Spain, women, and reproductive rights: a battleground, again

alberto-ruiz-gallardonIf we needed proof of how fragile and reversible our rights, women’s rights, are today, even in the West, we had it last Friday, when Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón put forth a draft law to set back abortion legislation by 25 years. You can read the details here, but if the law passes, you will only be able to get an abortion in Spain if you have been raped, or if your physical or mental health is at risk.

I am angry to see women’s rights as a political battleground, again; angry that governments seek consensus by legislating women’s bodies; angry that politicians think it is their God-given right to mandate that any woman should be forced to live through the confusion, pain and anger of an unwanted pregnancy, and not be able to choose the lesser pain, if not illegally.

Legislatures where women’s choices are so harshly limited should start introducing some restrictions on what men can do with their bodies, too. See the initiative by Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, who introduced a bill to require men who seek erectile dysfunction drug prescriptions to see a sex therapist, undergo cardiological tests, and receive counseling on the viability of celibacy as a lifestyle option (read more here and here). Says Sen. Turner:

The men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues—the least we can do is return the favor. It is crucial that we take the appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects of these drugs. When a man makes a crucial decision about his health and his body, he should be fully aware of the alternative options and the lifetime repercussions of that decision.

This is not irony, this is not tongue-in cheek: this is anger, fighting back through all available means. So let’s remember that we can take to the streets in protest, but we can also use Parliaments and bills and all the legislative apparatus to get lawmakers to understand why we’re so angry.

Freedom badgeAs Jane Smiley wrote after reading a hundred novels, “I saw that the world I thought was established and secure, at least in the West, is more fragile than I thought, because it is newer than I realized.”

We are not established and secure. Keep your guard up. Fight back.

The extraordinarily important nugget you missed in Anne Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic piece about gender equality and careers

Talk about work-life balance: it is only today, several days after its publication, that I’ve had the time to read Anne Marie Slaughter’s cover story in the July 2012 issue of The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” (which, as of today, has been recommended on Facebook approximately 178,000 times), as well as her first response to the storm of comments that flooded in as soon as readers saw it, “The ‘Having It All’ Debate Convinced Me To Stop Saying ‘Having It All'”. (Suggested alternative tags: #StumblingTowardParity,‬ #PushingForBetter,‬ #StillWorkingOnIt,‬ #GuysThisIsYourProblemToo,‬ #DemandingMoreForMoreOfUs,‬ #Feminism).

What an extraordinary woman! What a privilege to have had such role models as Hillary Clinton. And what courage in rocking a boat that many of our predecessors couldn’t rock, and many younger women – as she points out – seem to be giving up on rocking.

And here’s what’s been missing from the debate: the full implications of this paragraph in Slaughter’s essay (emphasis added).

The best hope for improving the lot of all women […] is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.

The issue is: how do we get to parity at the top in politics, in business, and in judicial ranks? Well, the standard American answer is: you vote for women and elect them, for elected posts; you promote a meritocracy in business; You change the culture in the workplace; you ask women to keep spinning their wheels, in the meantime, until they get traction.

And that’s why it doesn’t work. Many talented women decline to seek political office, or “leave before they leave” (in Sheryl Sandberg’s words) in the corporate world, because they feel that, even if they gain that extra ounce of power, the odds will be even more ruthlessly stacked against them. The rate of progress is just too slow. Or negative. Take a couple of data points:

  • In 1998, Catalyst projected in their their Census of Women Board Directors that, at the then-current rate of change, it would take 66 years, until 2064, for women to reach parity with men in the ranks of Fortune 500 boards.
  • In 2007, Catalyst projected that, at the then-current rate of change, it would take 73 years for women to reach parity with men in the ranks of Fortune 500 boards.

I believe that, in publishing more recent editions of the study, they’ve quit publishing any such extrapolations. For good reason, it seems.

When all else has failed, why have we kept trying the same recipes? Even Slaughter’s recommendations – no matter how lucid her analysis – see to me to fall short. Changing the culture of “face time”; redefining the arc of a successful career; rediscovering the pursuit of happiness; using technology and creativity; enlisting men – all are worthwhile efforts, and I praise her for spelling them out once again. But they’re not enough. We need to change the rules.

Let’s mandate gender parity in the candidate pool for elections. Let’s start linking campaign finance ceilings to the number of women a party gets elected: the more you achieve gender parity in the posts you win, the more funds you can raise. And let’s not forget – let’s mandate gender equality in corporate boards: how else do you think the Norwegians got to 40%? Similar measures have been passed, although at a much slower pace, to promote women’s board membership in Spain and Italy. EU Commissioner Viviane Reding, after a consultation on the topic, is said to be planning to introduce a draft directive this October mandating at least a 40% board participation by each gender.

