“La femme est l’avenir de l’homme” (Woman is the future of man) so sang the French singer Jean Ferrat in 1975, inspired by a poem of Louis Aragon, and as a tribute to the progress of women’s movement as mentioned in the book under review. A women’s world, a better world?” by Muriel de Saint-Sauveur, puts before the reader just that hypothetical perspective: what would the world be like, were it to be governed by women….? What changes or reforms would they bring? How would one’s lives change as a result? Would their priorities be different ? Would the world be a much different and better place if men and women shared power on an equal basis? These are the major questions that the writer asked of the hundred women she interviewed from 33 countries across five continents.
The writer enjoyed a vantage point for such an enterprise as she is Director of Diversity for Mazars – an international group specializing in audit and consultancy with affiliates in over 60 countries. She also heads the International Marketing and Communication Agency of the Group. That gave her the opportunity of getting an insight into the diverse lives of women the world over, the disparities in their situations involving various cultural and emotional aspects, as well as their priorities. Such an enterprise leads the writer to remark, “..what is remarkable is how the thoughts of hundred women from so many different countries, origins and cultures can converge so closely,”enabling us to envisage new perspectives. Nadia Ait-Zai, deputy mayor of Algiers, hypothises that a Women20 Summit would change the direction of conducting world’s political and economic affairs. “Perhaps it is because they give life that women are less inclined to engage in wars that result in death”, is her opinion.
Though based on hundred interviews, the book is not a compilation of interviews as such. The writer brilliantly portrays the women in their various capacities, bringing out their character and personality, and weaves in their rich experiences, viewpoints and desires in an interesting style under the headings: What women are; What women can do; and, What women want.
The women interviewed belong to countries ranging from Algeria to the United States of America and to professions ranging from banking to business to politics, arts, etc. Though not in positions of power, they have gained prominence culturally, politically or economically.
Throughout, a positive anticipation prevails, even when there is an acknowledgement that ‘being a woman is a handicap’. Muriel de Saint-Sauveur says, “On five continents, from north to south, either women are considered to be weak or they become fighters to prove their strength. Being a woman – in other words, belonging to one half of humanity – is still too often associated with an anomaly, and in some cases, a handicap when it is not simply a sign of inferiority…”
The book however opens a window to the prospect of a world where the focus shifts from the emancipation of women to that of the individual, leading to universal freedom. The age of ideologies has passed, leaving men in a state of disenchantment with a pessimistic outlook towards the future, whereas women “instill in us a desire for the future”, as pointed out in the preface of the book by Michel Ladet, a French sociologist.
Gilberte Beaux , a French banker, one of the interviewees, considers male-female opposition an absurdity and states that “Businesses run by both men and women are more financially sound than others.” They can even be a source of profitability. Studies in France have shown that companies operating over 35 per cent threshold – termed the “feminization threshold” – have a higher performance record, are more productive and create more jobs.”
By the same token, the writer believes women will play a key role in the future for several reasons. The 2008 financial crisis brought a definitive end to short term finances. The global balance of power has changed and is accelerating decentralization with a perceptible shift towards a decentralized balance of power, an effect that is also being encouraged by the Internet.Women operate with much more efficiency than men within a decentralized organization.
The only common element in the interviews is that all of them agree that had they been men, life would have been easier. Muriel de Saint-Sauveur explains this perception by saying that “after interviewing these women who have succeeded in rising to a status traditionally reserved for men, I can state that women’s position in society is still precarious…. Regardless of the position she holds a woman must constantly prove that she is the best person for that position. A woman is given much less margin for error than a man.”
The book aims to point out that the world will certainly be a better place if the objective is male-female harmony and gender complementarity. Even if their methods converge, the women have different priorities. Economy and strategy get less preference than education, peace, healthcare and sustainable development. Vision of a brave new world, is it?