As the Netherlands’ first female ambassador to Canada, this year is particularly meaningful for me and has sparked personal reflection on the steps we are taking to support women around the world.
My mother and grandmother had very different equal opportunity lives than my childhood. My grandmother was an accountant, but she had to do her job in secrecy and without being paid. My mom was expected to resign from her post after her marriage – of course that was over 50 years ago, and certainly wouldn’t fly now! Yet women face discrimination or restrictions on the basis of their gender every day. This is not just in the workplace, but it often extends to public spaces, political involvement and even rights over their own bodies.
I am encouraged that the Netherlands has put gender champions like Pascalle Grotenhuis, our Ambassador for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, to work to continue to make progress on these issues. Ambassador Grotenhuis works tirelessly with leaders around the world to ensure that women have equal opportunities with their male counterparts, and to work to break down barriers to women’s political and economic participation. She spends her days working with our missions around the world and international organizations like the United Nations to put in place initiatives that will empower women and girls to be involved in whatever they want to be.
Of course, once women step into leadership and power positions, we need to make sure we continue to highlight their accomplishments and continue to lead the way to give them a clear path to continue to be successful. The Women’s Leadership and Opportunity Funding (FLOW) program is an example of an initiative that supports women-led projects that create opportunities for women and girls. Led by women and for women around the world, providing financial support and a platform for women is an important step forward in creating real equity.
It’s wonderful to watch some of these initiatives and how they contribute to the ongoing effort to truly establish gender equity. They have a lot of potential to keep us moving forward, and the effort is worth it. While I am encouraged by the progress that has been made since my mother and grandmother’s time, the fact remains that the underlying gender norms still permeate our society, which in turn affects our economic growth. In addition to my field of diplomacy, there is still a shortage of women in politics, business and science, to name a few. The world as a whole will benefit greatly if we focus on the great economic opportunity to improve gender parity in sectors like these.
The most important job we can do is think about how we are contributing to gender equity in our daily actions. How do we do that? Here are some of my suggestions that you can implement in your daily life:
- Support local women-owned businesses in your community.
- If you are able to do so, support nonprofits that provide assistance to economically or socially disadvantaged women.
- Lead by example. Promote, encourage and celebrate women in your family, at work and in your group of friends who have innovative ideas or challenge the status quo.
- Speak up when you are confronted with sexist behavior, and make people aware of sexist – unconscious – remarks. Patience and humor can help you make your observations, but persistence is essential!
There has been a lot of progress – let’s not diminish the great work that has already been done. With this in mind, I am optimistic that we can continue to build a world where women and men can live equally and freely, regardless of where they live.
Let’s continue this conversation beyond March 8.