Slaughter’s essay shows the need for a bold stand, but refrains from taking it. It is time for us, in America and elsewhere, to acknowledge that we need to put in place the right rules. As in the variously-attributed quote, insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. Let’s try something different: the worst that can happen is that it will be a different sort of mistake. And it’s well worth trying: if we succeed, we will have created a better world for our daughters.

This is what the Greek default looks like

Europe will have to make its choice this year. Either a much tighter, more constrictive fiscal union with a central bank that can aggressively print euros in this crisis, or a break-up, either controlled or not. I don’t think they can kick the can until 2013, as the market will not allow it. Either the ECB takes off its gloves and gets down to real monetization when Italy and Spain need it, or the wheels come off.

If you want to understand what’s going on in global financial markets, go to John Mauldin’s site and subscribe to his free weekly newsletter Thoughts from the Frontline. Every week he pores over analyst reports, travels, talks to a lot of people who know what’s going on behind the scenes, and sits down to package thoughts, numbers and charts to be conveniently delivered to your inbox to provide you with food for thought.  Also from this week’s newsletter: this is what the Greek default looks like.

Greece has two choices. They can choose Disaster A, which is to stay in the euro, cutting spending and raising taxes so they can qualify for yet another bailout; negotiating more defaults; getting further behind on their balance of payments; and suffering along with a lack of medicine, energy, and other goods they need. They will be mired in a depression for a generation. Demonstrations will get ever larger and uglier, as the government has to make even more cuts to deal with decreasing revenues, as 2.5% of their GDP in euros leaves the country each month. There is a run on their banks. Any Greek who can is getting his money out.

Greek voters will then blame whichever political group was responsible for choosing Disaster A and vote them out, as the opposition calls for Greece to exit the euro. Which is of course Disaster B.

Leaving the euro is a nightmare of biblical proportions, equivalent to about 7 of the 10 plagues that visited Egypt. First there is a banking holiday, then all accounts are converted to drachmas and all pensions and government pay is now in drachmas. What about private contracts made in euros with non-Greek businesses? And it is one thing to convert all the electronic money and cash in the banks; but how do you get Greeks to turn in their euros for drachmas, when they can cross the border and buy goods at lower prices, as inflation and/or outright devaluation will follow any change of currency. It has to. That is the whole point.

So how do you get Zorba and Deimos to willingly turn in their remaining cash euros? You can close the borders, but that creates a black market for euros – and the Greeks have been smuggling through their hills for centuries. And how do you close the fishing villages, where their cousin from Italy meets them in the Mediterranean for a little currency exchange? What about non-Greek businesses that built apartments or condos and sold them? They now get paid in depreciating drachmas, while having to cover their euro costs back home? Not to mention, how do you get “hard” currency to buy medicine, energy, food, military supplies, etc.? The list goes on and on. It is a lawyer’s dream.

There is a third choice, Disaster C, which is worse than both of the above. Greece can stay in the euro and default on all debt, which cuts them off completely from the bond market for some time to come. This forces them to make drastic cuts in all government services and payments (salaries, pensions etc.), and suffer a capital D Depression, as they must balance their trade payments overnight, or do without. Then they choose Disaster B anyway.

Meet Francesco Marini Clarelli, European Business Angel of the Year

There are business angels in Europe: they are less visible than the Silicon Valley super-angels, but they do invest in early-stage enterprises, they work to make the business environment more open to entrepreneurs, and they believe in the power of entrepreneurship to add dynamism to our tired economies.

On May 12 Francesco Marini Clarelli, an Italian, was honored as Business Angel of the Year by EBAN, the European Association of business angels, seed funds, and other early stage market players. As an angels’ lobby, EBAN has committed to a few notable efforts, such as producing the white paper on Women and European Early Investing and launching a range of initiatives to support women and early stage investing. Italian Angels for Growth, the network that Francesco founded a few years ago in Milan, has been selected by EBAN as a pilot organization in its effort to bring women from 5% to 20% of early stage investors in Europe by 2015.

I have known Francesco for a few years, not just in my role as a mini-angel and member of Italian Angels for Growth, but also as a family friend. He prefers to keep out of the limelight. But in wine connoisseurs’ circles, he is best known for returning to Christie’s a bottle of 1784 Château d’Yquem, which they had mistakenly shipped to Francesco, instead of the 1904 he had bought: still a fantastic vintage, but not as phenomenally rare as the 1784, which may or may not have been a legendary “Jefferson bottle“.

Congratulations, Francesco! I hear you opened the 1904 with some friends a few years ago, but I am sure your cellar offered a choice of other worthwhile bottles to celebrate the EBAN award in style.