Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Writing this blog entry in the midst of the International Women’s Day celebrations, I am very happy to see that all over Bangkok there are numerous events celebrating women, not just one day but the whole week. The Peace Fellows of my group organized an amazing event here at Chulalongkorn University, and the next day I was invited to speak at the Soroptimist International luncheon with two other Fellows. All over the world women are celebrating their accomplishments and pledge to achieve more in the future.
However, today it is more evident than ever how much more needs to be done. Only 50 per cent of women are part of the labor force globally, with 76 per cent of men. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of women are in the informal economy, subsidizing care and domestic work, and concentrated in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations with little or no social protection. Women are still victims of violence, with every third woman globally having suffered some type of violence in her lifetime. Decision-making positions are still predominantly reserved for men, with only 10 women serving as Head of State and 9 serving as Head of Government in the world.
A friend told me the other day: “This is the best time to be a woman.” It was something a Buddhist monk had said to her answering a question about the position of women and Buddhism. Knowing that all around the world women are still discriminated against, I immediately disagreed. However, my friend continued saying that “best time” does not mean best time ever, but best time until now. This made me think.
Today, we see more and more women taking influential positions in politics and economy, getting their MA and PhD degrees, balancing work and taking care of their children, women-presidents, women-prime ministers… Women who are able to stand up and tell their misogynistic male colleagues who call them “weaker and smaller” that they are stronger than ever and they will not stop in their fight for equality… Women who don’t put up with mansplaining and disrespect… Women who are not afraid to respond to catcallers and men who humiliate them in public spaces…
Taking part in this Fellowship, it made me even more aware how important women are, especially for peace. Women are the pillars of the society, they are the ones raising children, they are the ones educating them since early age, they are the ones who engage in the real reconciliation after conflict and provide help and support to the victims. Women are the ones who suffer most in conflict, and yet they are the real peace-keepers after the conflict. Unfortunately, we rarely see women at the peace tables when peace is negotiated, despite all the proofs that when women participate in peace negotiations, peace is longer-lasting and more successful. We are accustomed to see women as victims of war, rape as weapon of war. However, few people are aware that women are prodigious and passionate negotiators, mediators, and peace-keepers.
I am happy that the issue of gender equality and women’s participation is interwoven in all the topics covered by this course. We discussed Resolution 1325, strong women involved in conflict resolution in the north of Thailand, women victims of violence, women’s work around peace and reconciliation. We met some extraordinary women and heard some extraordinary stories.
Finally, I am happy to see the men of my group engaged in women’s issues. I am thrilled to hear stories of women’s and girls’ empowerment in the rural communities of Kenya. I am pleased to see my male fellows discussing different aspects of women’s struggle, taking part in panels and events. I am feeling proud to hear them say they are Feminists!
Many people are confused what Feminism means, thinking it is all about domination of women over men. Feminism means equality, freedom, equity… It is women’s struggle to achieve the same rights men have had for a long time, to get the same opportunities, and to be able to obtain the same rewards and privileges. Empowering women does not mean taking away something from men. It means having women as contributors to the advancement of the society. Gender equality liberates women, but also men, from prescribed gender stereotypes. That is why we should all be Feminists!
It is indeed a good time to be a woman. I am glad that I came to realize this during this amazing time of my life as a Rotary Peace Fellow.
Natasha Dimitrovska – Macedonia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22