“It is 2017 and we are still doing THIS!” was the sentence and sentiment I heard repeatedly at the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York City this past week. The “this” referred to people meeting, brainstorming, and at times lamenting about the gender inequality in global economic development. Basically, how is it even possible in 2017 that we are still talking about women’s inequality?
The purpose of the meeting seemed clear enough: to address the business community’s role as champions of women’s and girl’s empowerment, with the focus on measuring impact and promoting progress. Unfortunately, the reality of the conference was less about addressing solutions to inequality but rather filled with well-crafted corporate half-time ads designed to convince someone (maybe the banks or corporate test markets) that women have a monetary value in today’s global economy.
So, we looked at charts. Discussed the “return on investments for girls versus women.” We did this using the paradigm created by corporate cultures that speak with the goal of convincing stakeholders that women do indeed bring monetary value to their companies. We listened as many women from these large corporate cultures championed this monetary framework. After a day of data and advertisements, I left somewhat disheartened. Inherently missing for me was the acknowledgment that gender inequality is a justice problem fueled by ideologies of women’s inferiority. If we focus solely on the monetary outcome of investing in women, I believe we perpetuate the same system that creates uneven power dynamics in the first place. And if it was simply a numbers game, after how much money the private sector claims they’ve spent on women’s issues, you wouldn’t believe a single gender issue could still exist! As anyone in development knows throwing money at a problem does not create long-lasting change.
So, how do we go about working on gender inequality? Dialoguing and sharing experiences was my hope for this conference. That we could dig deep into these issues and look at real works of social change. Sadly, we never got there. I’m glad I can say that isn’t the case for my work here at home. I’m energized by the work at Dean’s Beans because we are deeply committed to small, meaningful projects that address gender inequality on multiple levels: economic, social, and emotional. Whether it is funding gender violence training in Rwanda, establishing a women’s maternal health clinic in Ethiopia, or developing mental health and women’s wellness programs in Guatemala, the holistic approach to people-centered development is the cornerstone of our social justice company. What that means is that the coffee farmers we partner with determine what they need from the development work. Then they take an active role in co-creating and managing the projects. The outcomes include women and men creating and challenging gender norms in their own cultures and communities. Women and men, together, creating communities of change. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not sure how to measure it all. What I do know is that we will continue to value fighting gender inequality over branding, budgets and bottom lines in 2017 and beyond.
Hope you will join us in the movement!