A Message From the G50 to the G20: Women Must Be Included

FLORENCE -- Two strong messages came out of the meetings here of representatives of international women's and social justice organizations along with major international corporations and financial institutions: one, that despite individual agendas, these groups can and most probably will have economic inclusion on their primary list of goals; and two, if the G20 and other international financial entities don't do the same, dire results can be expected for the global economy.

Old political hands and social science shamans know that when there is an easy message on a policy, program or practice, then one can be assured that the snappy slogan points to a real solution. Try these on for size:

"THE THIRD BILLION: Enabling the one billion economic engines for global growth."

That's the approach put forward by Beth Brooke, the Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young, and Leo Abruzzese, who heads up The Economist Intelligence Unit's annual Women's Economic Opportunity Index. It's simple math, as they see it. An expected one billion women should be ready to step forward and take the upcoming billion jobs -- placing women in the neighborhood of China and India when it comes to commanding the international market.

And although it's a long term goal, the G20 was seen by them -- and by most attending this meeting -- as the logical first step.

"As long as women are sidelined economically, their families, communities and countries cannot thrive. The G20 is the global forum with the power to put this issue front and center on the world stage -- to give it the visibility and urgency it deserves," said Bobbie Greene McCarthy, the Vice Chair of Vital Voices Global Partnership, the organization that along with Ellyn Toscano, who heads up the NYU campus here at Villa La Pietra, set up the first meeting of this group 30 months ago.

"A message from the G50 to the G20," tweeted from the meeting by the Coalition, was how NYU Senior Fellow and former political consultant Bob Shrum put it, the G50 referring to the fifty percent of the world who are women.

Cecile Sportis, a French policy and political expert, was clear about what the G50 had to stress: The exclusion of women has a negative impact on economies; women are an invisible majority of the world economy; women have to be recognized as stakeholders of the financial inclusion mechanism of the G20. She warned that international financial organizations, like the G20, were not an easy audience. "It is never the time to talk about women and integrating women in serious business... We are not going to talk to our peers. We are going to talk to people who don't want to talk to us."

Sarah Brown, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and a strong international advocate for maternal health, put forward a tactical approach that was widely accepted as the two-day meetings went on: All the groups had to continue working in their individual areas while working together in the context of what was wanted for women from the G20. The "asks" that the coalition decided on were simple and direct:

Ask for a seat at the table representing women under the G20's Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion; Ask to obtain gender-specific data on patterns of access to finance, including banking and savings accounts and business loans; Ask for an international poll to show why so many women in the world are entirely outside the regular finance system, completely unbanked and without even the recourse to micro-banking; Ask and provide incentives and goals for increased procurement by government from women-owned enterprises within their countries.

Mayra Buvinic, the World Bank gender and social development expert, explained the G20 was the logical first focus for women's financial inclusion. "It obviously used to be the G8 that was calling the shots. Now there is a huge shift -- a bigger player and a more important player, presenting a great opportunity for the intervention of a coalition. The G20 is a great target for the La Pietra Coalition." But, she cautioned about the difficulty of making a success the first time out: "Last year some people tried to get gender on the agenda at the last minute at the G20 in Korea. There were seven main priorities there, seven working groups -- but only on 'skills strengthening' was gender mentioned."

Another observational/journalistic caveat but one of a positive nature -- the people who met here deal with women's issues: slavery, land rights, access to finance, women as a weapon of war, maternal death, girls in education, to name a few. None of those are easy work. And yet the members of the coalition, inspired by the words of Women for Women International's Zainab Salbi, left the meeting convinced that there were pursuing the right path for women's financial inclusion.

"It's all going to happen," said Sandra Taylor, Senior Director of the La Pietra Coalition. "It's really all going to happen."