on Women and the Law, which analyzes the five areas in which the greatest obstacles to women’s economic participation endure: financial inclusion, national identification law, land rights, workplace discrimination, and family law.
This report reflects field research conducted by CFR scholars in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Pakistan. And it covers many of the themes we’ll discuss in our panel sessions today.
So our data confirm that legal barriers to women’s workforce participation persist everywhere in the world. But why do these barriers to women’s equality in the workplace matter? Our new interactive report, entitled Growing Economies Through Gender Parity, outlines the economic states, visualizing data from the McKinsey Global Institute showing that closing the gender gap in workforce participation could add a staggering $28 trillion to global GDP.
Both advanced and developing economies alike stand to benefit if women are able to participate in the labor force to the same extent as men. The U.S. economy could grow by 19 percent, China’s by 20 percent, Mexico’s by 43 percent, and India’s by a remarkable 60 percent. You can find each of these new reports in the materials at your seats and online at CFR.org.
The bottom line from our research is this: In the 21st century, nations cannot get ahead economically by leaving half of their population behind. Leveling the playing field affords an opportunity to take stock of the barriers that persist for women at work, to explore policy approaches in both the public and private sectors, and to ask hard questions about the way forward. And we have four terrific panels to accomplish just that.
Our keynote session will feature a conversation with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde to explore the economic implications of gender equality under the law. Our second session, with World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, will analyze financial inclusion in the digital age. Our third session will examine the issue of workplace discrimination in the era of an increasingly global #MeToo movement. And our final session will assess efforts to improve women’s economic participation through family-law reform, perhaps the most contentious area of the law for women.
We have a stellar roster of panelists, and we’re grateful to each of them for sharing their expertise with us.
Before we begin, a special word of thanks goes to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has generously sponsored today’s symposium and our work on women and economic growth. In particular, I want to thank Rosita Najmi and her colleagues for their leadership and continued support for the Council’s work.
I’d also like to thank my Women and Foreign Policy Program colleagues, whose scholarship has paved the way for our discussion today: Senior fellows Jamille Bigio, who led development of our new Workplace Equality Index; Meighan Stone, who is studying the global implications of the #MeToo movement; and Gayle Lemmon, Catherine Powell, and Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, who contributed to the materials that we’re releasing today.
I’d also like to thank the extraordinary CFR team for making this symposium possible, including Stacey LaFollette, Kayla Ermanni, and Carrie Bueche, as well as the outstanding Rebecca Turkington, Alexandra Bro, and Rebecca Hughes of the Women and Foreign Policy team.
Finally, before we get started, I’d like to remind everyone that today’s conversation will be on the record.
With that, please join me in welcoming to the stage the honorable Christine Lagarde and James Manyika. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MANYIKA: Well, good morning, and welcome to this keynote session of the Symposium on Women and the Law. And the topic for this discussion is Leveling the Economic Playing Field.
I’m James Manyika. I’m the chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute and also a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations. And it’s my distinct honor—and I think it’s quite fitting that we have Christine Lagarde here to discuss this. I think it’s worth—I mean, she’s obviously very well known to all of you, but I think it’s worth noting that you were the first woman managing director of the International Monetary Fund. And before that, she was also the finance and economic minister in France for many years. So it is really a real pleasure to have this conversation with you.
I thought where we might start is to actually take an economic view to all these questions. And so when we talk about an uneven economic playing field, what are we talking about? What are the elements of inequity or a lack of parity when it comes to women and the economy?
LAGARDE: Thank you, James.
And good morning to all of you.
One thing that you missed out in my resume, which is actually of interest to that room, is that I was also for many, many years a lawyer—(laughter)—and very much part of that community. I was also in my firm—at Baker McKenzie, I was the first managing partner.
So I want to disclaimer first. Although head of the International Monetary Fund and surrounded by a whole bunch of terribly talented economists, a lawyer is always a lawyer. (Laughter.) So that’s one.
Number two, if I may, how many of you in this room are lawyers? OK, that’s a pretty sizable number. How many in this room are partners in their respective law firm?
MANYIKA: Two. Wow. I just see two hands.
LAGARDE: OK. How many are managing partners in their respective law firms?
OK, I rest my case. (Laughter.)
I hope things can continue to change as they had for a period of time. But I’m afraid—I looked at numbers from the ABA and the IBA, thanks to my general counsel, who is a woman. Rhoda, thank you. And the numbers didn’t look that great. And there is a bit of backtracking in the profession that I’m a little bit worried about, because—and I come to your question—there is obviously a moral-philosophical case to be had concerning women’s access, parity, equality of opportunity, income, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I’m the daughter of the—(inaudible)—civilization, and I could plead that case. But I’m not going to.
I just want to look at the economic data that we have. And whether you look—and thank you to the Council on Foreign Relationships (sic). You did a fabulous job. And I’m very pleased that under your leadership we are looking at those issues.
There is an obvious case for making sure that women have equal access to education—primary, secondary, tertiary—equal access to the job market, equal compensation for equal jobs that they do. And that is reflected in numbers. It’s very, very clear.
Let me give you—because many of your numbers are right, so I’m not going to repeat them. They—first of all, I think there is a distinction between advanced economies, generally put together under the OECD countries, and then you have the middle-income countries and you have the low-income countries. And whether you measure the female labor force participation or whether you measure the compensation, in all three instances of countries you have a significant gap.
So women access the labor market less so than men. Women receive less compensation than men. And that is true across the board, in advanced, in middle-income, and in low-income countries. It is actually more so the case in middle-income countries.
So the gap is, on average, in the OECD countries at about 16 percent when it comes to female labor force participation. It’s much higher than that, around 26 percent, in the middle-income countries. And it’s not that high in low-income countries, but what we measure there is uncertain because there is a mass of informal and informality in their economy, which makes the calculation a bit difficult. And that is not to mention the unreported, unaccounted-for, and yet terribly important work that is discharged generally by women. And that has to do with work at home; work to carry the water, literally. You know, I’m not just saying carrying the water, but literally doing that. So the gap is very significant.
If you look at compensation now, on a global basis—so you take into account all countries and, you know, the entire population, working population—you’re talking about a difference of compensation of 50 percent—five-zero. That is huge. Now, you will say 50 percent. What is she talking about? Fifty percent on a global basis.
If you look then at advanced economies, it’s much lower than that. I have to look at my numbers, not to give you any wrong ones in case you want to report it, but it is 16 percent. So, sorry, in F—female labor force participation, OECD countries, 14 percent; and in compensation, 16 percent. Those are the differences that we’re talking about.
Now, does it matter? Well, yes, it does matter. It does matter enormously, because I think if you—in a way, the worst-case example, where there is a gender, female labor force participation, gap of 30 percent, assume—and all that is by way of modelization. It’s not real-life, you know, empirical evidence. It’s modelization because that’s what we’ve got to play with.
But if you close that gap entirely and if you have the same participation in the labor force for both men and women, the overall GDP of that community, a nation in that particular case, would increase by 25 percent. So close the gap of 30 percent, equal 25 percent increase in the GDP.
I have yet to meet a head of state, a head of government, or a finance minister—most of them will be men, don’t worry—who say to me, I am not interested in additional growth. I am not interested in making the cake a bit larger so that I can allocate it a bit better. So there is an obvious economic argument in increasing the size of the economy in order to then determine what policies will be applicable. So that’s really obvious.
LAGARDE: And, by the way—one more thing—(laughter)—sorry—because that’s not the only thing it does. Many of you have heard the debate, particularly in light of what’s happening in France at the moment, about excessive and rising inequalities. The fact that you close those gaps, both in terms of female labor force participation and in terms of compensation, mathematically actually reduces the inequalities. That’s number one.
Number two, observations that we’ve made, looking at the 189 membership that we have in the IMF, is that it also leads to a diversification of the economies.
So on those two accounts, as well—because we know that non-diversified economies are very vulnerable. If you only depend on one single big—say, oil, for instance, or copper or, you know, some of those commodities—if you don’t diversify, if you don’t move into services promptly, you’re going to be at risk. So bringing women, reducing those two gaps, actually leads to that.
MANYIKA: Well, you talk quite a bit about labor force participation rates and the inequity and lack of parity there, but you’ve also—in other settings I’ve heard you talk about other aspects of inequality, things like access to capital, access to technology, things that enable women to participate more fully in the economy. Say a little bit more about that. How important are those other economic access inequities?
LAGARDE: Well, I’ll say a little bit, but I don’t want to say too much because my friend Kristalina is going to talk about financial inclusion, and on that subject I want to leave the ground to her, and they’ve done superb work in that respect.
I’ll just say one thing because it’s a special research paper that we recently published which tries to examine what the impact of the future of work—understood as a very broad concept of impact of technologies at large, from artificial intelligence, to data mining, to robotization, and on, and you put it all together—and the compounded effect of that is bound to transform jobs, to remove some jobs, to affect the way in which is discharged and services are provided.
If you try to anticipate the impact that it will have on a gender-desegregated basis, you realize very quickly that women are going to be more impacted than men and by significant account because you realize—and I know that McKinsey has done some great studies on that as well, but you realize that 11 percent of female jobs around the world are going to be significantly affected, if not removed, when 7 percent of men’s jobs will be equally—either affected significantly or just removed. So that’s a major change.
How many jobs does it mean—away from percentages? It means 28 million female jobs in those thirty countries that are studied in that particular study. If you then extrapolate to the entire membership, you are talking about 280 million jobs that are either significantly affected, cannot be discharged without massive training and adjustment, or you are talking about jobs gone.
Now people will say, why is that? Are women that stupid? No, don’t need to actually argue that point, but it’s simply because in many of those economies, women tend to discharge those routine, repetitive tasks that are much more easily automated or substituted by the new technologies that are coming to the markets—that’s all there is about it—which calls for policies.
MANYIKA: Well, let’s come—I mean, you made a very compelling argument and case for why this makes economic sense, why we should have more parity and participation and so forth. Why do you think it’s so hard? Because when I look at countries that do need economic growth, whether it’s countries in Europe or even the United States, developed, developing economies, surely there should be enough momentum to do something about this. What are the barriers, do you think? Why is this so difficult?
LAGARDE: I’ll just—this is a personal assessment of mine. I think that what we are seeing in terms of women’s role in our economies is not less than revolutionary, and revolutions are difficult to swallow.
Now I’ll say two things. One is—having many lawyers in the room I want to make that point. There are multiple legal barriers to the inclusion of women on a parity basis, and again, tribute to the World Bank. The World Bank every two years produces a study of the legal discriminations that apply around our respective memberships. And we’ve done some sort of digging into those discriminations. Eighty-eight percent of countries around the world include in their constitution, in their law, in their executive orders, discriminations against women.
OK, once you have said that you have said not much because you need to dig deep into what kind of discriminations are we talking about. So you have the combination of constitutional principles—whether you are talking about civil rights, whether you are talking about right to ownership, whether you are talking about—you then go into family law as well. Inheritance is a huge, big package of discrimination.
And I want to celebrate here for second Tunisia because Tunisia, two weeks ago, has introduced in parliament a law that would equalize the status of men and women in case of passing away of the parents so that brothers and sisters can inherit equally. This is fiercely debated by the Islamist party in Tunisia on the basis that a man equals two women and therefore the inheritance should be appropriately and proportionately differentiated.
So you have in many developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa—an interesting phenomenon actually from a legal point of view—which is that many of the old Spanish or French civil codes or soft laws as a result—there were some decrees that were taken at the time of colonizations and sometimes decolonization as well—which actually introduced and have maintained in those legislations discriminations against women. A decree from 1954 that was put in place in many of the ex-French colonies actually still to this day requires that the husband consent to the opening of a bank account for a woman.
It seems like—well, I remember when I was a little girl—it doesn’t make me any younger, but anyway—(laughter)—that’s OK—my mother had to do that. When she wanted to open a bank account, my father had to consent, and for a few years, I could see them both signing the check because they had—there were restrictions in France to prevent that.
So, bottom line, there are multiple legal discriminations around the globe on all those issues—economic access, inheritance—and you can understand the consequences. If a woman is not entitled to either own property or to inherit sufficiently, then she doesn’t have the collaterals that will be needed in order to secure a loan assuming she is entitled to access to a loan. So that really matters. And it—when it changes—when it changes it makes a difference.
We did a study back in 2015. We haven’t redone it on the basis of the latest figures of Kristalina, but in 2015 we looked at all those countries that had those restrictions on the past, and we tried to see whether there was a difference as a result of a change. And in 50 percent of those countries that actually implemented those changes, we realized very quickly that there was within five years of the constitutional, or soft law, or discriminatory legal basis—there was a difference in female labor force participation. That is the case very clearly in countries like Namibia, in Peru, in Malawi, and various others.
MANYIKA: But I think it’s quite easy to paint this as a challenge for developing economies. You still have legal restrictions, even in advanced economies like the United States and others, even in the tax code.
Talk a little bit more about some of the challenges that you see in some of developed advanced economies like the United States.
LAGARDE: Well, in the tax code there is one that is just in our face which actually applies to countries like Germany or France or, you know, a few others, which is that a tax—a tax unit where you assess whatever, you know, personal income tax you want to assess—a tax unit comprises a couple. So taxpayers are not individuals; they are a household comprising the two spouses. And guess what? Marginally most affected is going to be the, quote, unquote, secondary earner, and that is invariably the woman.
So just by changing that and by turning the tax unit into a person rather than a family unit would actually eliminate that implied discrimination for those households that actually pay taxes.
MANYIKA: Right. You know, well, one of the things that I found quite fascinating about a lot of the studies that you’ve done and that the IMF has done is to show that it’s not just about parity; in fact, the diversity in itself is also valuable when you think about the diverse skills, and profiles, and capabilities that diverse teams bring to—not just to companies, but also to the economy.
And I’m quite curious about you think about that—that it’s not just about getting to parity, but leveraging the diversity of teams and organizations as well.
LAGARDE: I’m not sure that we have actually done some research paper on that, but it’s—you know, in a way, that’s my life, so I don’t find it surprising because I—you know, I grew up with Baker McKenzie which was, at the time, the most diverse firm you could ever think, where, you know, equal right to all partners whether you sat in Rome, or New York, or in Beijing.
And the IMF is Babylon. I mean, you have all languages, all nationalities, and we try to enforce diversity. And we have targets by gender, by countries, by groups of countries, by education—by educational background. And we measure our performance against those thresholds.
And I’m not claiming that, oh, we’ve made it; we are at full parity. No, we still have a way to go. And I don’t—I would never trumpet success in that respect.
Can I come back to one topic, because—
LAGARDE: —now that you made me think about the latest research. There is one interesting one which I think would be of concern to some. We very—I very often hear the case that if you promote women, if you give them equal access and if you push the labor force participation using quotas, targets, segmented targets, and all the rest of it, it’s going to discriminate against men, OK.
Now, we did—and actually it was driven by one of our men researchers, but we did a study on the actual economic impact of reducing the female labor force participation, of which those numbers that I’ve mentioned here result. But he went further into that to actually try to identify the female factor.
And I know that there are two schools of thoughts. And I stand on the side of those who think that each gender actually brings characteristics, if not specific, and maybe not naturally driven, but characteristics that are gender-determined. That’s where I stand. I know there is the other current, and I respect them, and we can have a debate forever about it.
But his study was, I think, premised on that basis. And the study really tried to identify what was the economic impact of that—those particularly gender-determined characteristics. And the conclusions of that study are that there is an added impact, because when you add an additional full-time equivalent, irrespective of gender, you get an up. If you add a full-time equivalent that is gender-distinct and begins to close the gap, you bring added value that respect in increased productivity.
And that increased productivity—everything being normal in the economy, at least—brings added revenues, not just for those that raise the productivity, but to all genders. So as a result of that, men as well as women typically receive higher wages. That’s assuming economic rules operate. Then you have all the other principles of stakeholders and how much you distribute to your shareholders and how much you keep within and reallocate. That’s another debate. But on pure economics, increased productivity, brought about by the characteristic determined by gender, benefit both men and women. So to those who say, oh, men will be disadvantaged, no, not true.
MANYIKA: Yeah. No, I actually found that research fascinating because it looked, I think, at the—you know, the elasticity of substitution and the—
LAGARDE: Yeah. I tried to stay away from those words, because they are so—(laughter)—
MANYIKA: Right, which is fascinating.
LAGARDE: —for lawyers.
MANYIKA: But I think you also found—one of the other things that I found interesting was the observation that, in fact, as the economies move towards more services-oriented economies, that also—that reallocation of sectors also benefits the economy. And women tend to be much, much more—the labor-participation rates for women in the services sector tend to be much, much higher.
MANYIKA: But I’m curious. I mean, beyond what you’re doing in the IMF itself as an organization, I’m just curious, as somebody who spends a lot of time in policy conversations and trying to influence and help people improve their economies, what are you doing as the IMF—as you talk to world leaders or business leaders, what are you doing to try and help address some of these challenges?
LAGARDE: Well, first of all, it’s a little bit new in the organization. And it took me a few years to convince the board of the IMF that actually gender economics could be macro-critical. It’s only 50 percent of the population I’m talking about. (Laughter.) But it took a while.
The World Bank was much better at doing it and is excellent at focusing on those issues. And I remember vividly the annual meeting where Bob Zoellick actually had women in various corners of these annual meetings to showcase the voices of women.
So at the IMF it’s not that frequent. I think we are at a stage where it’s now really regarded as macro-critical. And we’ve introduced it at three levels, and I’ll go through those three.
One is—because we do—we have three business lines. We do macroeconomic surveillance, so we audit economies around the world. That’s consented by all countries. It’s part of the contract. Second, we do technical assistance. And third, we do financial support. We never give grants. We give short-term loans in order to take countries out of their misery when they have balance-of-payment major crisis. So those are the three lines.
If you look at those three, in surveillance it’s not part of the normal surveillance process. We piloted that through 39 countries. It’s now streamlined; mainstreamed, rather. And wherever it’s macro-critically relevant—in other words, we’re not going to do it in Norway, in Denmark, in Finland, because we have to use our resources where it’s going to be relevant and make the case—but in other countries we’re going to have that as part of the surveillance, and we’re going to look at the economic impact of discrimination, lack of access to finance, inability of women to do this, that, and the other. That’s number one.
And we do give those—for instance, the tax advice that I’ve just mentioned, it was in the 2018 audit that we did of Germany. Change your tax system. In the 2018 audit of the U.S. economy, we said it’s maybe about time to have a real maternity leave, because you are one of the outliers in the OECD countries with no federal maternity leave, so to speak. So that’s what we do there.
Technical assistance. We now provide a lot of what we call gender budgeting technical assistance so that countries, when they put their budget in place, instead of doing that blindly, they do it thinking, OK, is this particular fiscal policy going to help or hinder women? And as a result, if there is a determination within that government to actually give access to women, then focus on what will have positive impact.
And the third one is whenever we have a lending arrangement with a country that is going through a lot of trouble caused by balance-of-payment crisis, either for internal or external reasons, we say when it’s macro-critically relevant, let’s examine what you could do specifically to help women access to the workforce. So we’ve done that in the case of Jordan, for instance, which is determined to help women access and have a better chance.
