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The Reykjavík Manual: a guide to help build back better

As high-level global leaders gather virtually this week for the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, with an aim of “creating real impact through concrete and forward-thinking policies in 2021,” Women Political Leaders (WPL) and The Female Quotient hosted a discussion focused on advancing solutions by way of the Reykjavík Manual, which offers tangible actions that leaders can use to build a more equitable society. This practical guide by women leaders from around the globe follows the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Tuesday’s discussion was built around the first chapter of the Reykjavik Manual, addressing equality between women and men a fundamental human right, as well as the foundation for a more prosperous and sustainable world. 

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, President and Founder of WPL, opened the discussion by asking how women leaders can accelerate change.  Rebeca Grynspan, former Vice President of Costa Rica and current Secretary-General of the Secretaría General Iberoamericana (SEGIB), said that leaders should put shame or fear aside as they seek to change behaviour within their own environments. “Look for allies, make coalitions to bring the voices of women to the table,” said Grynspan, who is also a Co-Chair of the Reykjavik Global Forum and a Patron of the Manual. “Many times you are marginalised because you are in the position to change things.”

A Unifying Agenda

Moving to the subject of the pandemic and other pressing issues including climate change, Koch-Mehrin highlighted that “the faces of crisis management seem to only be male faces, despite having women leaders who manage the pandemic outstandingly well. And this is a big danger.”

Grynspan confirmed that women leaders “need to find the agenda that unites us. We need to go back to working cross-party, and cross-political-spectrum. If we can put forward an agenda focused on economic empowerment, and make a big push for the policies we need to enact, now is the time.”

Role Modeling

Hafsat Abiola, President of Women in Africa and Founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, offered a personal perspective on the cost of fighting for human rights. Her mother Kudirat Abiola was a Nigerian pro-democracy activist who was killed while demonstrating to free her husband from detention. 

“This high school graduate whose English was not perfect was able to mobilize thousands of people to fight for their rights,” Abiola recalled. “Women’s power is unimaginable, and it begins with ourselves. We are always told that women should be nice and pleasing. Sometimes the things we need to say are not nice or pleasing, and people need to understand that we can’t adjust to their comfort. The world as it is is not acceptable to anybody.”

Pave the Way and Make it Safe 

Discussion facilitator Koch-Mehrin turned to Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, Co-Chair of the Reykjavík Global Forum, and Patron of the Reykjavík Manual, to ask how women leaders can encourage people to use the Manual in their work. “The Manual is about making sure that gender equality is about change that everyone needs to do in the family, in school, and in the workplace. The way the Manual is formulated is meaningful for everybody who works on shifting the norms and system,” Albrectsen explained.

“As we encourage leadership, we need to make sure to safeguard girls and protect them from abuse on all platforms. What we have seen is that 60% of girls on social media are harassed, and this rises with the strength of their conviction to change the world.”

Amanda Nguyen, CEO and Founder of Rise whose personal tragedy as a rape survivor drove her to create a movement that won strong legal protections for sexual assault victims recommended that the Manual include input from those who have experienced the very inequities that the Manual seeks to address. “It is critical that people who have the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems are people who face that problem everyday. The law has a gender, and that gender is not female. How can you legislate when you don’t understand the lived experience of people?”

The Reykjavík Manual is a new practical guide by women leaders from around the globe, presenting concrete actions and proven solutions that all leaders can use to build back better. It follows the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, with 17 chapters to address the 17 SDGs. 

This session, held in the context of the Davos Agenda, proved particularly significant, giving leaders an opportunity to continue providing input to the Manual, an ongoing project that will expand throughout the year. Tuesday’s session will be followed by roundtable discussions through 2021 on each of the SDGs.