October 6, 2005
News & Opinion: The Power of the Purse--Notes from Around the World
One of the most notable developments in women's economic power has been a shift in how developing countries think about women's rights. Women's rights historically has been considered a "nice to have" but not a "must-have" in a country's development. But now some developing countries are finding that women's rights--such as the right to education and the right to own businesses--is also sound economic policy. For an excellent discussion of the topic see the Foreign Affairs article at http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20040501faessay83308/isobel-coleman/the-payoff-from-women-s-rights.html.
As Coleman points out this shift in thinking is still in the early stages, but increased education for women and access to business opportunities were two of the major forces behind the American women's transformation to economic powerhouse. Therefore, I would expect that access to such benefits will help transform women into major consumer forces in areas of the world such as Africa and Asia in the next decade.
On that same topic, in June 2004, the Saudi Arabian government lifted a ban on women obtaining business licenses. Before the change, women could only open a business in the name of a male relative. The change has brought about a marked increase in the number of women-owned businesses, according to press reports such as this one in the Japan Times.
But simply because women in Saudi Arabia are being given an increasing number of rights as men in their countries doesn't mean that they seek to be "Westernized." That message was heard loud and clear recently when Karen Hughes, the new undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and a close friend of President Bush's, traveled to Saudi Arabia in late September this year. When she suggested that women in Saudi Arabia weren't full participants in their society, she was challenged by the women in the audience. They told Mrs. Hughes that "Americans failed to understand that their traditional society was embraced by men and women alike," according to a New York Times report of the speech published Sept. 28, 2005 "Saudi Women have Message for U.S. Envoy."
Such a failure to understand how different women can be from one another is a key component of my book. Whether here in America or globally, too many companies have assumed that women are a homogeneous group who could be targeted with one message. But women can be as different from each other in the way they think about their lives, what they buy, what they want from companies, as they are from men.
On a lighter note, winemakers are targeting Japanese women as a way of introducing their products into a country where beer and hard liquor have been the traditional drink choices for men. See this article at http://lifestyle.iafrica.com/wine/features/440091.htm. for more information. Historically, Japanese women haven't been huge consumers of alcohol. But with the growth of women's economic and social power over the past 10 years, Japanese women are beginning to break that mold--and companies are realizing that women consumers can be a driving force in making a new product successful. Gina Gallo, granddaughter of Julio Gallo, has held wine tastings in Japan and executives for the American company say Japanese women are helping to spread the word about wine because they are more flexible and willing to try new things than their male counterparts.
If you have any stories or anecdotes about women consumers around the world, let me know. It could be the beginning of yet another book.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.