We did that in the case of Niger. We did that in the case of Egypt. We are doing that in the case of Argentina. And it takes very different forms. As you can imagine with those countries, it often takes the form of having some child-care budget and improving the child-care facilities. But it takes unusual forms as well. In Jordan, for instance, it was a determination to actually spend more money on transportation, because unsafe transportations actually prevented many women from going from home to work because of fear what would happen in between. So those are the kinds of things that we try to do.
MANYIKA: And do you—I mean, there was a point, as was pointed out at the beginning, that, in fact, we’ve been having societally this conversation now for about a year and a half or so. But as you think about the economic landscape, do you think this is a turning point? Do you—
LAGARDE: No. No. No. I think it—I think it’s—we are on a road. We’ve come a long way. You know, I remember my mother co-signing checks with my father, bless both of them. But it’s an ongoing journey and one where we have to just continue to stand together shoulder to shoulder with people like you and many other men who believe that it’s actually worth it, and it’s not going to jeopardize our respective relationships. It’s a continuous road, because there is always a tendency to backtrack. There are always forces that will tend to suppress and repress rather than open barriers.
MANYIKA: Open them.
LAGARDE: That’s my life, so—(laughter)—
MANYIKA: We’re going to go to the—
LAGARDE: Maybe other—
MANYIKA: We’re going to go to the audience for some questions. And if you have a question, please put up your hand. And we’re on the record. Just say your name and your affiliation. And please ask a question.
There’s one right there.
Q: Good morning. I’m Lauren Leader. I run All In Together, which is a women’s civic-education organization here in the U.S.
On the subject of civics and politics, I haven’t had a chance to read the Council’s certainly stellar report. I’m astonished often at how rarely the topic of women’s political leadership and participation comes up in the context of economic participation. The WEF looks at those things in consort. So the U.S., for instance, is 96th in the world on political participation, though number one in the world for educational attainment.
As you mentioned, Tunisia, that’s what triggered it, because Tunisia has had some very progressive laws around women’s political representation in their parliament.
Could you talk about the impact of women’s political representation in parliaments and the governments on their seriousness with which they look at closing the labor force participation, addressing some of these larger economic issues? I think they’re inseparable, but I continue to see them treated very separately in the sort of global dialogue about that.
LAGARDE: Very good point. First of all, global and average numbers are abysmal, whether it’s in parliament, in government, heads of states. The number of women—I think the heads of states, we have eleven at the moment heads of government, twelve, and the average participation in parliament is around 20-ish percent. So that’s really not good.
In countries where—second point. I think that quotas can actually make a difference. I’ve seen it and I’ve witnessed that in my country, where quotas were imposed at local level gradually, then at the senatorial levels, and when we had—and as a result of that, we simply had a very large and growing numbers—number of women in parliament; not there yet, but moving.
Third point: In those countries where, either because of quotas or because of the political determination of people or because of the scarcity of resources, the numbers look much better. And obviously you will think at this point of the Nordic countries. Surprise, surprise—they have much higher participation of women in their respective organizations at executive and legislative levels, and they also have the smallest gender gap when it comes to female labor force participation, although no country has actually effectively closed that gap. I think the lowest gap ever in the world is seven. And no country has gone below that.
But I also think of countries like Rwanda or like Ethiopia, where in Rwanda you have 61 percent female participation in parliament. In Ethiopia, I think the goal is 50 percent for the next election. And the government itself in Ethiopia is now 50 percent female. In Rwanda it’s a little less than that. But when I look at Rwanda, there are notable things that can be said about Rwanda, but you cannot deny that it’s efficient, that it’s well run, and that the development indexes—and maybe Kristalina will talk to that more than me—are quite stellar.
One more, actually, which I’m taking politics into—hiring and retaining people and promoting them along the way has a political dimension. And in the field that I know well, when you look at the banking sector and you look at those banks and those financial institutions where you have a higher proportion of women than, again, the abysmal number of 20 percent board members or members of executive committees, and 2 percent of CEOs, when you look at those institutions where the percentage is much higher, you also realize that the nonperforming loans—surprise, surprise—it’s correlation, not causality. But correlations can speak volumes.
Volume of nonperforming loans, much lower; risk index, much better; and buffers in terms of capital, much higher. Quote, for me, that means safer.
MANYIKA: There’s a question in the back that went up first.
Q: Hi. Good morning, and thank you so much. My name is Amina Tirana. I’m with Visa, Inc. And I’d like to thank you especially for bringing attention and calling out both the low-income countries but also the question of informality.
And I’d love to hear some of your thoughts, maybe on a couple of policy priorities or recommendations, for addressing the informality of labor and women in many of these countries. And it’s something that at Visa we’re thinking quite a bit about, especially for micro- and small-business owners, who are people who have what we call livelihoods or even subsistence business in retail, where the goals—women are often tied to home. They can’t move for jobs. And the goals, as we do more and more research, not always about growing and becoming a big enterprise, but about security of income, stability for the family, and providing for the next generation. They don’t want their children to have to do what they’re doing as well.
Often those businesses are informal or quasi-formal. Do you have recommendations about how we can help them thrive and meet their goals?
LAGARDE: First of all, I think that we should be able much better to measure that and to really take that into account in any of those growth measurements and economies’ measurements, because what you can’t measure, you can’t actually influence very much. So we operate on the basis of assumed informality numbers. But we don’t know enough. We don’t have enough in that respect.
As a follow-up to that, in a way, I think that technologies can actually help a big way. If you look at countries like India or Kenya, I mean, they’re the most typically quoted references, but there are other countries as well which are using, you know, digital payment, mobile applications, that can actually identify economic operators, and in many instances simplify their life, but also measure what transactions are conducted, what business is generated.
Third point, I think you can design taxations and you can design your fiscal principles in order to not repress that activity but bring it into the fold by not assessing massive either social-security charges or tax charges in a brutal and heavy way, but do it very gradually and very incrementally in order to bring about that informality.
Fourth thing, which I believe also matters a lot for women, is to put in place those cash-transfer systems that have been used in some instances with technologies in the process in order to eliminate the risk of theft violence against women that apply whenever there is real cash being transferred and carried around; and second, encourage other factors such as girls in education or less informality and better access to services. It’s all linked, and you really have to treat that in a very comprehensive way. But I think the means—I think we’re getting more tools to reach those objectives.
MANYIKA: The person right here in front.
Q: Thank you so much for being here this morning. My name is Nili Gilbert. I’m a co-founder and portfolio manager at Matarin Capital.
My question for you is specifically about women in control of capital. As you know, when it comes to moving major institutional capital around the world, much of the money is being moved by men. And I think a lot, as a portfolio manager, about how the backgrounds of the people on our team making decisions about money affect the way they move the money, the decisions that they make.
I wonder, you know, particularly for a woman like you in your role or Ms. Georgieva at the World Bank, whether you think that if there were more women making decisions about how the major pools of capital are moving around the world, would it have the potential to actually change the structure of the capital markets or the types of projects that capital is flowing to. Thank you.
LAGARDE: That’s a really—I’m learning from you as much as I’m trying to think about the response.
I’m known to have said that in 2008, if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, we would not be—(laughter)—in the mess we were in and continue to be. (Applause.)
So I don’t know what it would look like if there were more women involved in those portfolio managements and in those financial flows that we see around the world. I don’t know because I—we don’t have the counterfactual, because there are so few women in those businesses. So it’s hard to imagine.
But if we extrapolate a little bit—and based on the work that we’ve done on banks and financial establishments, I would assume that the business conducted in those fields would be less risky, would be safer, would probably be better hedged, and possibly, when it comes to the financing of infrastructure projects, for instance, would take into account the impact on women’s life.
So if—you know, I’m dreaming here, but if policymakers and the financiers of those decisions were more women, had more women, maybe the choice between a huge big arena—(laughter)—France World Cup, yes, but—but—(laughter)—and a major project that would help, you know, with water, you know, a good, sensible dam with irrigation projects associated with it. If you—if more women were involved in that choice, maybe—maybe—the choice would go in the direction of water than soccer. (Laughter.)
MANYIKA: We’ll take a couple more.
One over there?
Q: Thank you very much. My name is Janet Fleischman with the CSIS Global Health Policy Center.
Melinda Gates had said last year that no country has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives. And I wonder if you could speak about the enabling environment for economic empowerment for women and the importance of access to women’s health services, to family planning, and the impact that this has in countries around the world, including in the U.S., but certainly in many of the developing countries as well.
LAGARDE: You know, where we have the most empirical evidence is in relation to low-income countries where you see—where you have seen over the course of time an empirical evidence of the fact that when education is longer, when family size are smaller, it’s an—well, sorry, I shouldn’t—I’ll work it around the other way. When you have reduced—it’s not reduced fertility, it’s reduced natality, it’s invariably caused by longer and higher levels of education for women. So the linkages between these two factors, education for women and number of children, is obvious.
The same goes for age of marriage. And we’ve done a study on India in that respect where you can actually very visibly see that with an additional number of compulsory education, the age of marriage moves into time; and therefore, the number of children subsequently is slightly reduced. But that’s, I mean, that’s the best that we can produce in that respect and it’s obviously as a result that in order to develop, grow an economy, you need to provide the level of education that will actually maintain fertility at an acceptable rate. And I agree with Melinda.
MANYIKA: Yeah. Actually, there was a terrific study that I think U.N. Women did that actually included that.
MANYIKA: It also even included factors like physical safety, for example, how the linkages—
MANYIKA: Transportation, right.
LAGARDE: —comes to mind. You know, access to proper sanitation is another one. Yeah.
There’s a question right in front here.
Q: Thank you.
LAGARDE: I remember, by the way—this is—this is a funny memory that you bring back because you mentioned Melinda. But we had a fantastic conversation in India with the prime minister in attendance about the size of sanitation and the height of walls behind which people could do what they have to do and how it impacts on the freedom of movement of women and their ability to actually go to work or leave the house. We don’t think about it because we are in the U.S. and that’s not something that we’re exposed to, but boy. Sorry for that discretion.
Q: No, it’s a terrific one. And thank you so much and such an inspiration to hear you and also Kristalina when we get to her conversations around these issues.
I loved your piece, your response in terms of this is a—this is a journey, this isn’t something that’s going to turn around in a short period of time, and just kind of linking this to the various dimensions of this question of economic opportunity, including the political.
But also, I’d love to hear your thoughts around the social context as well because we’ve been—we’ve seen evidence over time and we’ve been learning as we’ve done more research and studies. But at the heart of it, we’re talking about social constructs and values, I think, in communities in terms of how women are perceived in society. And I would love to hear your comments around where, if there are any gaps, or how could we look differently at those, how could we respond differently, I think, to those questions as we are putting forth the evidence that you’ve just described in terms of the gap numbers, the impact on women, the questions around whether women’s participation in some of these decision-making would actually make a difference, et cetera.
But getting back to your thoughts just around that whole, at the end of the day, the social construct that we’re dealing with around how women are perceived and values that we have.
LAGARDE: I’d be out of my depth to address your question. So you might be yourself better placed in a position to address those issues. (Laughter.) You know, I can only speak to what we try to measure, what we try to influence, and based on honest facts—honest facts—and numbers, yes—(laughter)—and my—and my own history.
But, you know, I’m deeply convinced that it is a revolutionary process because it changes, it disrupts. It shouldn’t displace and it shouldn’t be conducted in a way that is aggressive and adversarial because I think everybody stands to benefit from that. I have other beliefs, but that’s irrelevant. (Laughter.)
MANYIKA: We’ll take probably two more.
One over there on this side.
Q: Nan Cohen, Princeton. Thank you for being here.
I wanted to go back to part of an answer you gave earlier about the ways in which including more women brings greater diversity and, therefore, greater productivity. Could you say something? Used the word “characteristics”—what sorts of characteristics, given that we’re all individuals and very varied, what sorts of characteristics do women in general bring that strengthens an organization?
LAGARDE: The easy answer to that without taking sides—and I’ve indicated on which side I am, right—but I think the first easy answer is diversity in and of itself, because we look different, we have different backgrounds, we have different approaches to life in many instances, all of us. And it’s not just diversity based on gender, it’s a diversity that is based on gender, on colors, on religion, on background, on education.
You know, from Princeton, you come with a particular background. If I come from another vocational school somewhere, I have a different background and we both equally can contribute, yet we will bring diverse contributions. The simple fact that there is diversity I think enriches the debate and forces you, forces me to listen to somebody who comes from a different background, different religion, different framework of mind. We were talking about that earlier on.
You know, how do you put yourself in the shoes of somebody who’s been trained and educated in China or in the Middle East or in a civilization and with a cultural background that is so different from yours and from mine? That in and of itself because it leads you to doubting and questioning and arguing for your own sake. That is, I think, a plus and enriches and makes the contribution—the output as they call it—more productive.
I also think for myself—and that’s only based on my life in, you know, twenty-five years of private sector, now soon ten years in public sector—I believe that men and women react in a different way to situations. It’s overstated as a generality. I would say that a large majority of the responses, I can, you know, blindly contribute to the playing of music, for instance, which—
LAGARDE: —even behind a curtain, yeah, I think that there are differences in terms of being more prone to taking risks or not, thinking ahead, which is why I was thinking that maybe that world of portfolio management would be less risky and better hedged.
I’m sorry to say, but thinking of others rather than thinking about oneself also comes to mind. And I don’t know whether it’s, you know, determined by nature, whether it’s determined by history, whether it’s determined by education, I don’t want to opine on that. But I have seen for myself those clear distinctions and we are seeing it in portfolio management as well and in—and in banks. Again, big, strong correlations do not justify causality necessarily, but it’s pretty strong.
MANYIKA: Over to this side. Thank you.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much. My name is Nancy Lieberman. I’ve been a partner at a major international law firm, Skadden, Arps—
Q: —for decades. I’ve been there nearly forty years. And I do M&A law. And my experience in addressing corporate boards has led me to conclude that if there were more women directors, just as you were answering the last question, it would make a sea change difference in so many areas that impact equality of women in the workplace.
I know that the EC now has a quota system for demanding that women be on corporate boards. I personally am not a great believer in quotas because I think it diminishes what a woman brings to the party if the label is “I’m a quota person.” So I don’t like that.
So my question to you is—and I have served on a corporate major board, so I’m familiar with the process—what do you think will change the way boards choose directors to get more women on? Because from my own personal experience, I think there’s a huge amount of resistance still.
Q: So what’s your solution to the problem?
LAGARDE: I’ll give you a very practical example. And by the way, I’m almost on the same page as you and I was totally on the same page as you until I became chairman at Baker & McKenzie. And I looked at the number of female partners and I looked at the population we had and I looked at the gap and I thought solve it, we need quotas, and I’ve completely changed my mind, not forever, but the step is just too high and we need—we need—we really need it. And I think what we’re seeing in some of the—some of the European countries—and France was, you know, on the—on the forefront of requiring that there be, first of all, 30 percent and then soon 40 percent of women on boards.
I’ll give you my personal experience of that because I think that it goes down to the practical details and the weeds of what we do. I was finance minister for a period of four years right at the time of the financial crisis, so a tough job to do. But I had a portfolio myself of state-owned or partly state-owned companies and not, you know, small things. You talked about, you know, the big telecom companies, the big utility companies, you talk about airports, you talk about airline companies, all those. So it didn’t exist at the time, but I said I would like to meet each and every one of the chairmen or CEOs. It’s good enough to be represented at the board by some of my civil servants—fine—but I want to see them, and I’m going to invite them into my office to hear about their strategy because I just want to hear.
So they all came and, invariably, I finished those strategy-dedicated meetings to, of course, you have women on your board? And invariably, the answer was, uh, no, or sometimes, oh, yes, of course, I have one. (Laughter.)
Q: It’s still like that, by the way.
Q: It’s still like that.
LAGARDE: I know. Yeah. And so we all have to continue doing that.
So I said, well, why is that? And they said, well, you know, we’re making an effort by blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, it’s very difficult to find. So I said, well, you know what? When we see each other next year, I hope you’ve made progress and you’ve identified board members that will have joined your board because you’ve got a couple of very aging gentlemen here—(laughter)—that would be better off doing something else.
So comes the next year. I knew what I was going to get, I just knew it, so I was prepared for that. So they all came, and I got invariably, except for one, the same answer: Minister, I tried so hard, but I couldn’t find a competent woman to do the job. So I said, oh, very good. You know what? And I pulled out of my pocket a list of about thirty women, who were not only competent, but willing and just ready to serve. So I said next year, you just come and see me, and if you haven’t changed your board composition, you’re in real trouble. And that changed.
And it’s at that time that the parliament actually passed the—I did not cause that law, you know, in fairness, I supported it, but that’s when they passed the law on minimum threshold in all boards of publicly quoted companies. And now it’s moving to the medium-size companies as well where there’s a huge, big, big gap.
MANYIKA: We’ll take our last question over there.
Q: I know how you feel when you go to a meeting where you are singled out somewhere. (Laughter.) But I am a philanthropist and I work with the United Nations, with the IMF, and the World Bank, with UNESCO.
And I want to share a personal story about my idea about the women’s empowerment. I had a chance to serve with Hillary Clinton on a project in Amman, Jordan for a museum fund for international artists. And the UNESCO was looking for a philanthropist, you know, and they were not able to find someone who was committed to women’s empowerment, who liked the Muslim culture, and who had the incentive to go into such a project, but I was the one. So you (just find ?) about my sorrow when Hillary lost her election in November 2015 (sic; 2016). I tried to recover from that.
But my point is the fact that, if I am a women-empowerment-committed man, the reason is because when I was six years old in the kitchen, my mother explained to me the fact of life, that women cannot drive, not in the city, cannot borrow money, cannot own money, cannot have property, and everything. I said, wow, this is incredible, I want to fight against that.
So my suggestion—and by the way, there is something good that is happening right now. Three weeks ago I was at Goldman Sachs for a (third year ?). Normally, there is one woman there and then, yes, there’s one there, but this year there was a lot of women. And I said, my goodness, something happened here. And in the panel, the same thing. There was a new CEO at Goldman Sachs and then he told us this is something I want to achieve.
But my suggestion, why not train, implement, influence young kids at six years old in the elementary school, even preschool, about what is a woman, why she’s good, why you should look at her and change your mentality early on. This will change a lot of things. And then probably two, three, five years ago, I will have (half ?) women interested by this subject because it is very, very crucial. Thank you.
LAGARDE: Thank you so much. You know, I don’t—I don’t think anybody can disagree with you. I would go one step further. I believe—I strongly believe that everywhere we go, everywhere we are, we can actually have that at heart and make sure that we identify in our family life, in our professional life, in our day-to-day life how we can better respect, better access, and better encourage.
Because, you know, when I started at the IMF, macroeconomists in the main said, oh. So even there, now there is a very strong current of people who say, yes, of course it matters, yes, it is macro-critical.
So when you’re a six year old, yes, absolutely, because you determine, and even before that possibly, and on and on and on and wherever and forming teams and foraging alliances with both men and women. Yes.
