Last week the Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad was appointed UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for The Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. Not only she is the first survivor to be given this title, but she is a woman who has decided to stand out against violence and slavery. She shared her story with many other young women and turned her experience into courage to fight and end women enslavement and trafficking.
Ms. Murad’s remarkable choice places her at the top of the women who have characterized the last few months, but she is not alone in the fight. On September 7th the “Kurdish Angelina Jolie”, the 22-year-old Kurdish soldier who was facing Islamic State troops, died. Her beauty and courage made her the symbol of the “soldiers with make-up” who are still in the battle, aware of their goal despite being women.
This summer was not only the summer of fighters; it was a summer of politics. Mrs. Hillary Clinton dominated the US scene with her campaign for the Oval Office, as the first woman running for the US Presidency as candidate for one of the major parties. On the other side of the Atlantic, MP Theresa May (now UK Prime Minister) has taken the lead of the United Kingdom and of the Conservative Party amidst the turmoil arisen after the Brexit vote.
Moreover, the Olympic Games, with nearly 45% of female participants, have seen the rise of Simone Biles as symbol of devotion, power and achievement. The Rio games witnessed the presence of athletes wearing hijab and the long-debated burkini for the first time, while the Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui broke the silence about menstrual cycles (eventually). Also, Indian sportswomen’ successes marked a relevant point by raising national pride in a country which is too often named for the social obstacles women face.
Certainly, these women’s accomplishments are more than just events, they are steps for progress. These women are having their voices heard through different means, and their message is clear and powerful.
Despite EY’s Women. Fast Forward. observatory estimates that there are still 117 years to come before the achievement of gender parity, which is quite a discouraging number, these big steps are being made, and we all can contribute with our own choices. Last May, Ms. N. Thorpe decided to speak out about the injustice of being fired for not wearing high heels on the job, while in the US, WWII US women pilot veterans were fighting to be granted honorific recognition alongside their male comrades in arms in the Arlington National Cemetery. They all won their battle. The contribution of all these personalities to progress of women in every sector is not easily quantifiable but it is tangible. Let me tell you why.
When I started my job in the financial sector a few months ago I had in mind EY’s numbers and the testimonies acknowledging that gender parity is advancing but there is still a lot of room for improvement. I am relatively new to the sector, and my experience is far from those of the women I have mentioned in terms of context and relevance, but I was prepared for a somewhat hostile environment. I was not prepared for the opposite: I was not ready to experience the progress in gender parity. I found an open and friendly environment, where anyone was expecting me to speak and share my thoughts, where in my opinion, parity was, and still is, well understood. I never felt intimidated, and at the same time I was surrounded by authoritative and knowledgeable men and women actively collaborating with each other. This is not to praise a particular organizational culture, and I cannot assume this approach to be the one characterizing the whole sector. However, I believe this can be easily spread, shared and understood by many and in different organizations, and experienced more often.
The great women listed above are certainly at the forefront – big changes come from them but it is our everyday behavior and our choices that contribute to the small ones. Will these reduce those 117 years? Probably. It is certainly a good signal, just opposite to Ms. Thorpe’s case. More should be done? Definitely, the glass ceiling is still there. Fortunately, the path is clear and there are many role models to follow.