Speaking about “women’s issues” seems to be a crowd gatherer these days, and many think all has been said. But it is obvious that all hasn’t been said and done, because women still lack opportunities when compared to men, they don’t have enough representation and more often than not, are not included in the growth story. ICDO, headed by women, thought it was but natural that a weeklong celebration of interculturality couldn’t go by without discussing diversity and inclusion of women in the society. Held on 4th September 2019 in the beautiful Altes Rathaus, the panel discussion was on the topic of “Women in Leadership Positions: Inclusion and Diversity in Society”, and it was not by chance that the majority of the panelists were women. As it happens ever so often that even discussions on and about women exclude their voices, here, we heard it loud and clear. Every panelist brought their wealth of experience to the discussion and it became clear that all we, as women, need is just a seat at the table to turn things around for nearly 50 percent of the world’s population.
The evening began with some soul stirring classical music by “Flöte und Gitarre” duo. This was followed by a piano recital by award winning musician Abuzar Manafzade, who also played his original composition themed on peace and moved the audience.
The discussion that followed kept up the audience’s attention as the panelists shared their personal stories of trials and triumphs and expressed their thoughts on the role of women in all spheres of society and how we can achieve more diversity.
We had the first ever woman ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan, H.E. Nargiz Gurbanova, talk about the efforts of Azerbaijan since many years to make their society inclusive. Currently the Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Republic of Bulgaria, she spoke about the tight knit group the women working in the Foreign Office formed and became an inspiration for women working across all other agencies.
Dr. Ursula Struppe, the head of Municipal Department Integration and Diversity (MA 17) of Stadt Wien, was another panelist who has been in the thick of things for many years. She has seen the various problems that an active effort at integrating people presents first hand. She also highlighted how organisations such as ICDO are important shaping modern societies because “they show us the value of accepting that everybody has different perceptions, and finding ways to communicate and bring people together is important, not preaching.”
Mrs. Kelly Ann Anderson, Counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Austria recollected how there used to be a handful of women at international conferences, but now that has changed and more women are able to participate. But she also wished for a future where her daughter would not have to prove to anyone that it is worth it. Her own country’s focus on making its foreign policy feminist is a good step towards that future.
Another panelist was Mrs. Louise Deininger, Founder and Initiator of GYCO (Global Youth Conference), and winner of 2019 Black Austria Award in the category of Art and Culture. She emphasized on the importance of bringing young people together and enabling a dialogue right from then. By moulding young people, we can have a better tomorrow, she opined. She also warned that diversity must be acknowledged to a healthy extent that we see the common aspects, but not to an extent that only sees them as the other.
Our last panelist was Mr. Matin Dexborg, Advisor on Gender Issues, OSCE Gender Section. See, we were inclusive too! Mr. Dexborg shared his experience as a human rights monitor in a field office when there was no such thing as gender issues or looking at problems with a gender perspective. He recollected how just by going around and talking to women, along with the men, in conflict affected areas helped them improve the operational aspects of disseminating services.
The almost hackneyed conclusion that, the contribution of all genders is essential to the economy was repeated. Even if you are purely capitalistic, it makes sense to have women contributing to the work force and society. Canadian Counsellor Kelly Ann Anderson pointed out that we cannot go forward if we leave fifty percent of our population behind. The panel also concluded that government policies for gender diversity and intercultural exchange should be widely implemented in all countries. According to H.E. Nargiz Gurbanova, if equal opportunities were available to women, the global GDP would increase by 26% by 2025.
The world and its ways, to the design of everyday objects, to medical research – all are biased against women. So if you are ever in a position to make decisions, be aware and mindful, and know that just by listening to the perspective of a half of the world, you might be breaking new grounds in being truly inclusive. ICDO has done its part to get the ball rolling, now it’s your turn!