MANYIKA: Well, that’s a wonderful note to end on. I just want to thank you for taking the time, Christine, to have this conversation, to come here on this macro-critical issue. (Laughter.) Thank you.
LAGARDE: You got it. (Applause.)
Although financial inclusion of the world’s poorest is improving—in part due to the rise of mobile banking, identification cards, and other innovative approaches—the gender gap in access to and usage of financial services persists. Kristalina Georgieva, Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank, discusses legal and regulatory disparities in access to and usage of formal financial institutions and highlight how well designed digital tools can promote the financial inclusion of women.
For more information, visit the Women's Workplace Equality Index.
O’NEIL: Good morning, everyone. If you could please take your seats. Great. Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to the second session of today’s Council on Foreign Relations symposium titled “Women and the Law: Leveling the Economic Playing Field.” I’m Shannon O’Neil. I’m a vice president and deputy director of the Studies Department here at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Now, we’re very honored today to have Kristalina Georgieva. She is, as you can see from her bio which you have in all of your packets, she has an incredible impressive track record. She has been a global policymaker for many years, many positions at the World Bank, within the European Union. And today she is the CEO of the World Bank. So thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
GEORGIEVA: Well, thank you very much for having me. Good morning, everybody. It is fantastic to follow after Christine Lagarde. My office is across the 19th Street looking into her premises. And whenever my mood is down, I look there for boosting it up. (Laughter.)
I want to start, first, by saying, for the benefit of full disclosure, that in my professional life I approach this issue of gender equality from the wrong foot and stayed there for a number of years. I thought that we had to be gender blind—you are either good or not—and there is really no need to push for female participation. Women on their own devices, by working hard, would get there. When I arrived at the World Bank, walked in the building, first time in 1992, I had my best suit, which I still remember was brown jacket with flowers. (Laughter.) I looked around, walked out, went and bought a dark blue suit. (Laughter.) So I can blend in what was primarily men-dominated institution, and where women actually did try to blend.
And that was wrong. It took me a number of years to come to that conclusion. Christine wrapped up her session on that note, that diversity is a great thing, and that unless we push gender equality will take much longer than our lifetimes to be achieved. The calculation is, left on its own devices it would take 150 years. Even with modern medicine, this is a little too long. (Laughter.)
O’NEIL: Great. Well, I’m glad to see you wearing red today and not blue. So let’s start talking. I mean, we just saw Christine Lagarde. She talked a lot about gender inclusion. Could we start talking a bit about the World Bank and the role gender inclusion plays in the type of work the World Bank’s doing?
GEORGIEVA: Well, the—a point of departure is that institutions like the Fund and the Bank do play an important role in defining the economic case for diversity, the economic case for gender in development. We did recently a very important study that calculated wealth loss because of inequality. So what we said was: We know that—we calculated, the Bank, the total wealth of our planet. The last number we came up with was $1,123 trillion. And then I said, well, wait a minute, gender inequality deprives us from wealth. How much? And the answer is staggering—$160 trillion of wealth that we lose because of inequality. So Christine gave some numbers. The Council on Foreign Relations is coming up with very good analysis. And it is important to concentrate on that economic case.
So the first thing we do at the Bank is to take this global picture, but then disaggregate it to a country level, community level, family level. And what we find is that when the analysis is credible, even in the most unlikely places, we get a good hearing. For example, Middle East. In the Middle East, we have presented the economic case for gender equality with emphasis on middle class. So we talk to policymakers. They say: We want to see a booming middle class. Well, guess what? If you have one person only working in a family, this—as the Americans would say—ain’t gonna happen. (Laughter.) And when we are—when we present that productivity of men in the Middle East has to be 1.6 times higher than productivity of men in the United States or Western Europe to reach middle class, this is a big wakeup call.
So that is one bucket of things. And Christine already mentioned, we published a very important report, it looks like this, Women, Business and the Law. And it is an incredibly powerful tool for engagement with policymakers. The second thing we do is to put our money where our mouth is. If we believe in gender equality, then our projects have to be supporting girls’ education, women entrepreneurship, gender lens on everything we do. And I can tell you, we started from, first, designing gender projects. So tiny little project that goes for women. And then we realized that this is not going to be a game-changer. What is a game changer is to take a normal project—say, water and sanitation—and put a gender lens.
Christine talked about safety of women to travel to jobs. In India—and I actually visited one of our projects—we have very, very dedicated potential to safety of women in transport. In Mumbai, there is a commuter train with women-only cars. I was in one of them. And women tell me, this is critical. If they don’t have this space that is safe—no harassment—many of them won’t go to study, they won’t go to work. So we do this funding for the purpose of inclusion of women in the economy. And then we work with many partners.
And actually, I have an announcement to make today. Thanks to DVID and the Gates Foundation, we now are adding to a very important funding vehicle for rapid social response a component that will bring this gender lens to how we support individuals, families, communities in dire need, how we provide the social response. And it has a tremendously important component. And it is the emphasis on digital payments. So we will do it, empowering women to have accounts, to have digital payments. So that is our funding side.
And then comes something very important, and the third part—the third leg of this, how we look as an institution. I am very proud to share with you that we set the target to have parity in our senior ranks, vice presidents and above, by 2020. And two months ago, we reached our target, so. (Applause.) We look like the world. (Laughter.) We also got a very important part of our going to markets to help that case. We raised money for our investments at the markets. We issued bonds. And some eight months ago we issued our first gender bond, one billion Canadian dollars. It was sold like hotcake. So demand is there. Those of you that are in the financial world, do not hesitate to talk to me after for doing more of that. (Laughter.)
O’NEIL: Let me take you now back to where you started in your sort of first personal recollection. And, you know, we have been talking about working on gender equality for decades now. And we’ve seen great advances, but we’ve also seen limitations. As you look out at the next decade or so, where do you see this going? Are you hopeful? Are you skeptical? What do you think’s going to happen or what will drive change?
GEORGIEVA: Well, I need to disclose, I’m an eternal optimist. (Laughter.) So I am a bit more optimistic than Christine. Christine said there is movement, we are on the road. I actually think that we are in the very critical junction in time when finally we see a push upwards for women in politics. And it is happening in many, many places. It is happening here in the United States. It is happening in developing countries. Christine mentioned Ethiopia, Rwanda. My own country, I see an increase of women participation. The leader of the opposition is a woman. And that really critical mass to me is the most important aspect.
We cannot, with 24 percent of women in parliaments, change the laws, get these discriminatory laws out and put protections of women in, unless there are more women in parliaments. So I think this decade, if it continues with that traction in politics, it may be quite remarkable in terms of change. I also asked my colleagues, what do you think is going to make it or break it for gender equality longer term? And their answer was technology. If women through technology are empowered, then here is the topic of financial inclusion as a very central piece. Financial inclusions, though technology, would do for women in business what the curtain has done for women in music. And I am actually quite positive about that too.
O’NEIL: So let’s talk a bit about financial inclusion, because that is, as you say, a key element, and one that the World Bank focuses on. Why does it matter and why do we see less inclusion than we should? Right, money is money?
GEORGIEVA: Well, it matters because financial inclusion unleashes the potential of women to be in control of their lives. We know that women, on balance, spend more for the education of their children and the health of their families, on balance. There was actually a very interesting study that showed that—it is a controlled experiment, that in China 10 percent increase of spending by women lifted educational outcomes of boys and girls in the families. Ten percent increase of spending of men did nothing for the girls and actually decreased the educational outcomes of the girls. Kind of quite shocking. But I mean, there are cultural norms. Boys are more important than girls. So there is this one issue to start with, how empowered women spend their money.
Secondly, if we have more women with access to finance, entrepreneurial sprits of women unleashed big time. I’ll tell you something that I love. In Kenya, through—was it M-Desa? The—
GEORGIEVA: M-Pesa. M-Pesa. I keep mixing that. through digital empowerment of women, 185,000 women left farming, where they were, and turned into entrepreneurs. And the extreme poverty in the communities that were included dropped by 22 percent. These are big numbers. And just imagine this on a global scale. My personal favorite story, in Bangladesh we helped payment to turn from cash to digital. So women in textile—in their textile industry, instead of getting cash they would get money in their accounts. When they got cash, one of them would have her mother-in-law waiting in front of the factory taking her money. Now the mother-in-law cannot do it and the woman saves money, gets to be an entrepreneur. These are transformative stories on a very massive scale.
But we still have—as you said, we have a big gap. Globally, the gap in financial inclusion is 7 percent, between men and women. Men 72 percent, women 65 (percent). In developing countries, it is 9 percent, is slightly higher, 67-58 (percent). Now, we take this an opportunity. And we say, OK, what would change this still discrimination. And by the way, when I say 9 percent gap, 9 percent is the global gap. But it differs tremendously from a country to a country. There are countries like Indonesia where there is no gap. And there are countries where the gap is 20-30 or more percent. My favorite, my favorite of all times, my professor of statistics who used to say about averages—yeah, you know it?
O’NEIL: I’ll let you say it? (Laughs.)
GEORGIEVA: You know it? You put your head in the freezer, your feet in the oven, your temperature is average. (Laughter.) But you’re dead. (Laughter.) So it is important to recognize that we have a duty to understand beyond and behind the averages. And this is what we do at the Bank. We look at regions and bank country levels, and within countries. And what we find is that the way to close this gap is actually multifaceted.
One: Laws. When the laws prohibit women from opening accounts—in three countries they cannot open an account on their own—or they restrict the access to jobs—and this is very massive. It is 75 countries one way or another. Or, women need permission from their husbands to move around. And I think that was 31 countries. When we have these legal obstacles, even if technically speaking a woman has an account, it is hard to get to it, and it is hard to use. So we need to deal with the legal framework. I am very proud of that our legal—our general counsel, by the way a woman, she made a commitment that the Bank will zero not just on getting this data, but on working with countries to eliminate discriminatory laws. And we are actually aiming to get first pilot already next year.
When you get the laws in good shape, then come cultural norms and traditions. And very often, we are not respectful enough of understanding, like in some countries—in Bangladesh, culturally a woman cannot give her phone number to a man. If the man, a clerk in the bank, needs a phone number to establish a bank account, she just can’t have it. There are ways around it. It can be iris. It can be other ways of IDing herself. Also, we have a big problem with many women being not only illiterate, but also innumerate. They don’t—they cannot deal with ten-number PIN. So we have to think of all these aspects as we build the systems for financial inclusion to make sure that they are culturally, societally appropriate.
And then comes, to me, the most difficult issue. If you have a bank account, you also have to have income. You need a job. And we at the Bank see that issue of jobs in developing countries as the biggest, biggest challenge of all. And we also need to understand that if in the developed world the need for women participation in the labor force comes from aging population and shrinking population, in the developing world we have an expanding population with big number of young men with no jobs, no prospects. So we have to think about that aspect very, very seriously.
O’NEIL: I’m going to ask one more question before I open it up to members for their questions. So be ready with your questions. But let me ask—I mean, given these—there are legal barriers that you laid out, many of those, cultural barriers, as well as sort of the labor market and the like. You know, what is the role of the World Bank or other multilateral institutions? How can you influence governments or cultures to change in the ways that you’re talking about?
GEORGIEVA: Well, the—to me, the most important thing is to recognize no country, no community, no family can succeed by tapping into talent of only half of its people. So we are talking about success in development. And Christine also referred to that. Cannot happen—cannot happen without the full participation of women. So we—as a development organization—we just have to hammer this message time and again. It is about the fate of women, but it is also about the wellbeing of boys and men. And that is so very important, that we time and again drive this, and then come up with practical solutions.
I don’t find it useful to go to a place and preach and then say, you know what? You have a problem. It’s your problem. Bye. We always have to think, what is that we learn that works? And I gave you a couple of stories. We have many, many activities that work. By the way, also on addressing child marriage. Also on dealing with high population growth. We have a program in the Sahel that is about access to family planning. Very much liked by the countries, a program that helps with a very difficult issue. Culturally difficult, but it helps.
So doing this, some up with these solutions, and then serving as a transmission line of lessons learned from one place to be taken to another. And then persevere. Stay the course. I think we have a change. We were with Christine at the G-20 meeting. And there was at least an hour of the meeting in which everybody talked about gender equality. The irony, of course, was that there were only two women at the table when this conversation took place. (Laughs.) But I find it to be positive, because it is no more a fringe issue. And it is not a fringe issue because of the economics of it. And the rights part, but the economics of it.
O’NEIL: Yeah. So at this moment I’d like to open it up to questions, invite our members to participate. There are microphones that will be going around, so when I call on you please stand, name your affiliation, and please ask one concise question so we can reach lots of people. Go ahead.
Q: Thanks. Rachel Robbins, formerly with IFC.
Christine Lagarde talked, Kristalina, about the fact that 11 percent of jobs of women globally are going to disappear because of technology and other factors. And she said, it calls for policies. What are the policies that can address that issue, for men and well as women?
GEORGIEVA: Thank you, Rachel. Great to see you. One of the women that were trailblazers in the World Bank Group. So fantastic to see you here.
The one—what Christine talks about is serious. We do have a major transformation that is driven by technology. And manual, repetitive jobs are disappearing. I mean, in Bangladesh, the country I mentioned, already they’re buying robots to replace textile workers. And it is an interesting question. If you are in Africa and you’re thinking that you are the next destination for textile, would that really happen? We just published our latest report on the future of work. And there, what were recognize is that rather than being afraid of this change, we need to think what is that would prepare countries for it. And it is obviously recognizing the types of skills that are kind of uniquely human still.
You take the health care profession. A lot can be done by technology, but we do not yet have—and I don’t think in the next 15-20 years we would have—a robot that can hug you so well as a human can. And there are a lot of things around emotional intelligence that are—that are so very valuable. And we need to think of the professions that are a critical part in the skills for them. And they are skills that are different from what I learned. I mean, when I was growing up I learned lots of facts. And now what my granddaughter has to learn is more about this emotional intelligence, social skills.
We have taken a very close look at human capital, because what we understand is that while there is massive automation, there is also remarkably significant role for people in the wealth of nations. The number I quote, 1,123 trillion (dollars), two thirds of the wealth of nations is actually us, it is people. You know, we are those that make kind of the robots possible still. So we are—what we are seeing is very simple: The richer a country is, the higher of the share of human capital in its wealth; 70 percent or more. The poorer countries, the lower the share of human capital; 40 percent or less. Obviously, you want to be rich/wealthy tomorrow, you have to invest in your people today. And recognize that investing in girls and boys ought to be on equal footing.
We have discovered the importance of early childhood development. From the day a child is conceived, the importance of talking to a child. I didn’t know that. We found out that the baby, a baby, if a baby’s talked at, develops brain much faster. So there are things that we know, we need to make sure that we share them, and that we prepare girls and boys for this world of rapid change.
O’NEIL: Go ahead, in the back.
Q: Thanks. Hi. My name is Katharine Zaleski. I’m co-founder and president of PowerToFly, and I actually work with corporations so they can hire more women.
It’s funny, I spend a lot of time in Silicon Valley where companies want me to be a robot when it comes to hiring women, and they’re very disappointed that we’re not automated. And part of the reason we’re not automated is because there are so many sexist patterns already built into these robots. Like Amazon, for example, tried to do an AI robot for hiring, but it just used patterns that favored men and, obviously, you know, within three days they had to ditch the robot.
So my question is, from where you’re sitting, are you having conversations around how to build up these automation systems in the world so that they don’t—so we don’t put sexist inputs in them, racist inputs, et cetera?
GEORGIEVA: Yeah. Well, I mean, yes. We found that in face recognition, because most of the writers of these algorithms that go into face recognition are white men, the recognition of women and people of color is more difficult. So there’s even gender bias in that.
So how can you deal with it? What we—what we—and by the way, we look at ourselves. We did recently a review of our advertisements. They’re male-oriented. Why? Because they had, like, ten bullet points, we list of a bunch of things, and what we realize is that men, they fit the job, never mind what, they don’t read the bullet points, women read these ten bullet points, they say, oh, my God, I don’t meet three of those requirements, I cannot apply. (Laughter.) So that is incredibly important, the question you’re placing.
When we move to automation, how do we strip those biases? And the answer stares us in the face: You need women as part of the design process, you need more women to write codes. And we supported the banks—since you asked what we do—we very massively support in developing countries universities to bring onboard more girls and young women in the STEM area, in code, writing code. We have competitions for that. We actually tell our partners in developing countries, leaders in developing countries you ought to tap into both men and women, boys and girls, if you want to compete in this world of tomorrow.
And we need people like you to go around and ask this question. So if you want to come to the spring meetings of the bank, you have a standing invitation.
By the way, I forgot to say something very important to the men in the audience: Thank you for being here. Thank you. And I’m saying this from my heart. Thank you.
Q: I think that’s on. I’m Sarah O’Hagan with a nonprofit news organization called the Fuller Project.
And as a reader of the incomparable work of the bank, generally produced by Sarah Iqbal, the legal report that you do annually, it’s an enormous educational tool, but it puts me in mind of something that Christine Lagarde said earlier about favoring quotas, and that is the enforcement mechanisms.
In some countries, there’s still enormous legal barriers to women’s participation. In other countries, the laws are on the books, but they can’t be enforced or they aren’t enforced. So I wondered how you see the role of the bank in actually affecting the changes.
GEORGIEVA: Well, the most important part of our job is to make the invisible visible. So it may not be visible that laws are not implemented, we have to make it visible, visible to the decision-makers, visible to the public.
We are big believers in transparency, that when you bring the evidence for everybody to see and then you have a mechanism to track implementation, there is a better chance it will happen. But I must admit, the saying “you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make the horse drink” actually applies. We can do only that much, in the end we need the partners in government that are convinced it is in their interests.
So we invest a lot in engaging ministers of finance to make them part of this conversation to get them to see the answer to the question, what is in it for me? Why is this good for me? How is this going to impact tax collection? How is it going to revenue collection? How is this going to impact productivity? Christine talked about that, make the implementation of the laws not an imposition, but something that is a prerequisite for success for this particular branch of governments that we engage most often with.
We also try to get excitement around these issues. For example, one of the big things you would hear us talking about is Moonshot Africa. Moonshot Africa is basically putting everybody in Africa into the digital space by 2030. And the reason we use “moonshot” is because it’s a little bit like Kennedy saying we are going to go to the moon.
And what we—what we place in very squarely is gender inclusion, digital inclusion, access to finance, access to trade, and we make it then really interesting and sexy. For example, we make—we tell African leaders look at China, China is, for many of them, a, you know, a very successful development story. In China, the women, 59 percent of women use the internet for commerce, and that, of course, generates growth and revenues, more than the men. Men were, what, 54 percent or 55 percent—more than the men. So we say look at this, China, women in ecommerce. (Laughter.)
We go to the moon together. We actually say more than that. We say we want you to be Kennedy and we will be your NASA. It makes me feel great. (Laughter.)
O’NEIL: I love that.
Let me go right here. Go ahead.
Q: Hi. Lawrence Moss, most recently at Hunter College and then Human Rights Watch before that.
Let me preface a difficult question by saying morally and philosophically I absolutely believe women should have full opportunities in education and in employment and, most especially, that there are enormous benefits to every society and every organization from bringing more women into positions of power and influence.
