Tag Archives: gender equality

10 Fascinating Quotes From Women Around The Globe

I recently completed a half-year journey around the world where I visited twenty different countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. In each country I visited, I interviewed women to understand their perspectives on what life is like for women in their countries. I asked women to tell me about the greatest challenges women face where they’re from as well as what being a woman has meant in their own lives. Many women were hopefully optimistic about the state of gender equality in their country while others were more cynical and pointed out that while laws may guarantee rights for women, culture and tradition often usurps legal protections.

While I attempted to diversify my sample in terms of age, race, and region (I interviewed women in cities, small towns, and villages), these interviews are in no way representative of women at-large in the countries I visited. However, they do provide an interesting snapshot of women’s lives across the globes. They also remind us that despite women’s differences, in some ways the challenges we face are universal. Issues like domestic violence, workplace discrimination, and sexism in politics are happening everywhere, though the extent to which women can stand up and safely resist these threats to equality vary by country.

I am grateful to the more than 40 women who took the time to talk with me and answer my questions. Here are 10 of the most fascinating quotes from women around the world:

1. Egypt

Egypt

“The Middle East in general is tough for women, though Egypt is getting better. It’s not so much the laws but the tradition. The Constitution gives women rights but the problem is the Constitution in people’s minds. But it’s getting better…women now have the right to be president, that’s a pretty good step. When I first became a tour guide my family became really angry with me, because it’s not proper for women to travel all the time. But now they are so proud of me. So it’s getting better…women are stepping past the lines in Egypt and they might get pushed back in, but they keep crossing them anyway.”

2. Jordan

Jordan

“Everyone can do anything in Jordan now- dress, talk, and do what they want because it’s a tourist place so it’s more open. Education is the most important thing for boys and girls, and girls are going to the University now too. Without education, there are no opportunities.”

3. Sweden

Sweden

“Men at work definitely talk more. In meetings I often want to say things but can’t get to it because the men are talking. But personally, I have always been surrounded by men who think gender equality is important. I could never date someone who didn’t want to actively be a part of the change. That is a core value for me, and it would need to be the same in any partner I have. Otherwise I would lose respect for them.”

4. Rwanda

Rwanda

“We had good leadership after the genocide. Before 1994, there was a lot of gender inequality, but since then the government has promoted women in all spheres of life and has empowered us in education and jobs. Women are now taught to be producers rather than just consumers. When I was a child, we thought official jobs out in the world were for men only, but now we can do them too. Women in Rwanda are happy leadership recognizes that women matter a lot in every sphere of life.”

5. Myanmar

Myanmar

“Because of religion, people get married right away, like 18 or 19 years old. All of my younger sisters got married at 18. I’m 28 and still single. I have ambitions and I need to make money. Life is getting expensive here, and having children will cost a lot. My grandma still lives with us, so I need to be able to take care of her too, with money and with love. I want a boyfriend but a boy isn’t going to be happy about me going around the country as a tour guide. He will want to know my schedule and I can’t give him one. I want to be free.”

6. Norway

Norway

“Norway is very equal on paper, but even though we have the 40% quota there are still more men that are mayors than women. Leaders of big companies and leaders of boards are still men too. I became the Mayor of this town by gaining respect of the people. I was already known around here because I worked in the bank for 20 years. I also didn’t have any children and my husband has passed, so it was easier for me in that way. But if women or girls are willing to take the challenge, there are more possibilities. You have to really want it. And in order to make it as a female you have to be flawless; if you know you aren’t, you hesitate. When I took the step to become Mayor it was very fun. And it has been an honor.”

7. Indonesia

Indonesia

“I own my own business, a lot of women in Bali do too. Patriarchy might be strong in the countryside, but in the city it’s pretty modern. I opened this place 2 weeks ago, I’m excited!”

8. Mozambique

Mozambique

“One of the biggest problems for women in Mozambique is the ‘lobolo’ tradition- when a man marries a woman, he has to pay her family money. But if they get divorced, she has to find a way to pay him back the money. So that creates bad situations where women are forced to stay in marriages when they can’t pay back their lobolo.”

9. Namibia

Namibia

“In Namibia, women basically have equal rights in employment…there are no gaps. All jobs from security to jobs in the kitchen are pretty equal. The biggest challenge women face is in the home- abuse. The rate of ‘passion killings’ is high in Namibia. And this is a challenge that men must face too.” (Note: ‘Passion killings’ is a term used for murders of women by intimate partners)

10. United States

United States

“When I was young, I worked off the books in a restaurant. I was just grateful to be working, because my family needed the money. But because my wages were never put down, I wasn’t paying into Social Security. I worked for years and years but it’s like all that work never happened, because my employers didn’t put it on the books. So now I’m a widow but my Social Security check is very little. I wish I had known better, but they didn’t teach girls to look out for themselves in jobs back then- we were lucky just to get hired at all.”

