CIPE staff members serve in the field year-round, helping launch and maintain programs to promote democracy and free enterprise. As the world marks International Women’s Day on March 8, our Center for Women’s Economic Empowerment (CWEE) asked several staff members to discuss the impact of their work in empowering and promoting women’s initiatives around the globe.
Why do you believe empowering women is important?
Worldwide gender stereotypes and gender-based discrimination affect everyone. However, according to statistics and the current situation, women face a higher level of discrimination just because they are women. This happens due to many factors; one of them being historical.
For a very long time, women were excluded from all sectors of life; they were not allowed to study or to work, they did not have any property rights or electoral rights and they were fully dependent upon their husbands’ will. Their only and unique duty was to take care of the children and the house. This limitation of women to participate in various socio-economic and political aspects, accompanied by traditions, customs and lack of proper education, contributed to the spread of gender stereotypes, which are deeply rooted in people’s minds.
For example, in Moldova, a survey conducted in 2016 concluded that 65% of respondents still consider that men should be responsible for bringing home money, and women have to take care of the family and household. Women’s empowerment destroys gender stereotypes and grants women more opportunities to benefit as equals to men with rights.
Women’s empowerment is important to make their voices heard, to make their needs heard and to contribute to changing policies so women can obtain rights and benefit fully from opportunities. Besides this, by speaking about women’s empowerment and women’s leadership, we will support other women and girls around the world to start to believe in themselves and to dream big, because they will see positive examples and other women who have succeeded.
At the same time, it is important to remember that women are not a homogenous group. Addressing women’s empowerment through intersectional lenses should include specific measures to allow the most excluded women to raise their voices, as well.
What are some of the top priorities for women in business in your country?
In Moldova, women still are underrepresented when it comes to the business sector, representing only 33.9% of entrepreneurs. They struggle with many barriers, including lack of care and childcare facilities, which would allow them much more flexibility to dedicate to their businesses. Women tend to be poorer than men, thus they have less opportunities to launch a medium or a large enterprise. Women still are considered to be responsible for household chores, which makes them experience a double burden and creates barriers for work-life balance. Women still face many stereotypes related to their role in the family and in society.
An additional burden faced by women leaders in large companies is that they have to use a different management style than men in order to be respected and accepted by supervisees and colleagues. Women can be very harshly judged if they act tough.
In this respect, the most important priority for women in business is to break down stereotypes, to prove that women can be as reliable and knowledgeable business partners as men. Recently, more businesswomen share their life stories to inspire other women to follow in their steps, to gain self-confidence and to start running a business. Existing programs dedicated to support women entrepreneurs come with a support in increasing self-confidence of new entrepreneurs, in sharing essential information about launching and running a business and encouraging women to embrace businesses in sectors which are dominated by men, like STEM.
In addition, more businesswomen advocate for alternative childcare facilities, especially the regulation of nurseries, which allow more opportunities and more flexibility for women with small children to open a business or to dedicate themselves to an existing one, as well as to reduce somehow the burden of household chores. Not the least important is the promotion of fathers in taking care of children and the house.
Tell us a story of hope or change that you have seen in your work empowering women in your country.
During my work dedicated to women’s empowerment, the most inspiring human stories have been related to supporting women from underrepresented groups to start to believe in themselves and to get involved in political life despite all the barriers and challenges they faced.
I know a woman who, during a three-year period, gained self-confidence and succeeded in running for office, becoming an independent local councilor in her village. In less than one year, she managed to implement a few projects in the village dedicated to improving the infrastructure of local public buildings.
Who is a woman leader who inspires you and why?
It is very difficult for me to choose one woman who would inspire me, because I take my inspiration from many women I have met or I know. They are not necessarily leaders or operate in a specific area. I am inspired by all those women who succeeded in overcoming their situations: a young girl who tries to teach her male colleagues what gender equality is, a woman who opens a social business to hire other women, a woman who tries to implement a project in her community, a woman politician who advocates for women’s rights and supports gender-sensitive policies. All of them are so different and so unique, but they are united by their willingness to change something in their life, to bring change in their communities, to improve lives of other people and they do it despite barriers and challenges built-up by society.
I am a true believer in the fact that in order create success, women have to have each others’ backs; they have to support each other and create a sisterhood. My life motto is Madeleine Albright’s quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
Why is it important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
International Women’s Day offers the opportunity not only to speak about barriers and limitations women still face nowadays, but it is also an occasion to commemorate and to give tribute to those women and men who dedicated their lives and sacrificed themselves, so women could benefit from more rights and better opportunities. We take things for granted. We go to vote today thinking this is normal, but we forget that 100 years ago women were losing their lives to obtain this right to vote.
It is also a day when we can unite our voices around the world to still point out those limitations that exist, those barriers and those inequalities women still face.
Despite the fact that March 8 was declared originally as a day dedicated to recognizing women’s rights and barriers, some countries and some regimes have succeeded in altering the meaning of International Women’s Day. I am coming from a post-Soviet country, where March 8 was transformed into the day dedicated to the celebration of mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters, and it is still considered as such by most people. In schools and kindergartens there are organized performances where pupils dedicate poems and songs to their mothers. Shops and other companies announce promotions for “delicate and kind women.” On this day, everyone eulogizes “the women’s beauty, their kindness and how important they are in a man’s life.” Of course, all these efforts distract the public’s attention from the primary goal of the celebration.
Civil society and gender activists undertake considerable efforts to bring back the initial meaning of International Women’s Day. For 7 years in a row, there have been organized Feminist Marches in Moldova, dedicated to bring society’s attention to issues and discrimination faced by women. People start to speak more about the fact that on International Women’s Day we have to speak about gender inequalities; it has nothing to do with chocolates and flowers.