But I have a concern that’s troubled me since I worked at a feminist law firm in San Francisco in the 1970s while I was a student at Stanford Law School at a time when women were surging into elite law schools and into the legal profession, which is that people tend to marry within their social class. I think sociologists call this assortative mating. And as they form high income, they often marry people they meet in school and other elite institutions. And as they form higher-income couples, people of high status, there are that many less of these opportunities to trickle down to other people rising up from other classes. And I believe there now is empirical data that shows that this is a real problem that does exacerbate income inequality. And I think we all may know it anecdotally in our professional lives. So how can we—is the—do you agree that this is a problem? And is there a way to address it that still preserves the rights that women should have to equal employment and the benefits that society gets from elevating women into equal positions of employment, but still addresses this exacerbation of an income inequality problem which is growing throughout the world?
GEORGIEVA: You know, when I think of women and inequality, I actually have in front of me the faces of women in a village in Niger, who, because of the World Bank, are able to keep their income. And because they keep their income, their families have food. And their husbands would say—actually, they said that—one of them said that to me, if you gave me the money, I would have bought a bicycle and we would have been hungry.
I see the women that I travel in the third-class compartment in Mumbai. To me, the matter of a stable, secure world depends so much on eradicating extreme poverty. And eradicating extreme poverty depends so much on us being able to bring the talent of women, the capacity of women.
So I am—yes, I am now part of this elite you talk about. By the way, my husband, he is, I would say, an ordinary Bulgarian citizen—(laughter)—and I am—early retired. Before I joined the World Bank, I earned a hundred-dollar salary per month as a professor in Bulgaria. So it’s not—in other words, not every story is quite as you describe it of successful women.
But to me—to me—in my heart of hearts, it is how I use my position of authority to make it possible for women in the developing world to reach their potential, to make it possible for girls not to marry at the age of twelve. And I go to work every day with this in mind.
So I don’t think that all women that have made it are contributing to growing inequality. Probably some are, the same way some men are. I think that many, many women like me, who have made it on the basis of working harder than men—sorry, that was—(laughter)—that’s the story—we actually—we actually feel this responsibility to open up doors for other women for the well-being of women and men.
I’m not sure I completely subscribe to what you said. I mean, I see the logic of your question, and it is probably valid for Ivy League school graduates. But the world is much bigger than that. (Applause.)
O’NEIL: Go ahead, right there. Yeah, thank you.
Q: Thank you. I’m Allie Massaro with State University of New York, so not an Ivy League school. (Laughter.) And we support—I direct a program that supports young women, many of them very financially challenged, to become global leaders. It’s a two-year program.
What would you give, as I go back to them and work with them—and they’ve gone actually on to Harvard for MPHs and Johns Hopkins for international relations, five Fulbrights—what would you give them as advice as they become women global leaders or global leaders and things how to deal with challenges and other aspects of the world that they’ll be entering in their careers? Thank you.
GEORGIEVA: Well, I mean, I am one of them. I graduated in Bulgaria, got my Ph.D. there, and then by luck I was at MIT with a Fulbright scholarship. And this is where the World Bank found me and, you know, I changed my jacket. (Laughter.)
My advice, twofold: One, believe in yourself, believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in you, why would anybody else do it? And two, think of your fortune to get up in these high corridors of power as a blessing for those who are not there. You are their voice. You speak truth to that power.
O’NEIL: Go ahead, back there.
Q: This is a great day. And I want to comment on the number of women—
O’NEIL: Please introduce yourself.
Q: Oops, I’m sorry?
O’NEIL: Please introduce yourself, yes.
Q: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Alberta Arthurs, I was in the foundation world for a long time.
Susan, I think you may have been at Harvard when I was a dean there.
O’NEIL: Possibly. (Chuckles.)
Q: I want to comment on the number of young women that are here because I think it makes a huge difference to all of us who are still around that young women are taking over so dramatically. So it’s wonderful to see so many of them here at the Council.
But the morning so far and the last question, well, make me wonder whether we can do all that we have to do until there are more women like you and our predecessor speaker in positions of power. So I think one of the questions we haven’t yet touched on seriously is the question of leadership. How do we get more of you up there?
GEORGIEVA: Well, one, I think it’s irreversible that the world is becoming more diverse and women are finding their place in it. I mean, it’s a very simple thing: Go and vote, vote for women if you find women that you trust.
To me, the—so what I would say, I immediately admit that it is a bit arrogant—I’m not an arrogant person, but this is a little bit arrogant—and it is that I don’t really care if people would get upset because I take a strong position on equality, because I believe it is so very important that those of us that are still minority in this high position of power do it. And I’m saying it not because—I actually love diversity. That means I love people from different ethnicity—men, women, everybody. But I do feel that I owe it to my daughter and I owe it to my granddaughter. I work still harder than men to be equal, and I want them to be equal just because they are. So push, and that is—again, I’m not saying this aggressively. I just feel that it is a responsibility to the next generation.
I was horrified when I found out that Millennial(s) have exactly the same gender gap in pay as my generation. This is wrong. And we have to recognize that wrong has to be put right, and it cannot happen only by being, you know, in conferences and being sort of nice and likeminded. You know, this is why I’m actually so grateful for the men in the audience. We need you. It’s not going to happen without you. But it is for all of us, and it is a matter of having a harmonious society.
Somebody asked the question about women, what women bring. Women do bring a more consensual attitude in their jobs. And we have a world that is faced with so many challenges. Wouldn’t it be good that we bring that consensual energy at the decision-making table for the benefit of everyone?
O'NEIL: Right here.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much for this wonderful and very honest talk. My name is Mariela Dabbah. And I’m from the Red Shoe Movement leadership development, work inside corporations to help more women reach the highest levels of leadership.
And I want to go back to a comment you’ve been making, thanking the men in the audience, which, when I’m presenting and I see men in the audience, I also do. But truth be told, we’re like ninety percent women and we’re talking about women and the law. So why is it—I know the why. Let’s just go to—(laughter)—what can we do to change when we’re talking about these important issues of leveling the playing field? Because nobody that advocates for its own minority is as effective as somebody from the majority advocating for that minority. And we know that when white male advocate for minorities in organizations, their careers really propel. Right? So what can we do to get more men to sit at the table and come to these conversations and really advocate for this issue? Thank you.
GEORGIEVA: Well, first, I want to recognize the president of the World Bank, Jim Kim. He became I think the first in the multilateral community “he for she” champion, and we need that. This is so very important. But to answer your question, well, next time when you come, bring two men with you. (Laughter, applause.) That actually applies to me. I have two women. Next time, we are going to have one of our men with us.
O'NEIL: (Laughs.) Great.
Right there in the back, back row. (Laughs.)
Q: Thank you. Mona Aboelnaga Kanaan from K6 Investments.
I’m actually interested in your view on the trends that are happening in the developed market, not just the emerging or developing markets, because increasingly over time, coming out of the financial sector, as an Egyptian-American who invests both in American companies as well as Middle Eastern companies, I’m troubled by, over time, there are less women like me in senior levels in private equity in America. There are more in the Middle East, a country (sic) that we constantly talk about for many good reasons, having real gender issues. You will see, we will see in our companies in the Middle East, half of the developers are women. You will never—I will—I hope someone proves me wrong. You will never see that here. And increasingly, investing in fintech and other companies overseas, I see the real moonshots in financial inclusion because developing countries don’t necessarily have the legacy systems and infrastructure that we have here. And I’m constantly struck by we Americans sitting in defensive position, both in terms of technology, financial inclusion and gender-related issues. So I’m actually equally worried for my American sisters as I am for my Arab sisters.
GEORGIEVA: Well, it is a very good point. Christine also made this point. There is no country on the planet where there is full gender equality. The top countries in Women, Business and the Law are the U.K. and New Zealand, ninety-six out of a hundred, let’s say, points. They are followed by Spain and Canada, ninety-five. And then—why I’m saying that because I was surprised none of the four countries at the top are from the Nordics, but then come the Nordic countries. So there is really no—when I ask my colleagues, well, there must be one country that is really perfect, and they say no. And that is—that just shows that it is not an easy problem to solve, because if it was easy, it would have been in some place solved.
So developed countries as a whole are in a better place than developing countries as a whole, but as you said, the—behind this average there is a lot that is happening, especially in the digital space with countries leapfrogging and, in many cases—I’m thinking of Senegal; we mentioned already Rwanda—in many cases with tremendous advancement for women.
What can be done? Frankly, the only thing that I can think of is to have engagement and societal change that is driven top-down, from senior—the men and women, and it is also driven bottom-up. And you see some of this happening. You see more women going into finance in school, coming up with finance degrees and going—choosing to go to the financial services. It is happening.
How can we accelerate that? Obviously, through legislative change that eliminates all obstacles. How can this change happen? I’m sorry to repeat myself: by having more women in Congress here in the United States, more women in parliaments. When you have more women, the traction of changing laws in that direction of course is stronger.
So I don’t—I don’t think I would tell you something you don’t know. It is exactly what we do here, what the Council on Foreign Relations is doing, what many organizations are now doing: concentrate, keep your eyes on the ball, make sure that change is happening, when laws are on the books they are implemented. Don’t get tired of that topic.
If I have one worry, it is always that it would be fashion that comes and goes. And the staying power actually is what we ought to generate, to concentrate on having.
O'NEIL: One last question. Right back there. Use the microphone.
And to your question about you hope this isn’t just sort of a cycle, or your comment about this not just being a cycle, where it’s fashionable and then it’s not fashionable: When I was in banking, I spent a lot of time trying to engage women throughout the bank in advocating for their own power, and what I found consistently is the younger women were not interested because—and this was my unscientific assessment—they were raised by women who were powerful or felt powerful, and they went to schools in the same number as boys and they achieved as much, if not more, academically. And so they enter into a banking program, fifty-fifty; as many girls as boys have been hired into a corporate banking program. But as time goes on, they earn less and less. And you actually mentioned, as did Christine, when you started out, you were sort of like, just work hard and that’s going to do it.
So do you think that cycle is going to change? Because we’re raising our women to think, we’re raising girls to think that they are powerful and that, until they get out into the real world, it does feel like they’re powerful because they’re being judged by their grades and by things that are pretty objective. So how do we get young women to believe they have to fight and they have to advocate for themselves and not wait until they’re forty years old and they feel like, darn, that did actually happen?
GEORGIEVA: You know, my philosophy, what I’m going to say—I should say, that’s not the opinion of the World Bank; this is my personal opinion. (Laughter.) My personal opinion is “she for she”—as important as “he for she.” Women have to be bearing this responsibility to help other women, to lift up the younger generation to understand the challenges, and then to actually relentlessly fight for what is right.
In my institution, we have instituted annual review on pay, and what we look at is discrimination on gender or part of the world you come—we have part one, part two countries. We had ninety-two cases this year. We will review again. We then make corrections. We would review again next year, and actually majority of the cases were gender, women being paid less than comparators men. And I think that discipline of correcting the right, the wrong to right, that is a responsibility for everybody, but I don’t know whether you would agree with me; I feel I have a higher responsibility than my colleagues, men, because I was once—(laughs)—discriminated—actually, my salary was corrected some years ago. And it is—and that’s why I’m saying I don’t want to be arrogant on that, but I do feel that I have to call it as it is. And I—and this is—I think it was Madeleine Albright that said there is a special hell—place in hell for women that don’t help other women. Until we reach that point in which we have critical mass and this is the exception—right now, it is the rule—we ought to be—in our maturity—(laughs)—we ought to be lifting up younger women, helping younger women, mentoring them. I mean, it is a simple matter of fact: Women judge themselves harsher in relative terms than men.
I had the case, two people, man and woman, interviewing them and they were pretty much the same. And the man says, well, you have these five criteria, but the most important three, I fully meet, and I’m bringing you my fabulous personality; of course I’m the right person for the job.
GEORGIEVA: And the woman sits there and she says, well, I don’t know; I only meet three criteria; I don’t know whether I’m the right person for the job. That’s a fact. So unless we recognize it and unless we actively support women to take positions of authority, and then to watch over the risk of discrimination, on all counts, and you know, sometimes it may be a discrimination on other, for other reasons. The LGBT community may be one that is being discriminated against. But that focus on we’re not yet there—(laughs)—right—
O'NEIL: We’re working on it, right? (Laughs.)
GEORGIEVA: We’re not there yet—yet there. We’re working on that. And that focus on telling young women well, you know, watch it. Again, going to the Millennial(s): Come on, young women Millennial(s), go out there and say hey, why is my paycheck slimmer than this other one? Unless we have a bit of, you know, guts to fight it, it will be hard to close that gap. And then we don’t really have anybody to blame but kind of ourselves missing in action. I am—since I missed a bunch of years of action, I feel now every year I have to act and act a little bit more, to compensate for that past, so. (Laughter.)
O'NEIL: So on that, we’ve reached the end of our hour, so please join me in thanking Dr. Georgieva. (Applause.) Thank you.
The global sweep of the #MeToo movement has highlighted the challenge that sexual harassment poses to women’s professional advancement. But other structural barriers in the workplace and enduring legal double standards also inhibit women from reaching their full economic potential. In 2018, fifty-nine countries still have no legal prohibition on harassment in the workplace, and more than one hundred still have laws that prevent women from working in certain jobs. This panel discusses how legal and policy reform in the workplace can promote women’s economic empowerment and broader growth.
LIPMAN: So welcome to the third session of today’s Council on Foreign Relations Symposium on “Women and the Law: Leveling the Economic Playing Field.”
I’m Joanne Lipman, I’m the author of That’s What She Said which is about closing the gender gap at work by bringing men into the conversation. I’m also the former editor-in-chief of USA Today, chief content officer of Gannett.
Joining us, we have Iris Bohnet, who is the Albert Pratt professor of business and government and the academic dean and codirector of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School. We have Marcelo Cabrol, who is the manager of the social sector for Inter-American Development Bank. And to my right Damien Hooper-Campbell, vice president and chief diversity officer of eBay.
So what we’re going to be talking about with this distinguished panel, we’re going to be looking at the structural barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace. And whether they’re legal, they’re policy, it’s about culture, and we want to start really talking about solutions.
The global sweep of the #MeToo movement has really highlighted all of these challenges, especially sexual harassment, that are posed to women’s professional advancement. In 2018, this year, there’s still fifty-nine countries that have no legal prohibition on harassment in the workplace. There’s more than a hundred countries that still have laws that prevent women from taking certain jobs.
And the issue goes beyond sexual harassment, it goes to the everyday issues that women are facing. There’s the gender wage gap, but there’s also things like being ignored, overlooked, not taken seriously, marginalized in the workplace.
So what I’d like to do is to start with our panel by asking a question that I think is on the minds of probably everyone here, which is about the #MeToo movement because we’re hearing more and more in the news about men who are saying I’m never going to work with a woman again, I don’t want to talk to a woman, I might get falsely accused. And I’m wondering if you feel that we are seeing a #MeToo backlash.
And perhaps, Damien, you’d like to start with it.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: Sure, thank you. And thanks to the organization for having me here today. It’s a blessing to be here today.
Yeah, absolutely, right? I’m about radical transparency. I think that there’s definitely a backlash. I think—and I’m generalizing—but I’ve split it into probably two groups. I think there are some folks who are legitimately saying I don’t want to be in a room with a woman. Whereas before I might go to drinks and it was I knew that there was not going to be an issue, I think that there are some men who are now saying I need a chaperone, right, which is the silliest thing ever. And then I think that there are some men who are saying, OK, I don’t think that it’s actually that egregious where I need to totally change my behavior, but I’d like to have a conversation about this.
And so I think there are just two ballparks, right? One group who are—who are absolutely saying—they’re being a little bit extreme. And I try to be empathetic with everybody. And so, to a certain extent, I understand it, the other extent, I’m just, like, just behave like a good human being. And then on the other end, I do think that there is a yearning from men in particular to have a real conversation about what this all means.
LIPMAN: Marcelo, what’s your point of view on this? And how do we convince men to have that conversation?
CABROL: Perhaps two different conversations are—I work mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, so let me say that, as this very moment, #MeToo is changing fundamentally the way we talk about these issues. So I think that you have to see it in an evolutionary way, you know? You might have a backlash here, but certainly in Latin America it’s changing the way we see this.
#MeToo in Latin America and the Caribbean has brought some level of being uncomfortable. So discomfort is a super important part. And I have an anecdote because I always remember this one. I’m Argentinian. Argentina had a very bad financial crisis this year. The IMF was one of the institutions that came to the rescue. And the minister of finance came to Washington with seven men, OK? And Madam Lagarde, that was here a moment ago, made a very important, uncomfortable moment for them. He actually said, by the way, he was short on women.
Why is this important? It was an uncomfortable moment. But immediately in Argentina and in the region, we started—we renewed the discussion about the participation of women in higher places.
Now, what we see here in big corporations in Latin America and here, it’s already a little bit of a backlash in the mentoring programs that we’re looking at. The mentoring programs are becoming a little bit more difficult to pair men and women in this position. And we’re working on that and we’re trying to see how we can do about it.
I know—I totally agree that—(inaudible)—you know, (is ?) just triangulate and triangulate infinitely, but I think that something has to be done about that.
LIPMAN: So let’s talk about what can be done about it. And I know, Iris, you are heavily involved in the research on certain policies that have been put into place. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about it, because we’ve heard this morning already on a couple of different policies, and we’d like to hear what you have found. Let’s talk first about the gender wage gap analysis, that’s something that in the U.K. it is now law, it is now the law that you have to report your gender wage gap. And if I’m not mistaken, I believe that the report has shown so far this year that there are exactly zero companies that pay women more than they pay men. (Laughter.)
You’ve actually—you helped work with the U.K. on that law. Can you talk a little bit about what it has shown, and is that a policy that is effective to create change?
BOHNET: So it’s a bit too early to tell what’s going to happen in the U.K. But, I mean, I love the fact that then you broaden the #MeToo question to, you know, other inequities between men and women because I do think that’s a discussion that we have to have, that this is part of a structural inequity and not just an outlier.
And that might also sometimes help—just answering your first question a little bit—that might sometimes also help bring men onboard and saying this is part of a bigger picture and let’s kind of analyze the big picture.
And, yes, so transparency is one way to go about this. And I think the background of the transparency idea is twofold. One is it’s good people making bad choices in that they might not know. So we’re currently working with a company where we provide information on the gender promotion ratio. So every manager now knows how likely a woman or a man is being promoted based on the available pool in their team, again arguing that, partly, this is just I wasn’t paying attention, I was just—you know, I brought only men to Washington—and it required Madam Lagarde to kind of point this out to me—some of this conscious, some of this is unconscious.
So part of transparency is just to say let’s make this—bring this in the open. And then secondly, and of course, that was a big motivation for the U.K. as well that, once it is in the open, others will pay attention, too, and it will create all kinds of interesting dynamics. I mean, the press might write about it, NGOs might talk about it, employees might care about it, clients might care about it, and companies start to compete with each other. And I think that’s maybe one of the beauties of transparency.
