‘There Is a Moral Case for Women’s Human Rights’ – the La Pietra Coalition Sharpens Its Focus

The La Pietra Coalition first gathered two years ago in a Renaissance villa outside Florence with a goal of putting the drive for women’s rights and economic growth front and center on the global leadership front. The Coalition’s platform, which I’ve been privileged to work on since that first meeting, advocates investing in women’s economic growth as the critical step to greater prosperity for communities, companies and nations.

Housed in Vital Voices Global Partnership, the Coalition now has 110 members after its founding by international NGO and private sector leaders at Villa La Pietra, the Italian campus of New York University. Last year, the Coalition partnered with the Economist Intelligence Unit to develop the first Women’s Economic Opportunity Index that rates 113 countries on their provision of economic opportunity to women. The issues highlighted by the Index as most crucial to achieving the goal of lifting women’s economic opportunities were labor policy and practice, access to finance, education and training, and legal and social status. The Coalition now has working groups focusing on strategies to pursue change in each – and the target is now the deliberations of the G20.

The Coalition’s new senior director is Sandra Taylor, a veteran corporate social responsibility leader who has worked with companies like Starbucks and Eastman Kodak. I asked Sandra to discuss the Coalition’s evolution and its sharpened mission and goals.

Sandra, as you step into the leadership role of the La Pietra Coalition (which I’m proud to be a member of) can you tell our readers what its role in the world is – how the Coalition aims to be a catalyst for change?

I think it is important to acknowledge that of course there is a moral case to be made for women’s human rights and equality with men. The Coalition does not for a moment discount these issues as matters of justice, but those arguments have been made well and often. They are not enough. The pragmatic case – an economic one- is just as strong and has not been made enough in the right circles. This has been missing from the debate and this is the role that a diverse set of people, who make up the Coalition, representing diverse stakeholders, can play. Enough people in the general society and also among the decision makers have got to see that it is in their best interests, or self-interest, that women have equality and can participate in, and contribute to, their society to the fullest extent of their capacity. This is human nature. And happily we are at a time when there is now enough data based evidence that indeed this is not just a wishful thought but a matter of fact that there is a link between investing in women, or advancing the status of women, and economic growth and stability for an entire society.

What is your sense of advancing the goals and ideas set forth in Hillary Clinton’s 1995 Beijing speech about women’s rights and human rights – have we made major progress in a decade and a half?

On the one hand yes on the other no. Beijing, although it had its predecessors, in a way solidified and activated a global international women’s movement that is carrying the goals forward on all fronts. Some of the most active proponents of women’s human rights came into existence AFTER Beijing and to a large extent because of Beijing–especially in the developing world but also in, for example, the United States. In fact Vital Voices, the original convening body of La Pietra Coalition, is one of them. And Women for Women International, whose founder serves as co-chair of the Coalition, while founded two years before Beijing, certainly can attribute its success in establishing such a profound impact and strong local partners in war-torn societies, because of the climate that Beijing created among women around the world. There are still problems around the world, and new, often deadly ones keep arising, but something has changed since Beijing. Around the world women have cast off the victim status and are actively playing a role in solving those problems.

How can the Coalition influence the discussions and decisions of a group like the G20?

In order to fully realize the G20 goal of financial inclusion and to implement the G20 commitment to greater use of statistics and data in policy making announced at the Seoul Summit in November 2010, La Pietra Coalition asks G20 leaders to call for all banks and financial institutions to develop systems and methods to gather and disaggregate data on loans to women owned SMEs, as well as checking and savings accounts owned by women. Collection, compilation and disaggregation of such data will lead to better policy outcomes by governments, central banks and private banking institutions and ultimately to economic growth for both the lenders and their female customers.

Further we want to see policy recommendations that will help move women from micro-enterprise to small and to medium sized enterprises; provide incentives and specific goals for increased procurement by governments of goods and services from women-owned enterprises; and lead to a reduction in drop-out rates of girls from secondary schools and greater skills development by girls.

In many of the protest, conflicts, and now civil wars around the Arab world this year, the role of women has been crucial – they’ve been key organizers, leading voices, and leaders, particularly among young people and through the use of social media. And yet we see in Egypt how women leaders can be left on the sidelines when a new constitution is discussed. How can we address this?

Left on the sidelines, or even worse. It is a very real danger and has happened before. (Algeria in the late 1960s being a nearby case in point). This is where people have to keep up the pressure on their leaders and representatives in their countries to exert their influence on their counterparts in these newly emerging governments or politicians. The spotlight is good in these situations. However, it is important to remember there are always two conversations going on–one in public and one behind the scenes. We need to keep the pressure on our leaders to carry these issues into the meetings, and deal making, that go on behind closed doors.

How important is the role of the private sector in advancing women’s rights on a global basis – some of the LPC’s leading members are prominent corporate leaders, for example, how can we align business interests with human rights?

Our corporate members would be the first to point out that economically empowered women will not only suit the employees’ moral interests, but also the company’s bottom line. Women in developing countries have great purchasing power and multinationals recognize this.

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