Women and Men, Be Bold for Change

I was about to send a Happy International Women’s Day post in Facebook and tag those women from my friends list who have had the greatest impact on me, or whom I admire the most. But the more women I tagged, the more names popped into my mind and I noticed I admire almost all the women I know!

The power of women to break through the glass ceilings, to keep pushing through and conquer countless obstacles in a world that is still vastly run and made for men, is astonishing. Women hold the power to change the world. For better, for all. And we need men to take our side on this.

I’m in love with an amazing man, have a great dad and brother for family role models and been blessed with many male friends throughout my life. Many male government and business leaders and celebrities have also proven worthy of admiration in their quests to use their power for the better of all. I firmly believe in the greatness of men – but equally to that of the women. And there’s definitely space for more men to take more action to support a more equal world.

Despite many positive developments, women are still being oppressed all around the world. I’m not just referring to the obvious human rights violations but to the oppression women generally face, everywhere. In EU, a Polish MEP recently said “Of course women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent”. That’s 2017 for you. And Hillary’s loss in the US elections was widely quoted as a perfect sample of a much more qualified woman losing a job to a much less qualified male. Simplified, but speaks the reality. In the company I work for, 75% of employees are women – but 75% of BOD men. Statistics that are actually on the positive side if compared globally, as most businesses are run by men, even if with a women-heavy workforce.

In our next forum, we will have a panel focusing on gender empowerment in food and agriculture sectors, where closing the gender gap would generate significant increase in yield and strengthen the socio-economic status of households of smallholder farmers. Typically we’ve found it difficult to find a man to speak about gender empowerment. I was pleased this year to be able to quickly find a business leader, a man, eager to speak about how they advance gender empowerment, along with the non-profits and women rights advocates to provide inputs and tools for the how to.

In social media a video is spreading about a girl on a bicycle, who rips off the side mirror of a van, after having had enough of the driver’s “cat-talk” – talking down on her and treating her as a sex-object. All the respect for her for having the balls to stand up for herself – many of us would be too shocked, scared or otherwise not ready to take action in such situation. Last week I also read a piece of news about a man who had harassed a woman in a bus by asking her to sit on his lap. She herself had been too overwhelmed in the situation to take action, but was lucky to find a supporter from among the other passengers. After hearing this man call for the woman repeatedly to take a seat on his lap, another guy stood up and “accepted” the invitation and sat on his lap, taking a humorous but protective action to help a woman in need.

It’s crucial for gender empowerment, to have more men advocating on women’s rights. That’s why UN Women are running their HeForShe campaign, and why all women rights’ organizations are looking for men advocates. Paul Polman from Unilever has tapped into an enormous business opportunity on the same, becoming in just a few years a world’s best known business leader speaking about women empowerment and showing how being a responsible business is good for the business.

The world is divided, not just between genders but between privileged and under-privileged. From transgender toilets, public mocking of disabled people, weakening of laws protecting women’s rights to their own bodies to the vast spread of hate-speeches, the world is increasingly forgetting why and how to love and appreciate differences.

The international women’s days theme for 2017, “Be bold for change”, reminds everyone to take action and stand up for those who need help and support, in which ever way they can. One doesn’t need to stand in front of a tank or take a bullet for someone else. Literally standing up, showing support begins with small everyday gestures. Whether a man or woman or other or a prefer-not-to-define – gender, be bold to support a positive change in the world.




Athletes, who happen to be women

The Rio olympics have raised a lot of social media discussion on sexism and the way women’s achievements are reported and generally spoken of. The media still diminishes the achievements of female athletes – consistently. American Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who won bronze in the trap shooting, was in the press coverage referred to only in relation to her famous husband. Another athlete’s husband-coach was credited by a reporter to be responsible for her performance. Another gold medalist with a world record was a secondary news under a male silver-medalist from the same day.

In the Finnish media, the focus in the past days has been on the woman who’s the only medalist for us so far. A boxer with a story. She had only been training boxing for the fun of it, until at the ripe age of 28 and with 2 kids, her coach awoke her passion and she started taking the sport seriously. Disturbing was to see comments on her story undermining the stunning achievement, and the sarcastic requests to highlight men who are fathers as well. Of course mother and fatherhood are equally important but when talking about athletes, becoming a mother is a completely different challenge than becoming a father. Yet, it seems it’s not clear to all that a woman’s achievement and success story could for once be featured in media, instead of that of a man’s.

And what on earth is all this talk about women athletes hair-dos and make-up? Honestly it’s horrible that female athletes have to compete in their looks as well, as if that was more important than their actual performance. I’ve heard reporters in Rio have been actually having discussions on the gymnastics make-ups?

I’m glad the global sporting event is gaining attention to gender roles and equality, and hope the discussions continue past the games and beyond sports. Because in pretty much every field in life women are still lesser-valued than men.

In my current job, as we organize large international conferences, gender equality is a difficult topic. Namely, when inviting speakers our team wants to achieve full gender balance but struggles event after event in achieving the target. We have a certain level of seniority as a guideline for accepting a speaker, and it’s clearly how there are far fewer women in such roles than there are men. There are of course many brilliant women and excellent public speakers as well, but still too few to easily achieve 50-50 speaker balance from both genders. Only panels where all invited organizations / companies straight-forwardly nominate women are panels where gender equality or women empowerment is being discussed. And these are panels where we desperately want men to speak in.