And that’s why I’m also so excited about the Council’s work on creating indexes, an index now on workplace inequality, because, again, the more we shine the light on something, the more it is out in the open and we can actually talk about it.
So in the U.K., we don’t have data yet on what, you know—the next—the next wave. The next wave will have to show, you know, next March, next round of pay gap data will come out, has it changed?
But what it did do was something that I don’t think the designers fully expected. And it created a demand for solutions. So many companies, which reported a gender pay gap, added reasons for why they have the gaps they have, so they were forced or felt compelled to analyze, to decompose the very big gaps. As you probably know, I mean, the gaps, the gender pay gaps, were, like, 30 percent, 40 percent, were often very big, but this is a macro definition of the gap. So the economists in the room will not be used to that. In economics, we normally say holding everything else constant, not comparing apples and oranges, you know, same education, same experience, and everything, are you paid the same? And that is one way to define the pay gap.
Another way is to say, well, we have to be holistic because even differences in hierarchies or differences in jobs, so engineers making more money, let’s say, than HR professionals, all of that should be part of this. And that’s how the U.K. defined it. So it’s a very big definition. It’s really, literally, on average, how much do the men in your company make as compared to how much do the women in your company make?
So now we have everything. We have differences for same jobs. We also have differences in hierarchy, which turns out to play a huge role. We also have differences in the jobs that you chose, the careers that you chose.
And so what most companies did, which wasn’t required by law, was to now explain, to decompose and say, you know, now that we saw 40 percent, we really wanted to understand. And, you know, half of that is differences in hierarchies, half of those—you know, a third is X, Y, Z. So I think that’s been very helpful and a good movement.
And then a second thing that happened was demand from the companies, so what do we do now? So we helped create guidelines, which are publicly available on the website of the U.K. government, for companies on what we know, what works, what can you do to close gender pay gaps. And that, I think, is a success story of transparency at this point, that it motivates people to, A, be aware, but then, B, to demand solutions. And that’s really the place we want to be in.
LIPMAN: So awareness is clearly the first step, awareness of the problem. And actually, Catalyst had a survey that found that, when they asked professional men, slightly more than 50 percent of professional men said they were not even aware of what the issues are. And I think that does bring up a really important point that came up in the previous session, which is about men.
Now, we’re looking out at membership here, which is almost entirely female in this room, and yet, this is an issue that concerns all of us. So, yes, shout out to the men who are at today’s sessions, but why are there not more of them? What can we do to make men, to help men understand that this is their issue, this is not a girl issue, that this is an issue that is absolutely essential for all of us?
Damien, if you’d like to start on that.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: Yeah, I agree. It’s not a girl or a woman issue, it’s a human issue. And I think in any organization it starts from the top. My role was created by our CEO, and when I interviewed with him, we had some very clear and uncomfortable, but straightforward conversations about his level of comfort with being out front on these things. And he has shown up as being out front on every single thing, whether it was gender pay equity analyses, whether it was sending the note to the company after kind of the #MeToo movement kind of hit its—you know, its high point. So I think, one, it’s got to start from the very top and it can’t just be the women in the company. In fact, research will show, you know, that there’s a diversity tax that women and underrepresented minorities actually take by being the ones who are vocal there.
I would say the other thing that you’ve got to do is you’ve got to—your narrative—oftentimes in diversity and inclusion at least, I’ve seen people in my role come in and whether it’s, you know, attacking people about white privilege or attacking people because they are male, we know, again from research, that your brain’s going to do one of two things. It’s going to either, you know, run into the flight or the fight. That’s not helpful.
And so there are a couple of things that we do intentionally. One is, when I started, we messaged we want to hear from everyone, diversity is not just around women and underrepresented minorities, and we made that very clear in every single conversation we had. Our employee resource groups—oftentimes at companies, you see, you know, employee resource groups that are focused on women where it’s only women in that room and a man walks up to that door by accident many times, opens the door, and, like, closes it quickly and takes off. Right? (Laughter.)
And so one of the things that we have—again, I believe in repetition breeding repetition—one of the things that we’ve done is we’ve said these groups are unapologetically going to focus on gender-related issues that are focused on women’s advancement and empowerment. However, we need men in the room. And so I’m proud to say that our Women in Technology Employee Resource Group right now has two men on the leadership team. And what that does is it raises awareness, but it also offers, you know, the women who are in that group a different perspective on how men might be feeling about certain things.
And then the final thing I’ll say is, you know, we—and these are all, I think, around culture. There’s a lot of things that we do around policy, but these are around culture and behavioral change. We just launched a series called Courageous Conversations, right? Like, when I was younger, my mother and others said you don’t talk about politics, you don’t talk about race, you don’t talk about religion. And what we know is that the future of work and companies that are really going to thrive are companies that run towards those issues and talk about them proactively. And so our Courageous Conversations series was launched to create facilitated spaces that are safe—but please, let me be really clear—are not always comfortable. They’re safe, but they’re not comfortable so that we can run towards conversations around race, ethnicity, and gender.
And then we curated that list to make sure it wasn’t just women and minorities who self-selected into that conversation and there were no men who were in the room. We curated that list. We took a video, we put a nice little video together, and then we are marketing that video so that other men will see, oh, that guy was in the room? So they actually meant it when they said everybody’s welcome.
So I don’t think that there’s one quick thing that you can do. I think that this is a long-term game, but it’s about being consistent in your messaging and being consistent in making it welcoming, yet being OK with it being uncomfortable when people are in that room.
LIPMAN: I think you raise a very important point about culture.
I’d love, Marcelo, to talk a little bit about that because I would imagine the experience in Latin America and the Caribbean, you have some other cultural issues that you also are dealing with.
CABROL: Yeah, and I will go back to the issue of culture in a moment, I mean, you mentioned it because it’s super important.
But, you know, the anecdote about Madam Lagarde going to—receiving the minister of finance of Argentina, it’s a—it’s a telling one, again, because almost a hundred percent today of the ministers of finance out there in Latin America and the Caribbean are male. OK? So we tried everything with them. We tried, you know, this is the 34 percent of your GDP increase that you might have if you gender parity. We tried issues of inclusion. We tried all the economic analysis with them. They are not completely compelling, we don’t see the changes that we want to see there.
What is working is to create a community of conversation around them. And I’ll tell you exactly what it means. It means, essentially, the president, other cabinet members, and asking, like Madam Lagarde asked, why do you have so little—in Argentina, for example, I go back to Argentina, but I can use any other country—you have only three ministers out of 11 that are women? So, you know, asking those difficult questions is something that changes behavior, but also bringing the private sector into this conversation.
We often separate the public sector and the private sector, yet we don’t see changes if they don’t work together. So having events, having conversations in which CEOs—which, by the way, tend to be overwhelmingly men, OK—get together and start conversations that are focused on budget, focused on productivity, focused on inclusion. It’s what’s really changing the conversation today in Latin America. Only with the public sector, we cannot do it, only with the private sector with quotas or with certification programs that we’re doing, it’s not working. You have to put it together.
LIPMAN: You know, you mentioned—
CABROL: I’m sorry, about the culture issue. Sorry. I promised that, I’m sorry.
So micro issues, you know, leadership means also learning micro conducts that we as male are not wired to actually incorporate very quickly. And I’ll tell you two that are working very well in my own organization and I see it every day and I’m super happy that they’re happening. I’m sure that you know about them, but they are working fine.
The first one is no interruptions, which I just did, I just interrupted you. (Laughter.) But, you know, we have, like everybody else, a lot of meetings, I would love to say that all of them productive, but some of them are productive. But the no interruptions, it’s key.
And the other one is amplification. I see women amplifying and men now amplifying what women in that room have said, which normally, you know, they tend to be the first with original and created ideas not being amplified. So I think that that’s—those are the culture, I think small, microculture of things that we need to also work on.
LIPMAN: Those are two great examples. Actually, in That’s What She Said, in my book, I talk about both of those examples. And the interruptions piece of it is incredibly important. Women are interrupted three times more frequently than men are. Northwestern University did a study of the Supreme Court of the United States and found that the female Supreme Court justices are interrupted three times more frequently than male Supreme Court justices. So it does apply to all women.
CABROL: We are practicing that.
LIPMAN: Yes. I love the no interruptions rule.
On the policy front, you know, one of the other policies that Christine Lagarde also did talk about, she said she became a convert to the quota system.
And I would love, Iris, if you could talk a little bit about that. There has been research on those countries—and there are a number of countries, particularly in Europe and some of them in Latin America—that have now board quotas for women. What does the research show us?
BOHNET: So maybe let me start with the oldest and most researched example, which is not board quotas, but quotas in politics. As you probably know, about a hundred countries have some sort of quota system in politics. Many people kind of are not aware of that, it’s not always at the kind of parliament level, but could be at the party level.
But the example that I wanted to share with you is from India. India amended its constitution in 1993 to mandate that a third of all village-head positions—so think mayors or pradhans—had to be female. And this is interesting from a research point of view because the third literally was picked out of a hat, just randomly assigned. So it’s not just, you know, villages, which were already more gender equal or where there were strong women were picked, but it was random. So that was interesting. And a number of papers have been written on this experiment to learn from that quota, and that’s why I’m starting with that because it is the best empirical evidence that we have to date.
And so just a few things that we have learned. First, it requires kind of takes two, going to call it takes two. And that is, the first woman, although research already shows, she’s more likely to provide public goods for the community, does not like the job, does not want to be reelected and is not reelected, and is generally perceived as not successful. She’s still an aberration, right? One, the first ones, like, must have been a mistake or whatever, luck, or she was the cousin of the former mayor. People made up all kinds of theories of why we had a woman all of a sudden.
But then research shows that in villages which have been exposed to two women now in those twenty-five years, even mindsets are starting to change. So now people start to associate political leadership with women. And in fact, in two studies shows that a core career aspiration of parents is for their daughters to go into politics, which, of course, you know, is also a bit irrational in the sense there are not that many mayorships available. But it is what we call in behavioral economics the availability bias. Now a role model, somebody, is available to me so I can imagine that this could be something for me as a—as a young woman or as a parent of a young woman for my child. So I think that’s the beauty of quotas. They can change numbers very quickly and they can change what we think is possible for ourselves very quickly.
Other research shows that women are more likely to speak up in town hall meetings in villages, which, again, have been exposed to more than one woman, and research also shows that we get more reports of domestic violence and domestic violence is more likely to be prosecuted in towns with female leaders. So it has real policy consequences.
The last one I would say—I will say is it’s also interesting, and maybe Madam Lagarde mentioned that already, but we’ve had great hopes for these women leaders to, I mean, make kind of huge strides. So I think we also have to temper our expectations a little bit. I mean, these women made strides, but it’s not that they’re just better or, you know, that that is—this is just putting too much weight on the pure business case. But they did make some different choices.
So women tend to focus on public goods, interestingly enough, that women care about. In India, that turns out to be water. That’s a woman’s job to go fetch the water. It also turns out that’s good for development, right? So that’s the circle that you can make on the business case, but it’s a bit of a longer circle that you really have to understand how those decisions are made and then why you want to have diversity, because you want clean water, but you also want to have roads and, you know, you want to have a good—all kinds of different things. So that’s the quota in India.
Norway, I mean, various countries, Spain, various countries in Europe have introduced quotas on corporate boards. The U.K. has not. The U.K. has set a goal, a soft goal, to introduce gender diversity in the FTSE 100 companies at 25 percent, which they have reached. So I’m also happy to talk about that. They didn’t rely on quotas. They used much more behavioral science, many more of the strategies that we just heard explained.
And it was so—actually, I was really excited when I heard the two of you talk about how to change behaviors. It is about what I sometimes call norm entrepreneurship. Right? We have to change norms. We all are norm entrepreneurs. And that can be—you become a micro sponsor, as Marcelo said, we help each other and we highlight interruptions and other microaggressions, or we create role models, you know, that’s exactly what you’re doing at eBay, and you create a movement. And that’s what has to take place.
But, again, so Norway, Norway introduced quotas between 2003 and 2006, and the evidence is mixed what the impact of the quotas was. We have to take into account that this is almost perfectly correlated with the financial crisis, that is 2007 and 2008 we had the financial crisis. That meant that for companies to be profitable and sometimes even just to survive, often that just meant laying off people. And so what the research shows was that companies that had more female directors were less likely to fire people and that did not help them economically.
But, I’m just going to say “but,” I’m an economist, so I have to stay on the private sector and constraints, we didn’t find—there are some things that people thought we would find—it was literally called this, it’s not a beautiful term—but their criticism was, oh, these will be recycled women. Women will then serve on twenty boards because there’s only five women in the world who could serve on the boards—(laughter)—and so they have to all serve on twenty boards. That did not happen in Norway.
What did happen is that Norwegian companies had to redefine the definition of a board member—and that also happened in the U.K., by the way, without quotas—in that there was this understanding that you have to have been a CEO to serve on a corporate board of a big company. And it is just true that we don’t have many female CEOs of big companies.
And so both Norway, U.K., Spain, Italy, everyone who has introduced quotas had to broaden the definition of what board membership looks like, and that meant for Norway, where we have the data, that the female board members tended to be better educated than their male counterparts and they tended to be younger than their male counterparts and they tended to have less corporate experience in that sense than their male counterparts.
Now, you know, overall, was it a success? Was it? I think that what the data kind of suggests is Norway is doing just fine. Italy is doing not so fine, but not because of the corporate boards. (Laughter.) You know, so it actually was less of a thing than you might have expected. And that may be the biggest takeaway.
You know, like, India makes us optimistic that it does play a role. You know, you can say maybe corporate board members are less visible then your mayor, right? So expecting that that’s going to change dramatically how people think about leadership might have been a big expectation because how many board members do you know of big companies in the U.S.? It’s not—you know, they’re not like mayors. So it was less dramatic and it was still the right thing to do.
And so going back to what you talked about this morning also, it is about the business case, but it has, at the end of the day, it has to be about the human rights case.
LIPMAN: So we’re going to do a quick lightning round here and then we’re going to go to questions from our members.
And that is, there’s been a lot of good ideas, we’ve heard some of them floated here—gender wage gap analysis, boards, amplification, no interruptions, there’s others we didn’t even get to talk to—talk about, like blind auditions—there’s a variety of measures. And we’ve got the #MeToo movement going strong. Why have we not made more progress?
BOHNET: We’ve focused on the wrong thing.
LIPMAN: Focused on the wrong thing.
BOHNET: We’ve focused on the wrong thing. We did diversity training, we did leadership training, we tried to fix the women, but fix mindsets, we haven’t fixed our institutions yet.
CABROL: Again, going back to my region, it’s a—it’s a culture issue. It’s, you know, I come from a region that I’m not proud to say has the highest incidence of violence against women. And that’s—and that’s also part of the conversation, a key part of the conversation. I think that we have structural issues still to deal with in that sense in order to move to a much more productive agenda of gender parity and inclusion.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: For tech, I think we have unreasonable expectations that this will be a quick fix like an app rollout would be. Right? (Laughter.) You walked—we walked into this building today, those of us who were able, came to this building today. And you don’t have to answer this, but how many of you thought as you walked into the building about whether or not the building was accessible to people who are physically challenged? Now, those of you who did may either be physically challenged or may have people in your lives who are and you have a lived experience. But for people who don’t have lived experience around gender, ethnicity, like, this is—they’ve been learning a certain way for all of their lives. And you can put policies in place all you want to, but the work around the human being takes time and we’ve been unreasonable about how quickly we think this is going to be solved.
CABROL: I want to add something because what I’m struggling with at this point is whether I have a very narrow agenda at the bank or if I should have a wider agenda. What that means is a—(inaudible)—for us. What kind of game do we have if we put together the issues of exclusion out there into the equation? That is to say we have Afro-American communities in Latin America, they have a huge level of exclusion from the labor market. Are we talking about the same issues or not?
Ten percent of our kids, like, you know, normally happens, they have different learning differences. We don’t have the policies out there to include them in normal classrooms.
So where I’m struggling today is whether we are at the moment of expanding this conversation to diversity, including gender, or keeping up with gender, which we have done some progress, but we’re still not there. Sorry.
LIPMAN: That’s a fantastic point about it’s not just diversity—it’s not just women, it is diversity, it’s inclusion. And thank you. Yes.
CABROL: But sometimes they tell me that that’s, you know, distracting the agenda from what really matters.
LIPMAN: An excellent point.
We have time for some questions. A question right over here. Please state your name and just ask one question in the form of a question. (Laughter.)
Q: I’m Jewelle Bickford. I’m a partner at Evercore, but I also started the Paradigm for Parity movement with Ellen Coleman, the former CEO of Dupont. And we put together a five-point action plan which McKenzie, Catalyst has adopted. It’s on their website.
My question to you is, we are finding that flextime or what we call the millennial mindset for women, is probably the single-most-important issue to keep women in the workforce. Would you agree with that or is there some other? Please.
BOHNET: So I agree that flextime is very important, but I’m always very nervous when something is feeling gender specific. So the flextime, I think, will not be successful if it is particularly women or only women who work flex and not men, because then the economist in me will say, oh, now companies will take that into account and will start to discriminate and if they don’t like flextime they’ll be more likely to hire men. And so we have some evidence on that on maternity leave versus parental leave, that maternity leave can hurt women and parental leave—or better, care leave as I like to call it—is the way to go.
LIPMAN: To take it one step further, actually there is a company in Boston by the name of Humanyze that is the first I’m aware of that actually has mandatory paternity leave, because they found that even when you offer family leave men do not take it. And therefore, they have forced the men to take paternity leave so that—and precisely, the reason is for gender equality so that the women are not penalized.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: And there’s—sorry, just to piggyback—there’s also an issue. So I believe it is effective, we’re doing it in a couple of cities where we’ve launched something called Retail Revival. In Akron, for instance, in Ohio, we’ve created jobs where people can full-time work from home. And what we’re seeing is we are capturing more women, but also more single parents, more people from different socioeconomic groups.
The challenge is, if you haven’t changed your culture, right, a lot of the projects that are assigned are assigned because people can go over to each other’s offices and grab coffee or can grab lunch in person together. And so you also—I think it’s a great policy and it will open up your talent pool. But at the same time, you have to be really structured about how people are evaluated and how jobs and the visible roles are actually distributed. Otherwise, you know, it will leak, that pipeline will leak over time.
LIPMAN: A question over here.
Q: Hi. I’m Lauren Leader. I run All In Together which is a women’s political leadership organization, but I also work with a lot of the Fortune 500 on diversity issues and have for many years.
You know, whenever we talk about quotas, you know, it’s always an eyeroll in the U.S. because, like, it’s so off, it’s been so out of the realm of the possible until now because of California, which you didn’t mention. I started working with the New York state legislature to think about a similar bill here in New York.
What I wanted to ask is that we’ve had hundreds in the Paradigm for Parity, there’s so many now, hundreds and hundreds of CEOs who have signed on very visibly to support gender equity and diversity, the make-a-million pledges, the 30% Club, et cetera, they all commit to it. But as far as I know, most of them have still opposed public policy measures that would actually force their hand. So I’d love to know your thoughts about, given what happened in California, you know, are we—is this a moment maybe where more CEOs and executives may sign on to some of their—they say they’re going to do it anyway, why should they oppose the bills?
