Women in business have the potential to break down societal gender divides, according to speakers at the Georgetown’s Gender and Development Forum in the Intercultural Center Auditorium on Friday.
The event, co-hosted by Georgetown Anti-Poverty Society and Georgetown Women in International Affairs, featured “A Series of Short, Powerful Talks,” aimed to engage students in understanding the role of gender in careers.
Melanne Verveer, the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and former U.S. ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, said women have the power to promote change.
“Women are on the frontlines of change, all over the world,” Verveer said.
Sudhir Shetty, the chief economist for the East Asia and Pacific region of the World Bank, said it is important to target the determinants of gender inequality rather than the symptoms.
“A lot of differences between men and women are not caused by discrimination, but by the fact that they work in different sections of the labor force,” Shetty said. “Carpenters earn a lot more than caterers. So the question becomes, how can we get women into those sectors of the economy that pay more?”
Evelyn Suarez, the president of the Association of Women in International Trade, said women participating in trade have the potential to help women across the world.
“It offers opportunities for women on both ends of the development spectrum,” Suarez said. “But unfortunately, trade is in trouble.”
Suarez said the Trump administration may enact far-reaching consequences on global trade.
“This is a very painful time for people in international trade,” Suarez said. “Unfortunately, we have had a movement against globalization, against trade, which is reflected in things like Brexit and the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election.”
Emily Bove, the executive director of the advocacy group Women Thrive Alliance, said a grassroots movement working directly with women’s rights organizations is necessary.
“If you take all the money that is being invested in gender and development, only 0.5 percent is reaching women’s rights organizations,” Bove said.
Bove said enhanced collaboration between the women’s rights movement and the international development community is necessary to ensure the continuity of the women’s rights movement in light of President-elect Donald Trump’s victory over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“It is important to do so today more than ever to ensure that the global women’s rights movement survives the next four years,” Bove said.
Elizabeth Vazquez, the president, CEO and co-founder of WEConnect International, a nonprofit that connects female suppliers and women-owned businesses to global markets, expressed the importance of funding women’s business opportunities.
“If we can get more money into the hands of women, they will ensure that this will be a better world for everyone,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez said female entrepreneurs face numerous challenges in securing startup funding.
“It is really hard in an asset-based lending environment to secure funding if you don’t have assets in the first place, if you don’t have equal access to economic opportunity,” Vazquez said.
The forum provided a platform for discussion on how to build a more inclusive global economy for everyone, according to Vazquez.
“It was really exciting to hear what is happening in the space of women’s development and seeing this not only as a discussion about human rights, but at the same time about having economic empowerment and resources,” Vasquez said.
GAPS Board Member Spencer Parsons (GRD ’17), who attended the forum, praised the scope and depth of topics covered by the speakers.
“This was a great opportunity to have a lot of different practitioners come together and talk about gender in a cross-sectional way, that was very impactful,” Parsons said.
Meghan Bodette (SFS ’20), who also attended the forum, said the forum successfully promoted the theme of female empowerment and ability.
“Women aren’t necessarily the victims of their own circumstance,” Bodette said. “They are actors with agency.”
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