CGI2011: Women’s Rights: What’s In It for Men?

As regular—well, obsessive–readers know, I’m stealing a title from the sainthood-destined Michèle Tertilt.  But it seems appropriate—and a better title than “Engaging Boys and Men as Allies for Long-term Change”—for today’s Plenary hosted by Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

We got a taste of this yesterday, on the panel hosted by Robin Roberts (now a host at Good Morning, America, apparently; I stopped paying attention to her career after she left ESPN, around the time I stopped paying attention to ESPN), when Dikembe Mutombo declared that having daughters had changed his worldview, no to mention a CGI member from the floor who reminded anyone who had forgotten that the doors that opened for Roberts herself were largely driven by the opportunities created by Title IX, If you treat half of the population as if it only consume and can never produce, you lose opportunities. When you stop doing it, opportunities open and the pie gets larger.

Gary Thomas Barker, the International Director of Instituto Promundo, notes that two-thirds of the men in the world don’t abuse women, and that we need to move closer to 100%, since abuse reduces chances of economic development (no matter how self-delusional the U.S. Supreme Court may have been), even if there were an excuse for it.

UPDATE: Market share corrected in the following paragraph; with thanks to Maggie Edinger at Hill & Knowlton for the correction and a link to this Reuters article discussing the company’s plans in Afghanistan for this year.

Karim Khoja, Chief Executive Officer of mobile phone provider Roshan runs the largest telephone company in Afghanistan—with 6% 35% of the market—and notes that 55% of the people in Afghanistan (his potential customers) are women. But Roshan knew when going into the country that the financial decisions for the household are controlled by the men, so direct targeting of women would not work—until very recently.  The initial pitch was “know where your wife is.”  Three years later, there are women buying their own mobiles—with, presumably, the full knowledge and blessing of men who have seen and understood the advantage to themselves of having them doing so.

Khoja also noted that, while women spend about 20% less than men on their mobile services, they are more loyal to the company—and are, therefore, the more profitable customers to have.

Most interesting is Khoja explaining the hoops the company had to go through to hire their first woman: direct family discussion, including driving her to and from the office, ensuring an appropriately courteous work atmosphere (White House employees need not apply), and that it took nearly a year before the company reached critical mass.  At this point, he essentially had noted that he was discussing a chicken-egg cycle where women could not get jobs or start businesses without having access to funding, and couldn’t get access to funding without getting a job or starting a business.

Muhammad Yunus of the Yunus Center then took over, explaining the details of the early days of Grameen: how their making loans to worthy business ideas—which largely came from and were to women—led to having to explain to men the advantages that come from having a two-income family.  This was followed by discussions with the women, who were then alert to (and, of course, able to address) the issues raised by their husbands. The initial result is that everyone became comfortable with the new situation; the collateral effect—which should be to no one’s great surprise—was that many of the women’s businesses improved even more after familial buy-in was achieved.  By the third year, the villages have a strong base of working women’s businesses and the model expands itself.  Generations of progress were made in the space of a few years, and Yunus and Grameen have never had to look back from that model.

President Bachelet notes that she probably would not have been President if she had not first been Minister of Defense—not, conspicuously, Minister of Health.

Muhammad Yunus notes that we have to move to the next step: it’s no longer just about making money, it’s also about problem-solving. “Social business” produces more loyal employees and a better chance at successful innovation. From the floor, a leader of Coca-Cola notes that they have been expanding their small business efforts with female leaders, which has given them better work.  (Also notes that the sponsored a “water-harvesting project” for every goal scored in the 2010 World Cup—which resulted in 520 projects being initiated.)

Another commenter from the floor notes that, fifteen years ago, 75% of the new AIDS cases in Africa were girls under the age of fifteen. It’s difficult to educate, let alone turn into a businesswoman, someone who is dying and/or pregnant.

Republic of Rwanda President Paul Kagame closed by noting that this entire panel has been “common sense.”  The scariest part of it is that these things keep needing to be said.