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How effective is the gender gap on the agenda at the World Economic Forum?

22 January 2016 05:48 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


For some, it is a fashionable topic that must be on the agenda of every summit worth its salt. For others, it is a real task, a challenge even that must be discussed and shared so that millions of women across the world can participate, share and value the opportunities that rightfully must come 
their way.

The world’s most happening place today is in Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum (WEF) is taking place. And gender features prominently on the agenda at this high-powered event, yet there are grumblings. Media reports confirmed that women seemed to be under-represented even though organisations were asked to bring one woman for every four men attending – and despite the fact that gender quotas had been put in place as early 
as 2011.

On a side note, when Oxfam brought the world’s attention to the fact that just 62 people own as much wealth as half of the world’s population, it was noted that there were only nine women among the 62. There are only 13 female heads of state – only 22 percent of all parliamentarians are female. The statistics confirm a low-end picture for gender relations, even in 2016.

The Independent reported that Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum North America, called Davos a “barometer” concerning the position of women in top roles at corporations, politics and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). To the extent that Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg noted that the world would not change for the better if men continue to rule 
the roost.

Addressing the WEF, Sandberg noted that the gender gap in business and government needs to be dealt with. “Men still run the world and I’m not sure it’s going that well,” said the author of ‘Lean In Fame’. Curiously enough, she was the only woman on a panel of six. Despite the gap, the roster at Davos showed that many female firsts were present indeed.

Dalia Grybauskaitė, Lithuania’s first female President, along with Mary Barra, the first woman to lead a major automobile company as the CEO of General Motors, and Elvira Nabiullina, the first woman to hold the post of Governor of the Bank of Russia were in attendance. There were other key female figures such as the Head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde as well.

There’s hope 
Yet, for all the gloom, there’s hope – without which, the gender relations cannot move on to great heights. The UN’s HeForShe Initiative announced that 10 global CEOs will come together to transparently share a standard set of data points on the representation of women across 10 of the world’s most prominent corporations: AccorHotels, Barclays, Koc Holding, McKinsey & Company, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Schneider Electric, Tupperware Brands, Twitter, Unilever and Vodafone. The exceptional gesture is to be announced at Davos, as a part of UN Women HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 Initiative.

One year ago, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon along with the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, movie star Emma Watson, launched IMPACT 10x10x10 during the WEF at Davos. Today, the HeForShe Initiative is said to have brought together a team of committed believers in gender equality from around the world. It is believed that this group of champions is confident of ensuring real change on an impressive timeline.

Yet, for the critics, it was the noticeable lack of women among the power-packed crowd at Davos – only 18 percent participated, a slight improvement from 2015. The figures were low yet the importance of gender continues to be highlighted at the WEF – a notable feature that must be acknowledged. It seems the numbers at Davos reflect the larger gender gaps that exist in the business, technology and political worlds, despite focusing on reaching parity in recent years. A study in 2015 confirmed that the number of women leading S&P 500 companies went down from 25 in 2014 to 21 in 2015, a mere 4.2 percent of female representation,  which makes Davos’ 18 percent of women in attendance seem high in comparison. Additionally, the WEF’s own research confirmed although more women were getting into jobs, inequality in pay does exist with women earning less than men on 
the whole.

In post-conflict scenarios such as Sri Lanka and in current conflict zones such as Syria, women-headed households are a stark reality – they must be supported and empowered to emerge economically independent and able to manage a household. Do they and their problems get featured at a global power packed summit? Those are the real issues that face women all over the world – keeping their families fed, the children in school and the home fires burning. For women, gender gap is a reality that stares them in the face every day.

So, where do we go from here? The fact that gender gap is included on the agenda and the emphasis on doing more for women is good news., the more we talk about the issue, the most focus we are able to get. Much needs to be done but there must be improvement in the post – WEF world. Hope springs eternal in the human mind and hope after all, is what keeps us going.

(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at

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