Given the gains that the developing world has seen in the last 15 years, some of us may want to believe that the tide has turned against misogyny and toward girls’ and women’s empowerment, rights, participation, emancipation and leadership.
But we would be wrong.
An anti-progressive current still runs strong and deep in so many of the societies where we work and live. Much of the world remains indifferent toward or hostile to political participation by women. Reproductive rights are where democratic rights stood many decades ago: championed by some, practiced by too few, feared and misunderstood by too many.
The road to genuine progress remains long and treacherous.
This is why the rich and complex discussions at this year’s Women Deliver conference are so important. It’s an opportunity to further the momentum for investing in women’s economic, social and political power. And while the road ahead is indeed difficult, even Women Deliver’s own progress — from a modest size and agenda of the first conference in London in 2007 to the organization’s far-reaching 12 best investments and its 6,000 participants in Copenhagen — shows the potential for the widening path ahead.
And we have a map. The Sustainable Development Goals and targets give us sign posts that can keep the global community on the right track to putting women and girls at the heart of the development agenda. But who will drive change? This year’s Women Deliver conference has helped to shine the spotlight on a few things:
With more than 1.8 billion youth in the world — the largest generation of young people ever — the power of this demographic is real. Today’s engaged, educated and ambitious youth are a growing voice for change in the developing world. We need to work with them — asking for and listening to their needs, co-designing programs together and empowering them as advocates to produce the tangible results that governments and donors seek in return for investing in development programs.
While in many countries the purchasing power of women may take generations to translate into political power, it’s already attracted the attention of marketers and business leaders. As the most efficient generators of wealth and value across societies, corporations have a vested interest and a unique role in improving the status of women. The sizeable presence of corporate partners at Women Deliver stems from their interest in developing a more coherent vision of how to empower women and girls as consumers along the value chain.
This year’s conference launches many new enterprises that offer the best assets from people who would otherwise be considered outside the traditional global development sphere. The Maverick Collective, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PSI program, is one such initiative that disrupts the way NGOs work with individual philanthropists. Focused on transforming the reality for girls and women, these Maverick Collective members offer more than their money, but also their expertise for real, tangible change. The ripple effect of newly mobilized and energized disruptive thinkers has the potential to yield great dividends.
Women Deliver reminds us that the girls and women agenda is more mainstream than ever. True, there is much room for improvement and a long way to go, but we can take heart in the way the forces of youth, business and new disruptive actors are nudging our trajectory toward a better future.
President and CEO, PSI