Gender equality: whose battle?

By Francesca Attolino

At the World Forum for Democracy 2018, held in Strasbourg on November 19-21, I met a smart young woman. She is Icelandic, 24 years old, a politician, and she claims she has quotas to thank for her presence in politics and at the Forum. And she was in the right place, because the Forum centred around women’s public, political and economic participation, and combating violence against women in the wake of #MeToo.

It was an honour and a real opportunity to participate, even if it is very sad gender equality is still needs to be defended so publicly. The question is now, what are the keys to fostering change?
Language is one of them. In Italy, we are redefining job titles, to ensure a ‘lawyer’ can be described as female too (e.g. Avvocato – Avvocata), and vice versa for the secretary positions. English language is gender neutral in its conception, but Italian and French are not. During the Forum there were interesting proposals concerning languages such as shifting from “droits de l’homme” to “droits humains” or talking about “gender justice” instead of the most commonly used “gender equality”. Gender equality is not only about fairness. Women representation and engagement is key to greater equality, development, growth and peace across society.

A second one is maternity, as the elephant in the room of any gender discussion. Marlène Schiappa, serves as the Secretary of Equality between women and men in the French Government, and was speaking at the Forum as well. I felt deeply inspired, as her speech laid out the idea that maternity should not be conceived of as a gap, but as a plus, a master. Being a mother means having organisation and planning skills, motivational skills, being an HR professional. It is is about team work and leadership, energy and sacrifices, perseverance, risk management and a lot of other things. This video is worth 3 minutes of your time, because it reframes something we thought was so stubbornly fixed.

How can we succeed in reaching gender equality, and what are the most effective measures towards it? I would say that we have at least three ways to reach this ambition, but we have to use them all simultaneously.

– Education

– Capacity building and leadership, from empowerment to power

– Temporary measures

Education is self-evident. We need to raise new generations of young girls and boys without stereotypes, with a strong sense of respect and solidarity. We need teachers and professors committed and knowledgeable about the cause. We should all be aware that gender is an intersectional and crosscutting theme, and we need to adopt and mainstream the gender perspective in every day life. Gender may be seen as something related to politics and representation, but it is also fundamental to economics, science, policy making, the quality of democracy, inclusiveness, growth and peace.

Capacity building is about the opportunity to develop new skills, to challenge the actual leadership and politics, both typically built on a male perspective. Historically, women spoke less than men did – at least in public occasions! – but this gave us the chance to become very good listeners, and listening produces better decisions. Listening, for instance, is key to participatory democracy and citizens’ engagement. Michelle Bachelet once said that when a woman enters politics, her life changes. When more women enter politics, politics changes. I am sure we can extend this to all fields; once women will be equally represented in every field, they will strongly add value to the general equation.

Finally, temporary measures. They are often – incorrectly – associated with political ideology and polarization. They should be introduced in a unilateral way to promote and accelerate the road to a balance participation of men and women. Temporary measures, the best-known ones being quotas, must be in place for a short and defined period of time. And must be conceived as the first step of a bigger and wider plan to reach gender equality, the so-called enforcement mechanism.

These are not theoretical or dogmatic line items. The young lady I met at the Forum was there because of cultural changes like these. She needed them to experience politics, and to have the opportunity to push for her country and for Europe. Without them, Iceland would have lost a wonderful occasion to be renewed and to be inspired by this girls’ mind.

I want for my country exactly the same. I want to be represented by a woman, by a young woman, by her knowledge and skills, by her emotional intelligence, by her willingness to do the best she can.

So, coming back to the title “Gender Equality: whose battle?”, this is my battle, your battle, this is mankind’s battle and we need to stand together and fight for it.