How I dis­cov­ered my su­per­power in global women eco­nomic fo­rum

The Baltic Times - - EMPOWERMENT - Aiste Ptakauske

On May 8-13, I trav­elled to New Delhi, In­dia to re­ceive the Iconic Woman Cre­at­ing a Bet­ter World for All award at the an­nual sum­mit of Women Eco­nomic Fo­rum 2017 ti­tled “Women: Cre­at­ing, In­no­vat­ing, Un­der­stand­ing, and Driv­ing the Fu­ture”. On the one hand, I was re­ally look­ing for­ward to meet­ing women lead­ers from all over the world. On the other hand, I was won­der­ing what I could pos­si­bly say in my award ac­cep­tance speech to re­late to women and men of so many dif­fer­ent back­grounds. The an­nual sum­mit of Women Eco­nomic Fo­rum 2017 at­tracted over 2,000 del­e­gates from 150 coun­tries: Aus­tralia, Azer­bai­jan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cote D'ivoire, Czech Repub­lic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fin­land, France, Ger­many, Ice­land, In­dia, Iraq, Is­rael, Italy, Jor­dan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithua­nia, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, Nether­lands, New Zealand, Nige­ria, Pak­istan, Saudi Ara­bia, Sin­ga­pore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Su­dan, Syria, Turkey, UAE, UK, USA, to name only a few. The del­e­gates spoke on an ex­haus­tive range of top­ics such as busi­ness, eco­nomics, politics, fi­nances, en­trepreneur­ship, so­cial change, ed­u­ca­tion, me­dia, spir­i­tu­al­ity, and many others. At first, the task of re­lat­ing to such a di­verse au­di­ence seemed im­pos­si­ble. How­ever, by the end of the sum­mit, I ob­served a few com­mon ques­tions and themes emerge in all the talks and dis­cus­sions among the del­e­gates, re­gard­less of their na­tion­al­ity or oc­cu­pa­tion.

All voices could be heard

‘Women’s Eco­nomic Fo­rum is a sup­port­ive plat­form where women from all walks of life can come to en­hance their skills, at­ti­tudes, and net­works. This year, 18 Women’s Eco­nomic Fo­rum events are or­ga­nized across the world, with the pur­pose of giv­ing a greater voice and vis­i­bil­ity to women world­wide. This is, in­deed, the cen­tury of women and the car­ing and co­he­sive spirit they bring. We need to cel­e­brate the spirit and val­ues of women, be­cause we need those in our trou­bled times to re­gain our bal­ance and drive our fu­ture with sus­tain­abil­ity’, Dr. Har­been Arora, Founder and Global Chair­per­son of Women’s Eco­nomic Fo­rum (WEF), said be­fore the open­ing of the an­nual sum­mit.

The spirit of shar­ing, open­ness, and co­he­sion was, in­deed, a driv­ing force of the sum­mit. By bring­ing to­gether women and men from all walks of life, WEF man­aged to cre­ate a space where all voices and opin­ions could be ex­pressed, heard, and ap­pre­ci­ated, which gave im­pulse to many open and im­por­tant dis­cus­sions.

Women face in­equal­ity as early as child­hood

‘Lis­ten­ing to many of the talks, I of­ten got a feel­ing that women com­peted with men’, Tabish Muzaf­fer, an In­dian film­maker, shared his im­pres­sions of WEF 2017, ‘Why?! Women are in­her­ently su­pe­rior to men: they are more beau­ti­ful, stronger, smarter, and more em­pa­thetic. They don’t need to com­pete with men at all. I don’t un­der­stand why they do’. Although Mr. Muzaf­fer was prob­a­bly the only man among the sum­mit par­tic­i­pants to ex­press his thoughts so boldly, the ques­tion that he posed ran as an un­der­cur­rent in the speeches of many male del­e­gates of the an­nual WEF sum­mit.

The many pos­si­ble an­swers to this ques­tion, in my opin­ion, were best sum­ma­rized by Sham­siyya Mustafayeva, Man­age­ment Devel­op­ment Con­sul­tant and Trainer for the United Na­tions Devel­op­ment Pro­gram in Turkey and Azer­bai­jan: ‘Women face in­equal­ity since early child­hood. For ex­am­ple, in Azer­bai­jan where I come from, if a fam­ily can only af­ford univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion for one child, that child will al­ways be a boy, no mat­ter what the girls in the fam­ily have to say about that. I can speak from my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence too: when my brother was a young adult, he crashed three of our dad’s cars, and my fam­ily didn’t say a word to him be­cause he was a boy. Whereas I had to walk through my life as an ac­ro­bat on a trapeze: any step to the side could be seen as fa­tal dam­age to my rep­u­ta­tion by my fam­ily and, es­pe­cially, my dad. When women have to face such in­jus­tice since as early as they can re­mem­ber them­selves, they want to rec­tify it and fight for their right to have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as men do’.

