The Night Owl Session at the Bled Strategic Forum delved into gender equality in the context of climate change and explored ways of how to make women agents of change by improving their participation in society and political decision-making. The debate, focusing on hard data and individual stories, showed there has been positive change, but equality is still a remote prospect.
Gender equality was presented from diverse perspectives as panellists talked about women in India, Morocco and Benin, migrant women in the United States, politics in Kenya and diversity at the highest level of decision-making.
Ms ElsaMarie D’Silva, Founder and CEO of the Red Dot Foundation in India, said the point was to create a “resilient and inclusive future”. As things currently stand, inequality is on the rise and people are being left behind, with women disproportionately affected. “We often don’t think about it because there’s no data and statistics about it, and as a result it becomes an invisible problem.”
Ms DSilva presented statistics on India, some of which show it to be the most dangerous country in the world for women. By many other indicators it is towards the bottom of the rankings – mostly due to gender equality, she said, speaking about the “overall low status of women, which constitutes an unfair playing field and then translates into many forms of violence.
Ms Cecilia Barja, a community organizer and writer from Bolivia who lives and works in the United States, spoke about the concept of “nanopolitics”, by which she meant reaching out to people individually as opposed to a bigger polity.
Recounting her experience with an immigrant woman, who would not engage with politics until she was finally approached on her terms, Ms Barja said that “sometimes we’re trying to achieve change through what seems like the right agenda, but it is not necessarily right for the people”.
Ms Elizabeth Maloba from Kenya, Change and Growth Facilitator at the Global Diplomacy Lab, brought racism into the equation, recalling how she once had a conversation about how locals in Kenya should not be trusted with managing wildlife, while in fact rich Westerners are the one killing wildlife in her country.
Ms Maloba said she refused to react like an “angry black woman” and challenged the public to say how they would react. When one participant asked her why she did not react like an angry white woman since she had every right to do so, she said that “I am afraid if I am an angry black woman, we will lose sight of the issues.”
Ms Badria Zeino Mahmalat, Project Manager of the Get involved! Project in Morocco, spoke about how her project promoted gender equality in Morocco and Benin as she argued that gender equality is closely connected to climate change.
She said the project aimed at empowering women to support the democratic transition in both countries. The aim is to sensitise men to have women in leadership positions and help young women advance in their political parties.
Ms Lilla Judit Bartuszek, Relations Officer at the V4SDG in Hungary, explored how influential people such as Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and former First Lady Michelle Obama can leverage their influence to promote gender equality. While acknowledging that they can indeed wield their power for good, she noted that their activities may also come across as hypocritical.
As the sole male panellist, Mr Ivan Nikolovski, Junior Researcher at the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” in North Macedonia, spoke about the situation in his country, which he said did not have a very positive record in involving women in decision-making.
But he also took a broader look, to the EU level and the global leadership, arguing that by excluding women from decision-making processes, they are prevented from participating in very important issues such as climate change. “Research shows that if women had been involved, they could have contributed more,” he stressed.