At least, as Rio reporting failures and the responses to those are showing, world is slowly waking up to this. It’s no longer acceptable and “passable” to diminish women’s achievements or give the credit of their success to the men in their lives. Social media, keep it up. We all have a role to play – it ‘s never a funny joke to be sexist.




The Hell in a Paradise

Last friday I came across an article written by Imrana Jalal, originally posted as an ADB blog, about the acceptance of violence against women, by women. In her text she explains how 81% of women in East-Timor believe that husbands have a right to beat their wives. Women, thinking that violence against women is acceptable. That a husband, beating his wife, is not necessarily doing wrong.

I’ve been dwelling on this all weekend long and it still makes me sick in stomach and gets tears in my eyes.

It’s a custom, how things always have been. Husband on East-Timor have always been beating their wives, and daughters are brought up in that environment. Where there’s no alternative model existing, the traditions are not questioned.

Jalal writes about other examples in the Pacific Islands as well, showcasing how small island nations without much influence from outside can develop extremely unequally. Many developed nations also have high violence rates, often domestic too, but what really struck me with the Pacific island statistics was the fact that women find the beatings justified, acceptable.

That can only be changed by education. A new model needs to be introduced – for men to learn non-violent ways of expressing themselves and for women to understand their equal worth. Children need to be taught that violence is never an answer and never acceptable. The understanding of how violence is never acceptable, can’t be taken for granted. It needs to be taught.

I do believe behavioral patterns can be changed and wish the report on these horrifying statistics enables international organizations to introduce education programs in the Pacific Islands. Changing the mindset of people won’t happen overnight but it can be achieved. There certainly is an urgency and need for trying. I hope the next generation won’t grow up in accepting a fist on a face as an argument.

I don’t need flowers, I want equality

imageDid you get flowers and chocolate on the Women’s Day?

It seems like the international women’s day as become a day to celebrate womanhood, one day in a year where all women should be appraised. Many of my friends posted pics on Facebook on the flowers and gifts they received from their hubbies. But shouldn’t they get pampered, receive flowers and be shown they are loved every day of the year, not specifically because they are a woman and the 8th of March is dedicated to them?

The international women’s day isn’t about chocolate and flowers. It’s about equality. “Pledge for Parity” is the UN theme this year, raising awareness to the ever-existing disparities between the genders. Women are not men’s equals in many countries, topics, rights etc.

The international women’s day should be celebrated as a day for equality, acknowledging that both sexes are equally worthy and neither should be treated above the other.

I don’t want flowers or chocolates. In a relationship I expect love and tender treatment every day. I want to be appreciated as the person I am. Love and appreciation needs to be shown on a daily basis. On a women’s day, a romantic gesture from a man would be to say, “Darling, I love you every day and since today is the international women’s day, I’ve donated money to support, protect and empower women worldwide, hoping many more will have equal chances for happiness”

Every day of the year I want women in the world to fight for their rights and for their equality, and I want men to stand up for them. In the spirit of the international women’s day, let’s celebrate and demand for equality.

Proud to be a Woman

Today is the international Women’s Day and since gender empowerment is a topic very close to my heart, I decided to dedicate not just the day but the full week to sharing excellent, inspiring articles and stories on women empowerment.

It’s pretty cool to have a job that allows me to spend some time every day reading awesome articles, blog texts and stories of inspiring projects. Today I started with a blog text by Jenny Costelloe, who is the director of country partnerships at Grow Asia. She writes about the lack of mainstreaming women in business, missing on the economic and societal benefits which women empowerment have been proven to bring on. Last week I chatted with her on this topic after which she agreed to write more about it – the conversation started from us trying to identify companies who are running specific programs on women empowerment in agriculture. We have found none, at least none interested in talking about that work on the Responsible Business Forum on Food and Agriculture which we are organizing and where Jenny will be moderating a session on this topic.

A woman lifted out of poverty in average takes 4 others with her. It makes financial sense in addition to the human values to empower women. In agriculture, FAO has estimated that women empowerment could increase food production by 20-30 % providing enough food for 150 million of the world’s hungry.

Another woman I look up to and am inspired by is Jeannette Gurung, who shared with us her post regarding innovations that could “reverse the historic neglect of women and gender within environment and climate initiatives”. Jeannette is behind the amazing W+ initiative and has been an excellent support and challenger in designing the discussion topics to the RBF Jakarta, especially focusing on how to address women as primary farmers, identifying key stakeholders and proposing useful approaches to improving women-farmer’s acknowledgement.

My Linked-In and Twitter feeds have filled up with many further inspiring women empowerment stories today and I hope they will continue the same way. So many organizations like UN Women, WOCAN, Grow Asia and SEI are trying to shift the businesses’ and government’s focus to realizing the unleashed power and potential that empowering women possess. Women empowerment is a key to solving many of the world’s most pressing problems – I’m humbled and proud to be a woman! Happy international Women’s Day!