Fight against in­equal­ity be­gins with a per­sonal strug­gle

The spirit of fight­ing, in­deed, dom­i­nated ev­ery ses­sion of the an­nual WEF sum­mit in New Delhi. Dif­fer­ent del­e­gates fought for dif­fer­ent things in their lives, depend­ing on their na­tion­al­ity, pro­fes­sion, so­cial class, race, and age: equal pay, op­por­tu­nity to break into pro­fes­sional fields con­sid­ered ‘male’, the right to choose moth­er­hood or share house­hold chores with their hus­bands, but most im­por­tantly, to be vis­i­ble, heard, and val­ued for who they are with all their choices, scars, and hu­man com­plex­ity. ‘In our so­ci­ety, women over 50 be­come in­vis­i­ble. It doesn’t mat­ter how much you achieved pro­fes­sion­ally or how much use­ful ex­pe­ri­ence you’ve ac­cu­mu­lated, as soon as you stop be­ing seen as a sex ob­ject, so­ci­ety is over you’, claimed Mar­ija Aus­rine Pav­il­ion­iene, a former mem­ber of the Lithua­nian Par­lia­ment. Women from other coun­tries as dif­fer­ent as Canada and In­dia im­me­di­ately em­pathized with this per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of hers.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences were at the core of most of the talks de­liv­ered at the sum­mit. Al­most ev­ery speaker had a per­sonal trauma that helped her dis­cover her power and gave her strength to live her au­then­tic life, de­spite what any­one might say. For in­stance, Jane Turner from Aus­tralia be­came a best-sell­ing au­thor and writ­ing coach only when she lost her se­cure civil ser­vant’s job at the age of 52. Nes­lyn Wat­son-druee be­came a lead­er­ship ex­pert in the UK and beyond when her boss told her that she would never get a pro­mo­tion, be­cause she is com­pe­tent, in­tel­li­gent, and black. Jeanette Falotico from the US founded her own en­ter­prise when her hus­band died and she be­came a sin­gle mother of triplets.

‘My friends call me Won­der Woman’, Jeanette writes in her blog. This def­i­ni­tion fit all the del­e­gates of WEF 2017. All su­per­hero fic­tion fans know that ev­ery su­per­hero, be it Won­der Woman, Su­per­man or Bat­man, have to un­dergo a ma­jor trauma to dis­cover his or her su­per­pow­ers. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the most del­e­gates, dis­cov­er­ing her su­per­pow­ers is not the big­gest achieve­ment of a su­per hero­ine. Ex­er­cis­ing these pow­ers ev­ery day against all odds is. Jeanette put it in words beau­ti­fully: ‘It’s hard to watch your hus­band be zip­pered into a bag and taken away by the coroner. It’s harder to tell your chil­dren, “Your fa­ther’s dead”. That’s for­ti­tude. Ex­pect­ing your mother-in-law to live with you and share in the joy of your kid’s lives for­ever, that’s honor. Buy­ing a home based solely on your earned in­come to debt ra­tio; that’s free­dom. Get­ting out of bed ev­ery day; that re­quires a strength that even I can’t de­scribe’.

The im­por­tance of en­gag­ing men

So what can be done to ease the daily day strug­gle of women to have an op­por­tu­nity to choose their path and live their au­then­tic lives? Is there any way to un­leash women’s su­per­pow­ers with­out ex­pos­ing them to trau­mas and or­deals of epic pro­por­tions? ‘En­gage the men!’ sug­gested H.E. Mr. Thorir Ib­sen, Am­bas­sador of Ice­land to In­dia, in the WEF ple­nary ses­sion “In Con­ver­sa­tion with Diplo­mats”. He gave a con­vinc­ing per­sonal ex­am­ple of such en­gage­ment. H.E. Mr. Thorir Ib­sen, it turns out, grew up in a fam­ily where he had to share all house­hold chores equally with his mother and sis­ters. Thus, he knew how to cook, sew, and clean since his early child­hood. It wasn’t un­til he started go­ing to univer­sity that he dis­cov­ered that jobs and chores are di­vided into male and fe­male. How­ever, this dis­cov­ery didn’t change his world­view that was formed by his fam­ily: all chores, jobs, and tal­ents are equally im­por­tant in the world, thus they should be equally shared by women and men. This per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence has led H.E. Mr. Thorir Ib­sen to be­lieve that if we want to cre­ate so­ci­ety with equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for men and women, we have to en­gage men in the process since the day they are born.

A bet­ter world for all is not cre­ated sin­gle-hand­edly

Dur­ing the five days that I spent at WEF 2017, be­fore I had to give my award ac­cep­tance speech, I came to un­der­stand that no one can cre­ate a bet­ter world for all on her or his own. We can only build thriv­ing so­ci­ety if we rely on each other’s tal­ents, gen­eros­ity, and good­will. It is our abil­ity to un­der­stand and help a per­son in need re­gard­less of that per­son’s gen­der, na­tion­al­ity, race, age or so­cial class that is the true su­per­power of the hu­man be­ing.

So in my ac­cep­tance speech, I said: ‘I speak in dif­fer­ent places: big in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences and the most re­mote vil­lages of the world. All peo­ple to whom I speak in these dif­fer­ent places ac­knowl­edge that art has power over them. But when I ask them, “Why do you ap­pre­ci­ate art? Why do you go to theatre, cin­ema, con­certs?” Peo­ple more of­ten than not re­ply, “To es­cape our lives”. And this re­ply both­ers me for two rea­sons. First, how do we man­age to cre­ate our­selves a life that we need an es­cape from? Sec­ond, why do we use the power of art to es­cape our lives? Why don’t we use that power to cre­ate our­selves a life that we don’t need an es­cape from? And that’s what I’ve been do­ing with my life: I have been mak­ing art that cre­ates pow­er­ful life for me and the peo­ple around me, the kind of life that one doesn’t need an es­cape from.’

To con­clude, af­ter long de­lib­er­a­tions and ob­ser­va­tions, I ar­rived at a sim­ple and straight­for­ward point: no mat­ter what we do and where we live, no mat­ter what our tal­ent and gen­der is, we all can do our part for cre­at­ing a bet­ter world for all where ev­ery­body can live pow­er­ful lives. I could see that all del­e­gates of WEF 2017 re­lated to that.

The an­nual sum­mit of women Eco­nomic Fo­rum 2017 ti­tled “women: Cre­at­ing, In­no­vat­ing, Un­der­stand­ing, and Driv­ing the Fu­ture” took place in In­dia, Delhi,

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