CABROL: I’m going to sound here anticorporate, so just give me one second here. OK? (Laughter.) That’s what I think at this point, that, you know, a big event in which big pledges are made, big corporate programs alone do not work, at least do not work in Latin America and the Caribbean. Just let me—let me preface, let me say that at least.
So what we found essentially is that, if there’s no tax incentives, budgetary conversations, and other things that are, I mean, enforceable regulations there to make those pledges work, we are making very, very little progress. That’s why it’s so important to have public and private conversations together and not separate. I’m, you know, I’m reinforcing that point because I went to many—and here, I’m going to be a D.C. guy—many New York events in which big pledges have been made and then we see nothing in the region. Sorry.
LIPMAN: Question over here in the middle of the room.
Q: Thanks. I’m Arlene Getz. I’m with Reuters.
I also had a question about the quota issue. I think between you and Christine Lagarde you’ve made an excellent case for quotas. But at the same time, I think, you know, many women do not want to feel that they’ve been appointed to something just because they’re making up a quota. And it also undermines their stature, as was pointed out by an earlier questioner. So I wonder what you and the panel would think about something like sunset clauses for quotas. Do you think that would make it politically more palatable? It would open the door, you know, your point about showing mothers and their daughters that this is a possible aspiration, but at the same time you’re not locking in corporations and governments to something that, you know, would be in perpetuity.
BOHNET: I think it’s very interesting. It’s a very interesting idea. I have nothing substantive to say as in, you know, would it work or not. But I do want to add to what you said, that there are other examples. So I want to bring up the U.K. again. The U.K. did not do quotas and still reached their goal. They now have 30 percent women on their corporate boards, but it was a different approach. And it required—so I completely agree with everything that was said, a pledge alone is not going to do it.
But then if you want to create a movement, there are other instruments that you have. So when—so I advised on that, so I wrote a case study on it so we can learn from what actually happened. But it was, in the end, it was a coalition of the public sector, private sector, headhunters, the media, The Financial Times played a huge role shaming and naming companies. The headhunters, in the end, competed for who could please more women on corporate boards. We had some chairmen who did backroom diplomacy. There was peer pressure between the companies. So I’m just saying it is possible to do it without quotas, but it does require much more than a public pledge.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: And we could have a whole other session on quotas, OK, because I feel very strongly about it. There is no one-size-fits-all to this. I am of the mindset that at eBay we will institute quotas really not so much, but goals and targets and hold people to those after we’ve tried a couple of other things. I see that personally as a time’s up, I’m fed up, you don’t want to do this out of behavioral change or norm entrepreneurship, we will institute those kinds of things.
The point around people getting into a company, turning around and finding out they were part of a campaign or that a four-times multiple was put on their head as a referral in terms of a bonus, right, versus a man, like—the imposter syndrome for women and underrepresented minorities is already such a real thing that I do think it has unintended consequences.
I also think about the managers who are hiring, who say, oh, HR—I’m talking about in corporations—HR has just thrown another policy that is telling me who I have to hire. There’s a resentment that also comes with that. And so I think that, at the board level, we’ve been at this for so long as a, you know, as a society across the world, I think it was time for that.
We’ve been at this for two-and-a-half years at eBay. And let me just throw out a couple of numbers. This is not to brag, but just to give examples of ways to drive change maybe without targets. There is not another chief diversity officer in tech, to my understanding, who also owns university recruiting. I own university recruiting, so when I took it over, 27 percent of our intern class were women. This past summer, 46 percent were women. I didn’t set a quota, I said we’re going to do better at the top of the funnel and being intentional about going out and speaking to communities and making sure they’re there.
This is our second year that we’ve done gender pay, you know, equity analysis. In the U.S., women make 100.1 percent of what men make. Globally, women make 100.2 percent of what men make. And that was an analysis that was done across most of our organization. Our SVP level, so those are the eleven people who report in to our CEO, five of them are women. And the woman who runs our StubHub business, multibillion-dollar business, is a woman by the name of Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, who created theBoardlist. We didn’t say we are going to put a woman in this role. But we got very intentional when we recruited and went out in saying, we are going to get top talent from a much broader pool than maybe historically we have, and we’re going to structure the interview process so that we’re not just bringing great people in, but we’re also giving them a balanced chance to get through.
So, you know, I do think that there are some CEOs who don’t need a campaign, and I applaud those campaigns because they drive awareness. There are some who don’t. There are also some who will just talk the talk and won’t walk the walk. And for that, I do think that there are certain companies that might need to have quotas or targets instituted, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all.
LIPMAN: Question over here.
Q: Hi. Mariela Dabbah with the Red Shoe Movement. And I absolutely adore this conversation. I admire Iris profoundly.
And this is what I want to ask you: It’s been proven in her book, which I highly recommend to everybody, what works in gender equality by design. Right? So it’s been proven. She’s done all the research. All of you are actually implementing design decisions so that people don’t have—you don’t have to change people’s mindset; you just change the design and then nobody has to make a decision every five minutes, whether—do I turn the light when I leave my hotel room, or you have to take the card with you and the lights are off. Right?
So this is like we’ve already resolved that there is a vaccine for a certain disease and we keep on talking about, is there a vaccine for this disease? Yes, there is a vaccine. So why is it that in this particular topic of equality, of inclusion, we keep on having these conversations where we’re reinventing the wheel when the research already is there? For us, to show it, adopt it, do it, move on, next—that’s my question. (Laughter.)
CABROL: I agree a hundred percent. (Laughter.)
Q: And I’m from Argentina. (Laughter.)
CABROL: (Laughs.) I totally agree. I could almost guess. (Laughter.)
We’re a little bit Italians—(laughter)—you know, Spaniards, a little bit of everything.
I agree 100 percent. But legacy, it’s a real issue. I mean, we’ve been applying some of the ideas that Iris brought to the table. We’ve been experimenting, for example, with behavioral nudges for women finishing secondary education in Mexico to go to nontraditional careers. So there’s information, and they are working. But they’re working to the tune, at this point, of five hundred women in a huge country.
So the real issue, what’s coming for us, is how we make this something that is universal, and it really changes the conversation. Legacy is what we are dealing with now. So we need decisions, even though we know that design has to be different.
So, for example, we know more now about the quota systems for parliamentary conversations. Argentina was one of the first ones that had, actually, a quota system for political parties.
We know now if we need to put together now a quota system for parliamentary, we are going to do it much better, and we are working on that. But that takes times. So we have to take into consideration legacy, and then taking up to scale behavioral changes, design changes. And this kind of thing also takes, you know, quite a bit of technical capacity. So that’s the other thing that you need to upgrade in order to work on that.
I was telling you a moment ago that when we talk about women—institutions that deal with women issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, we are normally talking to the weakest, least-funded institutions of the lot. And that’s another conversation that we’ll have with the minister of finance, another legacy.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: I think we have grossly under-focused on the human aspect of all of this. You’re going to hear me go back to that time and time again. I am both Guyanese—so Caribbean, South American—and I am African-American. At one point, when I was at Morehouse College, I wanted to be a psychologist, and I started to read and study, and I said—and I saw research that said that the black community and underrepresented minority communities under-leverage and utilize psychiatrists and psychologists. The vaccine is there for much of the trauma that the communities that I represent and come from have been through. The cultural stigma that’s attached to it is part of why people are not taking that vaccine, and part of why people in the black community will use pastors and barbers and stylists.
And so I agree with you. The list of ideas are there. I’m going to read your book. The list of ideas are there. (Laughter.) OK? They’re there, but like, we still have under-focused on the human aspect of this and getting to a place where we can have an honest conversation and accompany it with the policy and vaccines. And I think that is why we’re still having this conversation, and what I’m hoping is, is that all of us will go out and be champions to say, great, here’s the idea, but getting a human being to change behavior and to adopt that idea, not because they’re forced to do it but because they actually give a crap about equality and think that it’s right, and they personalized it. That is the hard work that I don’t think has been done across all industries.
BOHNET: Can I jump in just—I’m going to try this very quickly, but—so I want to leave you with some optimism, too. So I’m a little more optimistic than you are.
I think Damien reminded us it does take time. So this is not us, you know, saying you have to change from today to tomorrow. It does take some time.
But here’s some reasons why I’m optimistic. So there’s now I think about fifty startups in this space, have taken insights from my book and others to translate them into software. So technology can also be part of the solution, which is helping to make it easier for all of us to actually implement, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing now.
So I give you a very small example. There’s one start—it’s called Textio.
BOHNET: They “de-bias” job advertisements. Seems like super trivial to you. It is. It is actually super-low-hanging fruit. I often start with this in saying, oh, this is the lowest, easiest thing you can do. It is actually implemented now by enormous number of companies, probably eBay, you know—
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: We use them.
BOHNET: I’m sure. (Laughs.) I’m using them at Harvard. It—so there are—that makes me more optimistic that we’re understanding that part of the answer—I mean, I’m completely with the human—part of the answer is we also have to make it simpler for people to do this work. And I also think that’s a mistake that we have made in the past in that diversity is the business case, it’s all a good thing, just do it. No.
BOHNET: It’s hard. Homophobia is real, and some of us have a lot of privilege; others don’t. We have to address these things.
So acknowledging that behavior change is really hard, but we have now a lot of insights into how to make that happen, which we can deploy. That makes me more optimistic.
But, you know, I thank you for the question. I think we can, of course, run out of steam and feel depressed, but I do think there are some real companies and we’re—for example, we’re working on a platform right now to document success. So we want to show—showcase—so how has—how is Rwanda now the number one country in women’s political participation? Nobody knows this. How did they do it or how did it happen? U.K.—how did they, you know—Justin Trudeau, Canada—what did it take to gender-based budgeting? There are examples of organizations which have had some success and then learned from them and hopefully create that movement. You know, more of that movement and kind of say this can happen and it can happen for you, too.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: And I think you said it, but let me just accentuate. That company, Textio, that Iris mentioned, founded, led by a woman.
BOHNET: I did not. Kieran Snyder. I did not mention it, but yes.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: Yeah. Yeah.
LIPMAN: Question over here?
Q: Bettye Musham.
I think one of the obstacles to women being recruited for boards is if you look at a lot of the boards, the same people are on the same boards. So every friend of the CEO is on his board and this creates a big obstacle. And until you get rid of the locker room camaraderie on the boards, there’s not going to be any room for women. So I don’t know how you do that, but it’s a real problem. And it’s a problem for the success of the company because they all sort of are afraid to differ with the CEO. So it’s an obstacle; it’s also a problem.
LIPMAN: And companies that have more—the most women on their boards of directors, the research shows us, are more financially successful than those with the least.
There’s a question over on this—right over here. Yes.
Q: Hi. Darin Kingston, Global Development Incubator.
I was wondering, sort of building off your last point, if you all could comment on—I’ve spent the last seven years in very young organizations, startup organizations, and the sort of subtext of this conversation is changing institutionalized behaviors, and obviously the norms are always there and the biases are always there. But what are some of the most, like, two or three concrete, important things that new organizations can do to bake these lenses, these processes into their recruiting processes from the outside? Because you’re dealing with all the things we are talking about, plus time pressure, plus limitations of network effects, and the realities of who’s starting these organizations in the first place. And so just—I’d be interested for comments on that.
CABROL: No good news, probably. I’ve been dealing quite a bit with startups in Latin America and the Caribbean. They are great. They are doing great jobs. They’re having the same problems that we have here in the U.S., in terms of being gender-inclusive. Same type of problems of stock and flow, essentially—you know, the pipeline of women working in the core areas. I’m not talking about marketing only; I’m talking all the core areas. It’s very weak. So the bad news, I guess, is that we are not there yet.
The good news is that what we need to do concretely is to start from the very, very, very beginning of the education process, including women in STEM. And I know that it has been said a hundred times, so don’t worry; I know that.
Where we are experimenting now is with very concrete things that we can do at the classroom level. For example: Do you create or not a club that is dedicated to women in STEM, which is exclusively for women? How do you change the behavior, by the way, of the teachers? And we’re experimenting with that. We are hoping that that’s going to change eventually the pipeline that women that goes to nontraditional careers but also when we go to the startup place, the startup conversation, we will have there a different mix than we have today.
One last thing: Maybe the only good news in the short term is that we are working in Latin America with venture funds, investing in, you know, dedicated lines that work with startups of women founders. And they are performing super well. We started this, you know—and I’m going to say this in a hateful way—an affirmative action program, and it ended up being a real success program for us, in terms of which startups are actually making headway in their business—(inaudible).
BOHNET: Can I add, just quickly, one thought on what you can do today? Don’t underestimate HR. That is my kind of biggest message—(laughter)—honestly, the home of bias is informality. And many of the tech startups are so enthusiastic about the tech and want to run, and, you know, and then they fall into the same trap that your boards fall into. They hire their friends from the other garages and other developers.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: That’s right.
BOHNET: And, you know, we’re all so cool and—so formalize HR; really try to do it. And I understand it’s expensive. You know, small—but again, use another startup. Another one is called Applied. They do the whole kind of HR system for—in a de-biased way, for other startups.
So that is my biggest advice: Informality really, whether it’s on boards, where I just talk to my friends at the golf club and I hire my friends, you know, (colleague CEO ?). Informality is the home of bias, and the more you can bring this into something more formal I think the better you are.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: Three really quick ones: one, influence the funders—not just funders who fund women- and minority-owned startups. Influence funders—Freada and Mitch Kapor—Mitch Kapor, you know, founder of Lotus 1-2-3—big-time commitment, that in order to be a portfolio company, you have to have a commitment to diversity and inclusion. So influence funders. Get founders of startups to be vulnerable and transparent about their needs. Put it on Medium. Put it on Twitter. I guarantee you they will find the pipelines that they need.
And then, you know, the last thing is you’ve got to really make this a part of the business for these startups. They have to understand and see the examples of startups that started really small that did not focus on HR that ended up firing their leader because of HR- and human-related issues—(laughter)—right, like these things have happened. And so I think hiring an expert early—I just—great point.
LIPMAN: We have time for one more question. Gentleman over here?
Q: Hi. Matt Reid. I’m the Marine fellow here at the Council, infantry officer.
So I just came from an infantry regiment as the CO, integrating females into the Marine Corps. So probably not much harder of a culture to get into—(laughter)—but, you know, we fought that constant yin and yang of quality versus quotas versus diversification. You’d think it would be pretty easy to measure in the infantry. Right? Is she strong enough? Does she have the endurance? Can she carry the load? Can she shoot straight? But then: How straight do you need to shoot? How much of a load do you need to carry? How much endurance do you need to have?
Q: So, really, it started to become a cultural discussion. So that was hard. Right? It’s that kind of, do you raise the standard too high? You know, when I came in as a lieutenant, the infantry officer corps was much different than it was today. Arguably, it’s magnitudes harder. But I seem to have done all right. So—but we started to codify things we never thought we would have to codify. And how do you deal with that in the private sector, where I think the kind of fallback is, what’s the standard? What’s the standard? As long as she’s got the standard, she’s good. But then those that are from the old culture—you know, that standard can be a moving target, I think, as we’ve seen in the military.
So again, I agree; it’s really about culture. So how do you get at that kind of dichotomy between standards and culture, to really come up with what you need?
BOHNET: Well, it’s a super great question. (Laughter.) I think we all just—first of all, we all agree with you that standards are moving targets and that we—you know, I sometimes do a little experiment with a colleague of mine teaching in an executive program. We are the same height and then we—I come in; I teach the first class. And then, like, three years later he comes in, and we ask the participants just to guess how tall we are. And they write that—and then we also do a version of that where we say, you know, on a scale from one to ten, how tall is she? And then he comes in; how tall is he? And we never say this is based on women or based on men, or he’s African-American; based on African-Americans or based on white or Swiss, you know, whatever. We don’t say anything of that, and then we always see that they think he is very small and I’m tall. And then we can talk about that. We can say, look, you shifted your standards. This is not—no problem because you can say I compared her to women, I compared him to men. But now, imagine, we’re comparing people to is she nice? Is she nice enough? Is she intelligent or too assertive? So it’s a huge, huge problem that I don’t think anyone has a great answer.
My cheap shot at an answer is—and that is a cheap shot because I know not everything is quantifiable, measurable, but that’s a first answer, kind of trying, as you did, to codify. What do we mean? I mean, what do we mean of endurance? Can we put words—you know, can we say what we mean of that? And the second one, which I recommend for interviews or any kind of evaluation, and that’s going to take a moment for me to explain, but try to calibrate your judgment by doing comparative evaluations. What I mean with that is when I grade a—grade an exam and I have a hundred students, I try to look at all answers to question one across all one hundred students, and then I look at all answers to question two, and I blind myself to the answers to question one, because I don’t want to be we call it the halo effect—by somebody great on one, now I think she’s great on two, too.
So we can do that in performance appraisals; we can do that in hiring decisions—
BOHNET: —as in, how well did the ten candidates do on question one of the interview compared to question two, question three? So that’s the best I have. You know, try to quantify somehow, measure, be explicit about what you mean. Potential is another one, by the way. That’s the big one in the private sector. Big gender gap in potential.
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: Big time.
BOHNET: We don’t find a lot of gender gaps in promotion appraisals, but—excuse me, in performance appraisals, but on potential, we’re like, oh, no, no; she does not have the potential, because she doesn’t look the part. So what we’re doing there is try to define it. What is it? What do you mean? Is it analytics? Is it speaking? Is it—you know, communication. What is it, and then we try to unpack it. We have some success with that, but it’s still—the shifting standards one—hard one.
LIPMAN: OK. I think that we are out of time.
One quick logistical note: There’s going to be a lunch starting now in the library, and then the last session of the day, Women’s Social Status in Family Law, will start promptly in this room at 12:45.
And with that, please, join me in thanking the panel. (Applause.)
HOOPER-CAMPBELL: Thank you.
In many nations, family law creates a constellation of intersecting barriers—including requirements for spousal consent to work, inequality in inheritance law, and guardianship clauses—that undermine women’s ability to participate in the global economy. The path from legal change to normative shift is rarely straightforward, and efforts to reform remaining inequalities can lead to backlash. This panel assesses progress in family law reform, and highlights recommendations to effect legal and social change to advance women’s economic participation.
VOGELSTEIN: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for the fourth session of our Women and the Law Symposium. Once again, my name is Rachel Vogelstein and I lead the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at the Council.
Our final session today will explore the relationship between women’s economic participation and family law reform, which is perhaps the most intractable area of law governing the lives of women worldwide. In many nations, family law creates a web of intersecting legal barriers that inhibit women’s participation in the workplace from requirements for spousal consent to work to marriage and divorce regulations to inheritance restrictions, all of which can undermine women’s participation in the workplace and their contributions to the global economy.
So what is the status of family law reform for women around the world today and which policy approaches have had the most success in reducing inequalities in family law that constrain women at work?
This afternoon we have three terrific experts to help shed light on these questions. First, we are delighted to host Hina Jilani, a lawyer and human rights defender based in Lahore, Pakistan, who has founded numerous NGOs to advance the rights of women.
