THE BLOG
05/26/2014 09:05 am ET Updated May 26, 2014

No Better Time to Talk About Inclusiveness

To judge from news reports over the past few weeks, Brazil is a nation divided. Old political alliances have splintered. The economy is losing momentum, the disenfranchised are losing hope. Even football - that reliable source of national pride and unity - seems unable to bring Brazilians together, as this summer's World Cup tournament gets caught up in the national debate.

While this climate of tense self-examination is likely to persist up to and beyond the country's presidential elections in October, it's important that Brazilians, from every sector of the economy and from every corner of society, make themselves heard. And this is where the Women's Forum can be helpful. The Women's Forum is the world's leading platform for women's views and voices on major social and economic issues. Since our inaugural Women's Forum Brazil in 2012, our discussions and working sessions have focused on inclusiveness as an essential component of a healthy society and economy. We have worked to help Brazilian women find their voice, make connections, move things forward. We have partnered with companies and organizations committed to understanding that gender equity is not merely the right way forward; it's the right way to do business.

In recent years women have moved into leadership roles in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, sometimes spectacularly, as with the election of presidents Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina, and Michelle Bachelet (twice) in Chile. We have also seen some significant legislative victories, such as Brazil's landmark 2006 "Maria da Penha" law on domestic and family violence. Are women better off today than they were a few years ago? That point is debatable - and we will, indeed, be debating it May 26-27 in São Paulo's Grand Hyatt hotel at this year's Women's Forum Brazil.

We must be careful at this juncture not to succumb to pessimism. But we also must avoid thinking the marathon race for equality has been won just because women have enjoyed a few good laps around the track. Across Latin America gender-based economic disparity persists, and incidents of gender-based violence are escalating. The most recent Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum paints a disturbing picture, showing how women continue to be excluded from the workplace and denied access to education and healthcare. The report also indicates that, of the world's countries with the highest femicide rates, half are in Latin America. At this year's Women's Forum Brazil we will hear from a survivor of domestic violence. After enduring beatings from her husband for years, Kika Pessoa managed to free herself, return to school, and she now supports her daughters on her salary as a housecleaner. She asked to share her story so that other women might be inspired to stand up to violence within their home.

Our two-day conference will also host some of the women and men who are leading the way to a more prosperous, inclusive future. We will hear from corporate visionaries. We will meet a new generation of young entrepreneurs and women running SMEs or NGOs in Brazil and Latin America. This year's theme, Making vibrant growth for all, pushes us to look not only at prospects for stimulating economic growth, but to look at what it will take for that growth to be vibrant - that is, sustainable, equitable and, yes, inclusive.

Brazil's economy, the world's seventh largest, is no longer ticking over the way it did during the heady days of the commodity boom. So how can Brazil get back on the road to recovery? Where do we go from here? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Women's Forum is a springboard for ideas, not a peddler of prescriptions. What is blatantly obvious, though, is that the best solution for Brazil will be the one that is most inclusive. Put an end to gender disparity. Put an end to every other kind of disparity that prevents people from contributing their talent and realising their potential. Pull down these artificial barriers so that true prosperity can take hold.

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