Across the world, 8 March is celebrated as International Women’s Day (IWD), and this year the theme is ‘Choose to Challenge’ – choosing to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.
Collectively, we can all create an inclusive world where women’s voices are not just heard, but respected and valued. It’s starts with us, within IofC, and it starts with sharing the stories of the women who are a part of our network. In honor of IWD, we interviewed some of the female identifying members of the International Council to get their thoughts on gender and equality as it relates to the themes of trustbuilding, ethical leadership, and sustainable living.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing women as peacebuilders?
Marta Dabrowska (MD): Women are still seen as inferior when it comes to bringing change, as they are not perceived as natural-born leaders, and hence not viewed as role models. What a woman says or writes often goes unnoticed, yet when a man says the same thing, he will be quoted publicly. A woman must try a lot harder, if she wants to be heard, and even then, her words may still carry less weight.
Roweida Saleh (RS): I find that the biggest issue facing women in peacebuilding is that their voices are not heard, or they are drowned out by male voices. This sometimes originates from ‘structural barriers’ and many other times from ‘social conservatism’.
Cecilia Silundika (CS): While there are many women involved in peace advocacy, men tend to dominate the formal roles in a peacebuilding process; there are mainly male peacekeepers, male peace negotiators, male politicians, and formal leaders. This inequity is heightened during conflict as power is unequally distributed between men and yet, women bear the brunt of conflict induced damages; having to care for children and strive to survive and protect the family.
What has helped you be a more effective advocate for equality in your career?
MD: In academia, and particularly in the field of humanities, a considerable balance has been achieved. The area I specialize in is very feminine in character, with far more women than men teaching and doing research. One can see powerful women there, and both colleagues and students show respect to us. I have not faced any discrimination except for, years ago, when I was accused of being a feminist after one of my paper presentations!
RS: Developing intrapersonal and interpersonal skills helped me develop to be able to advocate for equality and empowerment.
CS: I think awareness is the key for effective advocacy. It is important to self-educate about what is going on, and to be curious. With research tools readily at our disposal, we can educate ourselves about a lot. For me personally, I have been involved in women’s committees; networks; groups ever since I finished high school.
What does ‘empowerment’ mean to you?
MD: A right to take things in hand, to make independent decisions, which do not need to be approved by others, and to implement them
RS: I personally see ‘empowerment’ as having your voice be heard. Women should be able to decide on their own for their own lives with respect to marriage, career, and everything else. Empowering women is giving them control of their own life and their own voice.
CS: In my view, each person has inherent powers within them. So, empowerment to me is an effort to honor, acknowledge, and respect that power. It’s then a matter of taking concrete action to support and enable women to fully own and utilize their power in areas of concern to them.
How has the way you understand your role as a woman changed over time, and what (or who) prompted the most significant shifts in your thinking?
MD: Education has played the most important role in my case. As a woman, and an Eastern European, I have always had an inferiority complex when juxtaposed with Western people. My subsequent degrees and positions have given me a foundation I could firmly stand on. The need to perform in front of students and conference participants taught me how to express my thoughts and defend my views, how to be on an equal footing when collaborating with men.
RS: As I grew up and situations changed, I started challenging fear, challenging myself and my community. I can write endless stories of the times people in my community made me feel ‘less’ because I don’t have children and therefore, I don’t fit in the typical role of a woman which is a mother. However, I came to understand that I, and only I, create my outward image, and so what they see is only through the lens of their own experiences, fears, and judgements. I have a role as a human being who is proudly an empath, a female, an educator, a wife, a trustbuilder, and an advocate for equality.
CS: It is the active participation on various boards, leading women empowerment workshops in my community and globally that has sharpened my vision and perspective. Also being a mother of three girls I take it upon myself to show leadership and model behaviors that help them to understand who they are and what they should not tolerate. At a young age my girls used to accompany me to conferences.