Second, we are very pleased to welcome Yasmeen Hassan, the global executive director of Equality Now and an expert on legal reform for women globally.
And third, we are very fortunate to host Andrew Gilmour, the assistant secretary general for human rights who leads the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York.
Welcome to all of you.
HASSAN: Thank you.
VOGELSTEIN: Yasmeen, I’d like to begin with you. Back in 1999, you authored one of the first reports on sex discrimination under the law and family law was a very significant area of focus. Two decades later now, you’ve observed that we’ve made progress globally in a few significant areas—for example, in passing laws related to violence against women—to some extent, laws related to women’s economic status. But we’ve made very little progress in reforming family law. So why is that? Which barriers remain, how do they inhibit women’s economic participation, and what will it take to eliminate them?
HASSAN: OK. So that’s a big question. (Laughter.) So I’ll go back to from 1999. Let’s go back to 1995 when the Beijing conference happened, and one of the things that was in the Beijing Platform for Action is that 189 countries said we will repeal all sex discriminatory laws, right, get rid of it. I mean, people recognized at that time that the law matters, right? Law is not everything but it is your status. It is what your country thinks of you. It is what your rights are as a citizen, right.
So five years later after we all rejoiced as women’s rights groups, and somebody in the previous panel talked about how under resourced women’s rights groups are. We are. All of us, like, at the national level are working against tremendous odds and we have the will to go forward. But we were very pleased at Beijing. Four years after Beijing, we looked at, like, what’s happening with sex discriminatory laws and not a single one had been repealed.
So I was at that time a corporate lawyer at Davis Polk & Wardwell and I was told to come into Equality Now and start compiling a list of laws, OK, and we found marital status huge kinds of discrimination, right. They were in the letter of the law, from laws looking at unequal rights to entering into marriages, exiting marriages, custody of children, polygamy, laws requiring wife obedience, laws requiring men to be head of households, permission.
So from that to economic status—women needing permission of husbands to work, women not inheriting, women not being able to do certain jobs or work at certain times—to laws on personal status—not being able to travel, not being able to give evidence on the same basis, not being able to pass your nationality. And then violence against women laws that allowed men to beat their wives, in certain countries, allowed honor crimes. All of it is part of family law. It all boils down to your status in the home, right.
So our thing was these are going to get repealed now. But nothing happened because people didn’t know what a sex discriminatory law was. That’s what led to us doing our first report on sex discriminatory laws and over twenty years we have seen more than 50 percent of the laws that we have identified as sex discriminatory have been repealed. Where the progress has been slowest is in the family law section.
And let me tell you, going back to when you work with women’s rights groups around the world, family law is what matters the most. It’s not that other laws are not important. They are very important. Family law is what matters because it is your status in the household, and that is your status in life—kind of it determines, right?
So when we were looking at women’s rights groups, they said family law is important. When we were looking at the reform that was happening, it was not happening in family law. And part of it is family law is very tied to religion. There’s either Muslim, you know, family laws or Christian family laws or Jewish family laws, Hindu, and people—and I think this might been—I don’t want to call it a mistake of the women’s rights movement but there was a hesitation in the global women’s rights movement to engage with religion, right, because we were, like, we are going to look at international human rights. We are going to get laws changed based on people have signed CEDAW and people have signed, you know, all these human rights instruments, and that was very successful. Where the success wasn’t was in—was in family law.
Now there have been groups—I’m on the board of another group called Musawah, which literally means equality in Arabic, and it’s a group of women’s rights lawyers mostly who are looking at Sharia law and saying, we need to take back the night because we have not been in the forefront of religious reform. We haven’t been able to move that dial. And it’s not that that’s the end-all and be-all. They have been successful now in providing arguments to—in addition to CEDAW which usually—you know, countries would come before CEDAW. They would have discriminatory law and then they would have a reservation this is based on religion or Islam or, you know, and the CEDAW committee couldn’t argue that.
So this—groups like that give ammunition not only to CEDAW but also to Islamic institutions like Al-Azhar University, which is right now doing a convention looking at family laws and they are being provided input. So that’s kind of great. But my point was family law has not been—even globally, as a global movement we haven’t looked at—and I’m counting equality now as part of it.
We took on nationality laws as one level of because it was going to be easier to change those, right, and we thought that would be a way into other laws like family laws. We took on rape laws—again, easier. Family law we have shied away from but I think right now there is momentum. There is time to make those changes and I want to give you one story of a very recent case that we have that’ll make you see how important family law is.
In May, we were told of a young girl, Noura Hussein, who was in the Sudan and she was on death row for killing her husband. Noura was married off as a child at sixteen years old. She protested, and the law of Sudan allowed her to be married at that age. Even at age ten she could have been married. She protested, ran away to her aunt’s house. She was brought back, forced into the marriage. She kept saying no but her consent was not even sought because her male guardian could consent to her marriage.
Then in that marriage there are wife obedience laws in Sudan, which require a wife to obey the husband. She was—she kept saying no to sex. She was brutally raped, held down by the husband’s cousins and nephews while he raped her. The next day he tried again and she killed him, and she ran to her house. Her parents turned her in and the state said not that she was a victim of child marriage, of sexual assault, of rape—gang rape, basically—but that she was tried for murder and she was going to get the death penalty. This is the extreme, right, and this girl wanted to study. She wanted to not be married. And if we don’t fix—we’ve been doing all sorts of other legal reform in Sudan and we got the rape laws changed there recently. But the family law that led to this situation hasn’t been touched, right.
So we got internationally and nationally, at Sudan level we got groups involved in this. We made a huge hue and cry. Her death sentence was then commuted to five years imprisonment and she had to pay a fine and we are still, you know, working on her release but, importantly, now working against child marriage to get laws changed on child marriage, on marital rape, on the male guardianship laws. So those have all been spearheaded, right.
Other important thing—up till about three years ago when we talked about women’s rights in the economic sphere it was education and employment opportunities, sometimes political participation, and we have been—I mean, I missed the sessions in the morning with the World Bank and the IMF but we had been after them saying, what about family laws—this is what matters the most. And three years ago, the World Bank did the Women, Law, and Business Report where they focused on discrimination in the unit of the family, which I really believe is without looking at that I think progress is going to be limited in other region—in other areas.
So we are hopeful, and we are continuing to work with women’s rights groups all over on family laws and other laws. And I will stop here because I think I took up too much time. (Laughs.)
VOGELSTEIN: No, that was incredibly helpful.
And to continue on the hopeful note, one of the issues that did come up this morning in Madam Lagarde’s remarks was the importance of the family law reform that is taking place in Tunisia on the issue of inheritance, another issue I know you’ve been hard at work on. So I think there’s a growing recognition of how—
VOGELSTEIN: —central these family laws are to women’s economic improvement.
Hina, I’d love to turn to you to talk about the pioneering human rights work that you led in Pakistan. You’ve addressed many of the issues that Yasmeen raised—entitlement to inheritance, marriage, divorce, and child custody, property rights. What is the role of Islamic or customary law in enshrining inequalities into the legal code and what will it take to accomplish reform?
JILANI: I think I’d like to put it in a different way. I couldn’t agree more with what Yasmeen has said because having dealt with women for almost four decades now with their legal problems but also having—you know, I run this shelter for women and I can see that whatever form of distress they are suffering from, family law always is one of the tools that has to be used to give her relief. So whether it’s violence she’s fleeing from, whether it’s, you know, domestic violence, honor killing, whatever, there is always some form of relief that she requires in the sphere of family law.
So that’s extremely important. I wouldn’t say that, you know, Sharia or customary law are the problem. I think it is the will of the state that’s the problem. I think the civil society is ready to go forward. What I don’t really agree with here is that we wait for religious reform to tackle the issue of discrimination against women under any religion or culture. I mean, religious reform can take place if they like wherever they want it to take place. But this should be a separate issue altogether. Discrimination against women in all spheres, whether it’s law, policy, or practice, should not be tolerated anymore.
And I’ll give you some examples. This has happened. In Pakistan, it just happened. I can’t say that, you know, we’ve changed by leaps and bounds but we’ve certainly mitigated some of the harm that certain religious laws or customary practices have brought. But at the same time, I think at the national level at least there have been good procedural law reforms which mitigate the harm that substantive law does.
At the same time, there are lingering problems. For instance, in the twenty-first century in my country and I’m sure in many countries that Yasmeen is working in a widowed mother cannot administer the property inherited by her orphan children because she’s never considered under Islamic law as the natural guardian of her children. So she has to go to court where, you know, the problems of protracted litigation, everything, even the problem of the social restraints on mobility of women makes it a big barrier—a big leap for her to go out of her house, of her home, try and litigate, get a guardianship certificate. In the meanwhile, the family is starving.
At the same time, I think that what we also need to understand is that when we talk about empowerment of women we have to see how lack of reforms in the law, in the area of family law, is leading to increased poverty of women. It’s not just inheritance but it’s also the practice of polygamy in many of these countries, lack of sufficient legal rights for maintenance of the wife.
There is absolutely no concept under Islamic law of marital property. The woman doesn’t get anything in the share of her husband after divorce. In many countries, not in mine—we have a good divorce law now—but in other countries women can just be divorced by three pronouncements by the husband and she can just—she just has to leave the house. So these are some of the problems we have to tackle if we are really serious about women’s empowerment. I think institutions like the U.N., especially U.N. Women, has to give some attention to this side of the issue.
Child marriage, for instance—you know, we talk about bringing this religious reform and only then women can benefit from a reformed religious philosophy. That’s really not true. In Pakistan, there were these Hudood ordinances which were notorious laws—criminal laws—which in many ways put women at risk of being punished for extramarital relationship, punished with something like stoning to death or public lashes. That law still exists on books.
But what did we do? The women’s movement was so strongly influencing several governments successively that the law has now been put on the back burner and nobody really now gets charged with that law. Islam didn’t change in Pakistan or Islamization trends didn’t change in Pakistan. But at the same time, somewhere along the way it came to the public—the public came to its senses that these are not things that can now be tolerated in the twenty-first century.
And the same way in child marriage. We have two provinces in Pakistan where parliaments—provincial parliaments have passed a law against child marriage. What about the other two provinces? This is an Islamic country. Are two provinces less Islamic than the other two provinces? So it’s not a question of religion at all and that’s why I have always advocated this is a political question and a question of political will of the state and the legislatures are the ones who have to be made conscious of the fact that they have to legislate so that the capacity of the state to protect is strengthened.
Today, every state that you look at, not just from the point of view of women but the point of view of defending human rights, they have enhanced their capacity to control but their capacity to protect is as weak as it ever was.
So these are some of the things I think that women have to pursue together with other rights because I don’t think that women’s rights will be promoted in isolation. As it is a political question it will have to be dealt with as a political question and as a question of political will of the states.
Advocacy has to be well informed. It has to be targeted at the right sources. We talk about Al-Azhar. We talk about the clerics in our country. I think these are useless for us. It’s a political question and whoever has the power at a particular time, whether to interpret law in an institution or in a government or a state, it will be their particular slant or agenda which will determine how they will interpret the law.
So I really don’t think that’s the answer. As a women’s rights movement in Pakistan we have achieved a great deal. But we’ve achieved it despite the state and despite governments. So I think civil society does have a power. It does eventually come to a state.
Well, you know, when I started there was a case that I was doing of rape of a ten-year-old—twelve-year-old girl. The person who had—the accused had submitted a marriage certificate in court saying that she was his wife so it was not rape at all because under our laws marital rape is not an offense. And this is the High Court—said at best it can be the misuse of the wife because there were marks of violence on this twelve-year-old girl’s body. So these are the kind of things we confronted thirty years ago. I don’t think that any court in Pakistan can today dare to say something like that in a judgment.
So we have come a long way. We have to go a long way. But institutions at the international level have to understand that family law is a locus of distress—for causing distress for women and unless and until these very anachronistic laws and ideologies are corrected, women cannot be empowered whether inside the family or in the public domain.
HASSAN: Can I just add?
VOGELSTEIN: Please, Yasmeen.
HASSAN: Oh, sorry.
I just—I do want to clarify. I am not arguing for religious reform in any way and I agree with you. I am using—like, if there are laws that are justified on the basis of religion, you have to debunk them on the basis of religion and what I felt—I mean, I studied Islamic law when I was in law school here and it was really understanding that this religion has been misused. So it’s one strategy to bring whatever the laws are in harmony with international human rights standards and that’s all.
It is not—I’m not advocating religious reform. I agree with Hina 100 percent that that is a road that, you know—but we have personal status laws that are justified on the basis of religion. We want to argue as women saying that this is no longer twenty-first century. This is no longer right. But we get assaulted on the back end saying this is justified. And if we don’t have those right arguments, sometimes it’s harder to move forward.
JILANI: We have the right arguments. And I think during my life as an activist many, many women have given the right arguments and argued about it.
JILANI: I don’t think that that has helped.
I’ll give you Pakistan’s example on child marriage. Two provinces have a child marriage prohibition law. Two don’t. And in 1961, we had law reforms. To this day, those laws are controversial amongst the religious community in Pakistan. But after having done about maybe thousands of women’s cases—many of them were very religious minded—not a single woman came to me and said that, I don’t want to go to court under these laws because they are against Sharia, as the mullahs say. So I don’t want this right. None of them.
So, you know, ultimately, it’s self-interest. Even the most religious woman wants her rights that were given by a controversial law which mullahs say are un-Islamic. Even today, the federal Sharia court has said these are laws that are un-Islamic and we are in the Supreme Court arguing that, you know, they are constitutional rights of women. So these are some of the things I think we must remember when we are doing our advocacy. All right. It’s fine. That can be a complementary strategy. But this should be really something that has to be separate for us as women.
You can interpret laws the way you like. But these are certain principles which are universal. Discrimination cannot be allowed. Women’s status has to be equal in all senses. So I think that’s an argument the mullahs can have. But that’s not an argument that we can—we should be promoting. Our point of reference has to be human rights, women’s rights to equality, and the right to dignity and, you know, freedom from discrimination.
VOGELSTEIN: You know, one of the things that you talked about is the role of multilateral institutions like the U.N. in making this connection between family law and the economic effects of the restrictions that exist. Certainly, when we think of the calculations, for example, that the World Bank has recently done to estimate the cost to GDP of laws that permit marriage under the age of eighteen, we could imagine how that type of analysis could be expanded to the full constellation of laws that discriminate against women in this realm and imagine that that too would provide for some very effective argumentation to the state leaders, Hina, that you mentioned that need to be doing more.
But I want to get back to your question about multilateral institutions and the U.N. and, Andrew, ask you about your work, in particular, focused not only on the legal inequalities that have already been mentioned—property, inheritance, and other family laws—but also your work addressing the very idea that the man is the head of the household and the implications that that assumption has for housing policy, social security policy, other policies, and how that assumption relates to the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work on women.
How is it that nations can address these structural and cultural inequalities that often inform this constellation of family laws and what is the role of the U.N. and, in your case, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, in addressing these barriers?
GILMOUR: Thank you very much, indeed. Like before, it’s a very complex question that I’ll try to unpack it. But I’m extremely happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
So yes, the issue of unpaid work and the massive imbalance between all the—the unequal distribution of unpaid work, pregnancy, childbirth, child care, elderly care, and domestic work—and it’s been estimated that globally women do 2.6 times the amount of unpaid work as men and this has all sorts of effects.
We all know that society historically or traditionally undervalues unpaid work, and it means that people who do so much unpaid work of all those natures—it means that they have much less ability to actually do full-time work. So the type of work they do get outside the domestic zone tends to be the lowest paid, ones with the lowest qualifications and the most precarious, and the ones that lack any form of pension, benefit, or anything else.
So all of that is a key point, and so we’re actually very happy that the Sustainable Development Goals target—5.4, to be precise—it did stress the need to value and—recognize and value the unpaid care and domestic work.
And so a solution to that would include, for example—obviously, here we have it but in many places we don’t—paternity leave and to get men to understand that there has to be a much more equitable distribution of domestic work and then, of course, the facilities—again, much more common in some parts of the world than others—of day care centers to allow women to do that.
But then you have—and you alluded to this as part of your question—of the stereotype that the man is the breadwinner. And this also has sort of terrible knock-on effects in many cases because so many—in so many places we have the social benefits that go with real work or the assumption that the head of the household or the breadwinner is a man. So you get social housing, health care benefits, or cash allowances that go to the man and the women only get it, if they’re lucky, indirectly and almost as if it’s the gift of the man.
And, of course, then the CEDAW committee has examined cases in many countries, actually, where particularly how the fact that social housing goes to the male spouse aggravates the situation and knock-on effects, and sometimes can put women into a terrible dilemma. You either stay in a violent household—remain in it—or become homeless. And that is clearly—working on that assumption and breaking that link that it is only the male who has access to social benefits is absolutely crucial.
And then so that—so that links it to something which we do a lot of work on, which is violence against women—in the domestic sphere, of course, but then there’s also a much wider sphere. In the domestic sphere, there are a lot of sort of governments—we have field premises around the world, but we do what we can.
I mean, I will just give an example. Just a few months ago, I was in Afghanistan. I had a meeting the president and many ministers who, by the way, took the arguments very receptively. They do have a law against violence against women—criminalizing violence against women, unlike many other countries, by the way. There are at least thirty-six countries that don’t have any—they don’t recognize any form of violence against women as a crime.
But in Afghanistan they do have one but it tends not to be used very much and one reason is that they set up these family tribunals and then put immense arbitration centers—not centers but a system—an immense pressure on the woman who has suffered the violence to withdraw the complaint under the guise of reconciliation. And, of course, one can’t argue against reconciliation. But one can argue against it, as we do and very strongly. It just looks as if it’s just exercising extreme heavy pressure on the woman to drop her case.
So on—I mean, I just wanted to mention a case, because I was in Yemen last week. And this isn’t so much domestic law but it’s just violence against women in general and, particularly, sexual violence and I raised it in every single meeting I had both with the government that’s recognized that’s in Aden, and then the de facto authorities that are in the capital, Sana’a, run by the Houthis. And in every meeting I raised it, and I said, look, I know that this is an incredibly sensitive matter—because it is—to raise the issue of sexual violence, but luckily the international community in the last ten years has really put this issue up there much more than it ever used it to be, but in countries like Yemen, we believe it is massively underreported, not least because women daren’t report it because there is the presumption that—and it’s a bit like your terrible case in the Sudan that we know about because it’s—but the woman is regarded as having—it’s her fault so that she will then be punished again.
But raising it with some people, particularly very hardline people on the Houthi side who really just do not want to admit that there is a problem; that this is not something we do here, but alas, it is, but this is something that we have to raise very sensitively because they take tremendous offense over it. But, I mean, I went public on it as well and issued a press release.
And then maybe I could just mention the third one because this week was coincidentally the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, on Monday, and as part of a—and I’ve been speaking about it for weeks on this, but the global backlash against human rights, which certainly includes—but of course, that’s the first time I ever heard backlash was—specifically it was Susan Faludi’s great book in the early ’90s specifically referring to the fact that the progress that had been made, the great gains of feminism in the ’70s were being pushed back by those who resented those gains. But we do find that in various forms in the whole—across the human rights movement at the moment.
