Every day should be Women’s Day

“International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate achievements worldwide, but also to see what still needs to be done.” On March 11th the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Beijing co-hosted a seminar with UN Women to mark IWD, which was opened by Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs Joke Brandt and the UN Resident Coordinator in China Nicholas Rosellini. Over a hundred guests participated in the event, listening to a panel of women from different sectors, such as peacekeeping, accountancy, healthcare and engineering, and discussing this year’s theme: ’Think equal, Build smart and Innovate for change’.

Gender equality in the government

For Secretary General Brandt, gender equality is a topic close to her heart. “When I started my career there were very few women in high ranking positions and both the UN and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs were relatively male environments. This is still a challenge today and we need to put in effort to change this. Research shows that worldwide, if we continue doing things the way we are doing them, it will take us another 100 years to realize equal opportunities for women.” Currently, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working hard to realize its target of realizing gender balance on manager and ambassador level by 2025. Secretary General Brandt explained: “We have our targets and a special taskforce. But in the end, we’re not just doing this because of targets. Working in a diverse environment is more fun, as is also shown by research. And let’s not forget, diversity of thought is key to formulate successful policies.”

“We’re currently living at a time of intense change,” confirmed Mr. Rosellini. He discussed the innovations and changes which are transforming the labour market. “With the introduction of Artificial Intelligence and Industry 4.0, we don’t know what the next generation labour market will look like. We need to put gender into the equation, as it’s not just a human right but it should become a public good. Gender-equality should become mainstream.”

About conquering the bias

How do women who’ve overcome the bias look at this topic? During the panel discussion four women shared their experiences; women who challenged the system, disrupted ‘ business as usual’ and broke through barriers. Ms. Zhou (Partner & Diversity Leader at PwC), Ms. Li (Senior Colonel, Peacekeeping Officer), Ms. Meng (Chief Operations & Dispatcher Capital Airlines) and Ms. Jiang (OBGYN & MSF Doctor), discussed the challenges they faced and are still facing.

One of the topics discussed was gender bias. As Ms. Zhou mentioned: “We’re finally at the point where we’ve realized that we know what we don’t know. In other words, there’s still an unconscious gender bias, but at least we’ve identified it so we can work on changing it. We also see that women are becoming more confident. They dare to speak out and say ‘I am worthy of that position’.”

At the same time, it was also mentioned that being a woman can be beneficial in various professions and situations. For instance, the UN Peacekeeping force is actively looking to include more female peacekeepers, as they are often better at connecting with people who’ve faced trauma. Also Ms. Meng underlined this point. “The aviation industry is very male-oriented. But both genders have their strengths and weaknesses and by creating a more diverse team we become stronger.”

The diverse and enthusiastic audience, with many young women and men, also had the opportunity to ask questions. One of the things they inquired about was the panel’s opinion on the ‘leftover women’, a term sometimes used to describe unmarried women over thirty years old in China. The panel unanimously agreed that this is a clear example of gender bias, as there are of course also many men over thirty who have not yet married and it’s not a woman’s single purpose to get married. To challenge this concept parents will have to teach their children about gender equality and the role of education on all levels is key to tackle this. As was mentioned: “It’s our duty as parents to teach our children about this topic.”

All the speakers confirmed that education is a key factor in this. Ms. Jiang said: “I’ve been in situations where you meet children who barely even know their own name. Education, also in the field of gender equality, is key to create opportunities for the next generation. In addition to that, education on birth control and access to it is also essential, as it enables girls to be in charge of their own bodies.”