Friday, August 7, 2009

Accountability to Women

“If any man asks why I support better accountability to women, this is my response:  because a government that answers to women will answer to you, too.”   United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, 2008.

             Global governments are failing in the promise of doing more for women, especially in the treatment of women in politics and health care: 

  • Every year more than 500,000 women die from childbirth complications.

  • Women parliamentarians (legislative bodies) have increased by only 8 percent since 1998 to a global average of 18.4%.

  • The “parity zone” for women in legislative bodies is between 40 and 60 percent of worldwide parliament seats, a zone that will not be reached until 2045, if we continue at the present rate.

              After women in America were given the franchise in 1920, legislative bodies nationwide began catering to them as voters, resulting in better public health services. Today there are women leaders nationwide who remember the plight of their pre-suffrage sisters who went to jail and starved to make a political statement.  These are the women leaders who are accountable to women and to the general welfare of the country. 

              The only way world governments can be more accountable to women is by putting women into leadership positions.  No woman has ever been allowed to accumulate the needed experience and credentials to serve as the leader of the free world.  Hillary Clinton has come closer to the ideal for a woman leader but could not manage to overcome her femaleness to win in 2008.

               In America, both major political parties are failing to recognize the changing political scene.  It is not just about racial change in the White House or party change in the Congress.

               It may be about gender change, however, because common sense, integrity and transparency are the buzzwords on blogs, letters to editors and in private forums. Women are known to possess those traits, yet they are routinely restrained from demonstrating those attributes in public endeavors.  Women are still under-represented at all levels of government nationwide.

                In a recent report by Linda Basch in the Christian Science Monitor, “groupthink” was labeled as the culprit for the economic crisis facing the world. Another woman leader called it a “one gender crash.”  The consensus seems to be that women are “more comprehensive thinkers and less attracted to excessive risk” than men.

                Even the Financial Times incited the outrage of readers by calling for a “gender quota for corporate boards.”  Reader (think male investor) outrage at gender quotas on corporate boards is not supported by the facts, but is instead encouraged by an attitude of male superiority. 

               The truth is that Fortune 500 boards with the largest percentage of women have equity returns 53% higher than those with the smallest number of women directors.

              Groupthink and one-gender-leadership may be the way of the world in history but times are changing.  Those few women who have been permitted to gain access to political and corporate power have demonstrated that the female gender is capable of changing the way things are done in business and in government. 

               Still not convinced?  Consider this little vignette from history:

               Sometime in the last half of the 19th century, some enterprising male invented the athletic cup to protect the private parts of sportsmen.  It was not until the first half of the 20th century that another invention, the football helmet, demonstrated that someone finally recognized the need to protect the brain as well.