But I’ve gone off the topic because I meant to say that on the—coincidentally, I mean, terribly bitter irony that on the day of the 70th anniversary I was prevented from giving a speech in the Security Council on human rights abuses in North Korea, and the Security Council—it just made it so much harder for us to actually bring human right matters to the table, that even though the last four years we have done it, this year we didn’t get the nine positive votes; we got only eight that on a procedural matter would allow me.
But one point I would have made in that is very relevant to this. It is how law exacerbates sexual exploitation and violence in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. You see, women in so many cases—and it impossible to have numbers here, but we are talking hundreds of thousands and millions whereby the women is the breadwinner of the family because the husband is in prolonged conscription for military service, at the end which then, if he does get demobilized, he gets sent off to work for some state enterprise for a long time and a long way away. And then of course there are the prison camps, as well, which again we don’t have numbers for.
But the situation—so they are the breadwinner, but that puts women in a sort of gray zone where they are acutely vulnerable to sexual exploitation and bribery. And then you find the ones—and there are large numbers of them—for whom the situation is so bad that they escape—try to escape and in many cases do escape to China even though they know—they know the incredibly high likelihood that once there, they will then fall victim to traffickers and sexually exploited by every—sexually exploited by a lot of people, and trafficked, and beaten. And moreover, if—as is often the case, and we have interviewed many of them in Seoul—that they then make it back, they are then—no, not make it back; that’s the wrong expression—they are then handed back at the court by the Chinese authorities and handed back to the North Koreans. They then get exploited and brutally sexually abused again.
So this is a really huge problem. In answer to your question—one of the many questions you asked was what do we do about it—well, on the way back from Yemen I was in Tunis until this weekend, and that is a positive example we’ve had where we were working with the government, and they announced just last month that they—it’s a very—and we congratulated them, it’s very welcome—that they are supporting a new law that will allow women and men absolutely equal rights of inheritance, which is obviously an absolutely emblematic issue to get basic equality. And we were working with that, and we’re happy to get it, and now we’re going to have to try and see how we can support them to get it through parliament. So that’s just an example.
VOGELSTEIN: So certainly pressuring governments, using the multilateral stage, working with civil society organizations to effect change at the governmental level, and bringing the lawsuits that, Yasmeen, your organization brings—these are all levers that have helped to push for progress in this area.
HASSAN: And you know, the one other thing that I’ve seen and I’ll mention goes on rights and the issue of child marriage being taken as one issue that you can work across countries, and really using the international system for that, and then getting national groups. So it’s like not that you guys in one country have this issue; everybody has these issues, and how do we work—like it has really highlighted that one issue that’s been a big success of a global movement that has taken one issue and moved the dial on it.
And, I mean, Hina also mentioned two provinces in Pakistan that have eighteen as a minimum age of marriage, and I believe in sin there are no exceptions, right? Those things are partly a credit to that movement, also, right, like—and I’m not saying that that meant that internationals worked on it—local women’s groups worked on it—but when you create that dialogue at an international level, and you have resolutions at the U.N. level, and you have CEDAW weighing in, and every—all of us work in concert, big things can happen, including on family law.
We’ve had the same experience on nationality laws where we took on laws that discriminate against, you know, women passing their nationalities to this children and to their spouses, and in this very global world that becomes part of family law because your entitlements in a country, and that—because we made it a global issue, and we put all the countries, and we worked with groups in every country and brought UNHCR in and OHCHR in, that has changed a lot of laws.
So I think that there is progress to be made, and I think the progress is—absolutely I want to recognize the momentum of the women’s rights movement at the local levels because they know the context, they know what change is possible, they know how to do it, but then the support internationally, and bringing that issue as a whole issue. I hope family laws can get picked up as the next thing, right, because we’ve taken on child marriage, nationality—they are issues that we took on. Right now Equality Now is working on rape laws which—particularly laws that exempt rapists from punishments when they marry their victims that are in a whole host of countries, and we’ve had a lot of progress changing those laws.
So I—I mean, I am very hopeful. Family law is the biggest frontier for women, and it is what matters to women almost the most, you know—every woman you talk to. So I’m hoping we can have a global campaign on this that, you know will bring us together, and I think you all can change it.
VOGELSTEIN: A note of optimism in an otherwise very challenging area.
Well, I’d like to now open the discussion to—
JILANI: Can I say one last word?
VOGELSTEIN: Hina, please.
JILANI: Just in conclusion, we keep talking about empowering women, and through our, you know, advocacy, through the messages we send to women, we do empower them to some extent, but then when they take an action through this empowerment, they are left hanging dry.
So what I’m saying is if you want to empower women, empower the law, and without empowering the law, don’t give women expectations of the law which will not be fulfilled because then it really ends up in a lot of frustration and disillusionment with the institution of the law.
VOGELSTEIN: With that I want to open the discussion to your questions. Please state your name and affiliation, and we’ll get to as many as we can.
There in the back.
Q: Yeah, hi. Barbara Chai from iSunTV based in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
My question actually goes back to one of the topics that was covered this morning about this cashless, digital payment which has great potential in the world to empower women to take control of the financial resources and make them—or supposed to make them more independent and have bigger say in the family.
And to what extent has the Islamic financing the banking system embraced this technology innovation? And to be more related to the discussion—or the panel discussion right now, is there a(n) obvious legal barrier that, you know, in the Islamic legal or financing banking system that prohibit the growth of this digital payment methods, especially in—I mean, in these countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Turkey. Yeah, thank you.
JILANI: Is the question to me? You know, I’m not an Islamic expert, so I really can’t answer that question. I’m only an expert on where the barriers are caused by Islam, so I can’t give you an answer to this. The only thing that I can say is that there is a lot of potential in that whole—in any financial system for giving women that agency. But in legal jurisdictions where the evidence of women or their ability to sign contracts is limited, it becomes very difficult.
I mean, in Islamic law, women are agents fully able to—capable to sign contracts, but they can’t be witnesses to any financial document. So these are some of the issues that probably might intervene here, but I do see a lot of potential in any financial system for that to be taken forward. We don’t necessarily have to depend on an Islamic system or anything of that kind.
VOGELSTEIN: Other questions? Yes. Yes, please, Ellen.
Q: Ellen Chesler from the Roosevelt Institute.
I just wonder, from a policy perspective, whether you feel that conditioning aid is a useful tool in changing behaviors at a country level and that programs need to be—this has to be made an economic issue. The U.N. was extremely valuable seventy years ago. Some of these issues are dealt with in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 70th anniversary of which we celebrate this week. Over the course of the decades of women, a great deal of progress has been made, but you still continued to have an international consensus that valued diversity and stood silent in the face of claims of cultural, or regional, or religious pluralism.
So we seem to have moved beyond those barriers. We’ve now made an economic link between empowering women and equal rights for women, but do we need to have some teeth put into this by aid conditionality? Maybe the U.N. representative might want to speak to this first, or all—any one of you.
VOGELSTEIN: Yeah, a really interesting question about whether to condition aid, and I’m called to the example of the Millennium Challenge Corporation here in the United States which did incorporate, as part of its criteria for investment in a given country, legal reform to encourage equality between men and women. And there was actually a study of this aid conditionality that was subsequently termed the MCC effect where we did see countries changing laws and policies related to equality—inheritance, property, et cetera—in order to become more competitive for U.S. aid—so thoughts on how effective that could be as a strategy.
GILMOUR: I will speak, but not necessarily as—to give the U.N. viewpoint on this because I’m not sure there is a U.N. single viewpoint on this.
But, yes, aid conditionality can be effective, and this goes well beyond this topic, of course. It could apply to the entire—any issue you want—to aid is conditional to changing your country’s trade policies, or it can be done on a human rights issue, or signing up to a military alliance, so anything like that.
And it is definitely—I mean, looking at aid flows in Africa you will see that—and this is why I am saying it in a very non-U.N. capacity—because you will find that the countries of the West—i.e., EU and U.S.—are in many countries losing their ability to influence policy precisely because government recipients don’t like conditionality, and so they go to countries that give them the money and don’t demand conditionality. So if you want to be absolutely sure of losing your influence, then you over-conditionalize your aid—(inaudible).
But I’m not a—I sound as if I’m against the principle, which I’m not because, obviously, on some issues like that where you really care and believe that doing so would actually not lead to a backlash—for example, I mean—not on—directly related to this women’s issue, but on LGBTI issues, there have been conditionalities imposed on—and I won’t mention which ones—but on a couple of African countries whereby, after terrible threats were made to the local gay community, some countries threatened to cut off aid. That led to an additional backlash against the gay community. They were accused of impoverishing the country because they were accused of having whipped up donors abroad.
So you have to really be careful to do so. I mean, if you were doing it, you wouldn’t want women to suffer as a result of being blamed for the fact that a country like the U.S., for example, had decided to cut aid as a result. So it’s a very, very complicated question anyway.
JILANI: You know, I think it does make a difference. Nevertheless, we must remember that there it can be counterproductive as well, like Andrew has just said.
But remember, whenever there is any chance of aid conditionality being something that is acceptable and seen as a transparent policy, it will always be conditionalities that are coming or are reflecting social movements in that country and the messages that that population is getting, or human right movements and communities in that country are giving. Otherwise it is always going to be labeled as some kind of foreign agenda.
So always conditionalities must echo what those local movements and human rights communities are saying and very specifically stating. And this should be stated that this is in response to those demands of the local populations.
HASSAN: Exactly. Just to second that, I mean, on aid from government, we are an advocacy organization, so when they are giving aid, we always weigh in. Like we weigh in to the State Department here, we weigh in to the Norwegians and all, like what should your priorities be and make sure that is covered. So that’s our role as an advocacy organization.
I can’t talk that much about what happens, but we do it. But then there is also the aid that is given by individuals and foundations, and that I would be very—I have seen movement-killing things happen with that aid because they condition it, and it becomes the agenda of the donor as opposed to the women’s rights movement there. And, you know, I’ve seen that in many countries—Afghanistan being one of them—where it like this is what we want to get done, and you guys become our agents to get that thing done, and I think that is very dangerous.
I agree with Hina that the impetus must come from the movement within, and you must be—the donors must be in support of that movement rather than dictating what they do and how they do it.
VOGELSTEIN: The importance of increasing investment in local women’s movements around the world, an issue we’ve talked about before.
Other questions? Yes, over here.
Q: A few years ago the U.N. was asked by the Arab world to do a study on what would be their best path to prosperity, and the number one was education of women. What happened?
HASSAN: They did reach parity on education for—I mean, that was part of—
Q: Did it—was it implemented or—
HASSAN: —the Millennium development goals, and if you look in the Middle Eastern countries, women outstrip men at every level of education.
But, again—going back to—and we were looking at this, and we were like you are only going to focus on education, you are not even going to look at what’s within your educational curriculum, what opportunities you have with the education, what can you do, and so that’s one—and we met the Millennium development goal. At least in the Arab world there was huge progress, but there was not progress in economic participation, there was not progress in political participation, and the crux of it is family law and opportunity.
So I think, now that we have the sustainable development goals, which is the next step, it has all forms of discrimination in women integrated, and I’m very happy that sex discriminatory—repealing all sex discriminatory laws, which includes family laws, is part of that goal. So I think we will see more holistic change.
Q: (Off mic.)
HASSAN: I think they counted the numbers—and you can chime in—I think they counted. When they looked at just education of women, at primary level, secondary, even at post-graduate level, women had outstripped men at many of those levels. So it was—what was clear was we had achieved gains in education just by numbers, but it didn’t necessarily relate to progress generally that had been anticipated through—because I think we didn’t look deeply enough into education systems and other systems around that would lead to empowerment.
So I think we did look at it, and that’s why—the Sustainable Development Goals we said—we kept telling you because you remember Millennium Development Goals there was just one goal on women; it was education of women. Everybody focused on that, and we were like women’s rights advocates, and we were saying this is not the end all and be all. You have to look across the board, and I think now we are—(laughs)—in the next step, right?
VOGELSTEIN: I mean, the—throughout the course of our discussion today what we have focused on is how the playing field is still not level for women so, you know, as important as education is, this question of how you translate educational gains into gains in the economic sphere is related to the constellation of family laws and the other ways in which women are held back by the legal system.
Other questions? Come over here.
Q: Sorry. I was curious about returning to this area of tension between the three of you about the discourse that is helpful today, and I heard Andrew saying something about the—you could call it the backlash to globalization, also the backlash to universal human rights discourse, which many of us have confronted in a number of different areas.
And then Yasmeen was talking more in a human rights discourse—universalist human rights discourse, and then I heard you talking more in a political—a local political discourse. And I’m wondering—you know, we’re outside, right? Most of us in this room are working outside of the countries that you are talking about. Could you reflect again—maybe something from each of you about what you think is a useful way to engage on these issues because I think that globalization—you know, OK, a backlash because we haven’t done, you know, many aspects of it well, and certainly a lot of actors have been left out, and we’re seeing a populist response both from the left and the right here and in other places—Europe and so on—so it isn’t just this issue.
So I’m wondering if—upon reflection if there are people working on this question of how best to engage, you know—the U.N., other actors, you know, including people around this room. I just wanted to hear a little more about—
JILANI: I just want to—
Q: —and also about religion, you know, because the religious—the exchange between the two of you kind of seemed to highlight the difference between maybe politics, religion, law—these are big terms, you know, yeah.
JILANI: You know, just to clarify my own position, I can say this, that my thoughts are totally rooted in the human rights values. But I also believe that as a human rights defender, unless and until, I’m very well aware, number one, that nobody works in isolation for the promotion of rights and that one category of persons cannot claim that their rights will be promoted in a vacuum. So there is a political environment that we, as human rights defenders, are always trying to build. That’s why democracy, participation, inclusion is part of our work.
Secondly, on the religion thing, I’m not against religion. What I am saying is if we make women’s rights dependent on religious interpretations, there are myriads of such interpretations. And the person in control and in power will choose which one or select which one is appropriate for their own agenda and what kind of environment they want in a particular country.
So obviously what we are talking about is universal human rights. Those who can and—can influence religious communities and religious social environments in religiously led countries should do so, but that should be a supporting argument. That should not be the basis for women’s rights or not the point of reference for everyone.
HASSAN: Yeah, so just to answer your question, the discourse is important, and I think—I agree with Hina in everything she said.
What I experience—I’m not talking from equality now, just personally I have seen backlash against the—we have built up the human rights system over a long time to great success, right, and what we see again is people discounting that system, people saying this is a Western agenda over and over and over again, which I completely believe is false and ridiculous, and it’s undermining.
But then what is the strategy, right? To me the strategy is feed that discourse in all other discourses, so example of the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals, we as human rights advocates didn’t really engage on the Millennium Development Goals; that’s why they looked the way they did. (Laughter.) We engaged on the Sustainable Development Goals, and that’s why they look like a human rights agenda.
Same thing on the economic front, OK? World Bank we weren’t working with previously, and we started working with them five years ago. One of the things that happened is like we worked with them on the women, law and business report, and we feed in all that stuff. So on the economic agenda you are feeding human rights.
My same thing is on the strategy on religious laws, like to the extent people are following these systems, we need to bring human rights. It’s not about engaging with religion; it is bringing human rights into those discourses because I feel that if we don’t do that, we lose out on a huge portion of the world. So to me it’s like bringing the human rights agenda into all these discourses and making it part of those discourses, and how do we do it because otherwise I feel we can lose our high ground—like for lack of a better word, right, so that’s my pitch because I remember I was at Human Rights Watch something—there was a convening, and the way people were talking, I was like, you know, I’m an intelligent person; I don’t understand half of the stuff you said. It’s like, this can’t be a human rights discourse. Human rights discourse is supposed to be about human beings, and human beings should understand it, right? (Laughter.)
So we had become so elitist in the human rights talk that it was counterproductive. So I’m like where do you take that and you break it down and make it about the person in wherever those people are. I think that’s very important, so. (Laughs.)
VOGELSTEIN: Andrew, thoughts?
GILMOUR: You know, that’s an extremely good question. And indeed, I would say our office is absolutely focused on this because it clearly is not working—or what we’re doing at the moment. And, I mean—so the human rights agenda is under threat from two broad lines of attack: one, the security argument, and the other is the sovereignty argument.
The security argument is that you are undermining the state. You are trying to—you are promoting terrorism. We now get accused of promoting terrorism. And I have a particular role in acting on reprisals against individuals who cooperated with the U.N. by trying to share information with us. And we find time and again the denigration of human rights defenders is based on the fact that they are sympathizers of terrorists, and that the human rights agenda is a terrorist agenda. You are undermining our government, and you are criticizing our police force, it means you promote terrorism.
Then there is the sovereignty argument that you are imposing an alien Western agenda on our traditional values, and who the hell are you anyway, and I don’t—not interested in your arguments. So that sovereignty—both of those lines.
I mean, I find—and Yasmeen’s last point very much spoke to me because I find that the human rights discourse can be very off-putting; I mean, it sounds legalistic, arrogant—often it sounds arrogant and incomprehensible. So we do definitely need to show that human rights applies—first of all, it’s got to be easily comprehensible and people can understand why they need to fight for it, and secondly—and this is a difficult point to make because all the groups I’m about to (make ?), I really believe that we have to do more to defend, whether it’s prisoners, or migrants, or LGBTI, or disabled.
But the trouble is if the human rights movement is seen as only focusing on vulnerable groups, then it means that anybody who is not in a vulnerable group—isn’t disabled, isn’t gay, isn’t migrant, isn’t disabled—then they just feel, well, it’s not—it’s not my agenda; it’s an agenda of other people. Yeah, we feel sorry for them, but it doesn’t relate to me.
But even more broadly than that, what I try to do—because I see when I actually go to places and since my road is much more in areas of conflict, where there is governments who aren’t very pleasant and aren’t remotely interested in human rights, frankly, the idea of pitching them in a human rights discourse is going to have zero impact. So if I argue on torture, I will tell them it’s immoral; they don’t care. Tell them it’s illegal; they don’t care. But if you tell them—and show that it’s actually ineffective because torture almost invariably leads to wrong information being handed over, almost never leads to really useful information because people just say anything to stop the pain and whatever they think the interrogator might want.
And also on counterterrorist, I go to so many countries where they claim to be fighting terrorists, and I point out that in other places—all the other places that I’ve worked in, that they’ve fought a similar battle. And almost in every single case they’ve created more terrorists than there were in the first place because of the bovine and brutal way that they fought it. So if you can put it like that rather than saying you ought to do it because it’s immoral the way you are doing it, which is traditionally what I think the human rights movement has done, that’s a little bit too much of—and we might conceivably—I’m not wildly optimistic, but at least we’ve got to go for it—might have a better chance of persuading people.
VOGELSTEIN: Well, I hope that the discussion today and the resources that we have put together here at the Council will help make that strategic case as the work moves forward. And while it is clear that much more work remains to realize the economic potential of women around the world and reform family law, there is no doubt that our discussion today illuminates the path forward.
So please join me in thanking our panelists here and all of our panelists today. (Applause.)