Global Security, Women Leaders and Championing Workers’ Rights: Final Thoughts on Davos

By Anna Macdonald, Control Arms Director

A few days after arriving back in New York after the World Economic Forum, I’ve been reflecting on the strange experience of living for a week in a snowy Swiss mountain village where food and drinks are ample and free, and your neighbours are top political and business leaders.

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Anna at the WEF in Davos

Without a doubt, there are many interesting people to meet at Davos. I really enjoyed getting to know Sharan Burrow, the first women to head the International Trade Union Confederation. Sharan is an inspirational leader and served as one of this year’s WEF co-chairs. A former teacher, Sharan became a Union leader in her native Australia and is now the top international union leader, commanding the respect of political leaders and CEOs alike. She spoke on panel after panel, always eloquent and to-the-point on a large number of issues – she began a climate change panel with “There are no jobs on a dead planet.” Closing the gender pay gap, supporting migrants, ending human trafficking and acting on climate change are some of the issues that ITUC campaigns on, and who better to represent these issues at Davos than a woman who works to address them throughout the world.

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Sharan is certainly someone who adheres to the Davos claim – written on many signs and logos throughout the conference – of being “committed to improving the state of the world.”

But Oxfam’s statistic, widely quoted throughout the meeting, that the world’s 62 wealthiest people now hold the same wealth as the lowest 2.5 billion people combined really strikes home. This widening, extreme inequality gap will lead to infinite global problems – another statistic, presented by Oxfam Head Winnie Byanyima, shows that the 41 most violent cities in the world are where there is the greatest inequality. Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising. If Davos really is committed to improving the world, then acting on inequality is certainly the place to start.

I think it’s a very positive sign that the World Economic Forum focussed on global security as a theme for the first time, and I really hope it becomes more integrated into the main agenda. Discussions on how to deal with the consequences of conflict – such as refugee flows and high levels of violence – must be linked to the need to address root causes like economic inequality, conflict and arms flows.

Finally, there’s really no excuse for the gender imbalance at Davos. Less than 20% of official delegates are women. Walking around the conference, it seemed a lot more even, but then I realised it’s due to the large number of spouses (largely female) and the WEF conference staff. Actual white-badged delegates remain overwhelmingly white, middle-aged, and male. I realised this most acutely at a Global Security dinner, where barely over 10% of attendees were women (6 out of 46), and some of the conversation seemed decidedly old-school. For a forum expressly focussed on improving the present and looking progressively towards the future, this is one area that should be easy to fix – just because women aren’t equally represented yet at Davos doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of impressive women to choose from.