While discussing the consequences of the pandemic, the conversation about gender conveniently gets sidelined. Layoffs, uncertainty and digitisation take up primary positions. How the pandemic has been a disproportionately brutal low blow to the oppressed gender remains merely a box to be ticked during conferences and debates.
There are, undoubtedly, more discussions on gender imparity than ever held before. But, as Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum, reminded listeners, at the current rate of progress, thirty-six more years have been added for the world to be fair to women post-pandemic.
From 100 years pre-pandemic to 136 years now, the increase in the gap between men and women will bring harm to even more generations.
Interestingly, women leaders including Zahidi herself, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the Belarusian democratic movement, Masih Alinejad, Iranian-American journalist, Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan and Arancha Gonzalez Laya, Dean of PSIA at Sciences Po, assembled on the same day when Jacinda Ardern resigned from the position of the prime minister of New Zealand. She is best known for her exceptional leadership during the trying times of Covid-19. While the pandemic forced women to leave the workforce, it also made the world realise that women are needed in positions of power more than ever.
“Companies that empower women, do better. States that have female leaders find that issues that families confront are addressed and given voice to”, said Gretchen Whitmer. Further politicising the personal, Alinejad added that coming from an oppressive country like Iran, the revolution for women begins in the kitchen.
Gonzalez Laya further highlighted the need for women leaders as she said, “we need quality and solidity of results.”
As discussions on gender imparity mount, even as there are fewer women in the C-suite, the question isn't 'where are they?' any more. The question is, why are they not here? Laya shared that she has met a lot of outstanding female diplomats but few female ambassadors, and questioned why this should be so. She declared, “It is not that we talk about them (women). It is about that they be part, they be agents.”
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Sviatlana recognised a major problem that sometimes holds women back from revolting against the status quo. She said, “Our women are capable of everything. The only problem is that they don't believe in themselves.” She further stressed the importance of women leaders having each other’s backs. In her experience, she shared that she has found women in politics being kinder than men since the they look at each other as equals, and they stand ready to discuss and share the pain of fellow women leaders from different corners of the world.
The issues that women face all around the world are not the same, not even similar. While Whitmer talked about the importance of representation in positions of power for young women, Alinejad spoke for the women in Iran who do not have a claim over their own lifestyles. One word against the ruler can cost their lives. At this point, intersectionality becomes important and solidarity demands a tougher skin.
Alinejad talked about her unwavering will to fight against the regime and called upon women leaders to stand in solidarity with the women of Iran. She recalled her mother’s words, “If you are afraid of the darkness, the darkness can swallow you all, can devour you. Instead of being scared of the darkness, just open your eyes, stare into the darkness, then the darkness will disappear.”
On the matter of solidarity with respect to gender issues, the leaders didn't limit it to sisterhood even though it became a major pillar of the discussion. They expanded the discussion with an emphasis on the need for the involvement of male leaders. Gonzalez Laya said, “Women's discussion has to be all across.” The issues faced by half of the world’s population cannot be dealt with in isolation.
She added, “This conversation cannot just be with women leaders. It has to be with men and women seated around the table because at the end of the day what we want is a society that is more solid.”