Visit the Women of the World Blog to see more interviews and photos of women around the globe.

4 Ways Life Overseas is Different (and maybe better) than in America

For the past five weeks, I have been privileged to take some time off and travel the world with my husband. Our journey will last about six months in total, and will take us across every continent except for Antarctica. In the process, I have been interviewing women and their families in different countries to better understand the issues women face abroad and how they are both similar and different from those experienced in the U.S. I’m documenting these interviews on my blog, Women of the World.

So far, I’ve traveled through Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Italy. Some of these countries are the most progressive in the world when it comes to gender equality, and I’ve learned valuable lessons not only about gender, but about ways of life for Europeans that in some ways seem to be healthier, happier ways of being compared to how we live in the U.S.

The 4 things I’ve learned about life overseas are specific to my experience—they are not meant to perfectly represent life for everyone in these countries, but rather provide a snapshot from the people I’ve talked to and my observations so far.

1. Work is NOT the center of life
In many of the countries I’ve visited, work is not as intimately bound up with one’s identity as it often is in the U.S. Many European professionals go to work at about 9am in the morning and return by 4 or 5pm. And when they come home, they’re done with work—there’s no incessant need to check e-mail after-hours or even talk much about work at all. Instead, things like time with family and outside hobbies are more important. But work isn’t unimportant to Europeans—in fact, every person I talked to takes a lot of pride in their work, it just doesn’t take center stage in their lives. And in addition to working fewer hours, Europeans get more vacation time too—in fact, it’s a law that every country in the European Union provide 4 weeks of paid vacation to employees. To me, this seems like a way more balanced way of living.

2. Parental leave is amazing
Parental leave is not just a lofty policy ideal like it is in the U.S., but a real benefit that both women AND men are entitled to in many countries. For example, parents in Sweden get 480 days of leave at 80% pay that parents can split up however they choose, and that’s after 18 weeks reserved just for new moms. Additionally, dads get 90 days of leave reserved specifically for them. In Estonia, parents get more than a year—435 days—to share after maternity leave ends, and are paid the average of both their wages.

Caregiving is valued in many countries, and government makes it a lot easier for families to combine work and family– in addition to generous parental leave, childcare is also way more affordable. In Finland, government-funded childcare is free to all parents with children age 7 and under. And if parents choose not to use childcare and stay at home to care for their children, they get paid for it.

"Work/life balance is still probably my biggest challenge. But I think it's a big challenge for men too, not just women. We all work outside of the home and inside too and it's hard, it's a lot for anyone." -Finland
“Work/life balance is still probably my biggest challenge. But I think it’s a big challenge for men too, not just women. We all work outside of the home and inside too and it’s hard, it’s a lot for anyone.” -Finland

3. The idea of a level playing field actually exists
In the U.S., we believe that all men and women are created equal, and that there is opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard. But in reality, not all opportunities are created equal. For example, where you can afford to live greatly impacts the quality of public schools available to your children, and there are stark differences between wealthy and poor neighborhoods around the country in terms of educational attainment and success. And with skyrocketing costs of college, many Americans either can’t afford to go or, if they do, are then saddled with crushing debt that affects their economic security for the rest of their lives.

In places like Finland, public schools are more or less equal in quality and even state universities are free. Students in Norway typically pay a fee of 50 euros per semester at public universities. In these countries, making education more or less equal regardless of family income or background is the solution to leveling the playing field and giving every citizen a truly equal chance.

4. Men have more freedom to define their own masculinity
In the U.S., we’ve made a lot of progress toward breaking down gender roles and prescriptions about how men and women ought to behave. But compared to some European countries, we have a long way to go. In my travels, I have been struck by how some of the men I’ve met seem much more willing to express emotions and talk about things we almost never hear men talk about in the U.S., like mental illness and eating disorders. I met one young man who had taken sick leave from his job because he was struggling with depression. He talked about his challenges so openly and honestly, without an ounce of embarrassment or shame. And the fact that he actually could take months of leave from work to deal with his mental illness is amazing itself—as he put it: “We might pay a lot in taxes here, but when you get sick—physically or mentally—our country will take care of you.”

It’s true that the way of life for Europeans is due in large part to their bigger governments, and therefore, higher taxes. Yet, working families often don’t feel strained because of it—in fact, Norwegians enjoy a higher disposable income than the average working family in the U.S. For many Europeans, providing these benefits is a part of their culture—they truly value caregiving, family, and equality and couldn’t imagine life any other way.

While I absolutely love my country and am proud to be an American, I think it’s a good idea to look beyond our borders and take some lessons from other successful countries back to the U.S. Bringing more balance and fulfillment into American lives can only make us stronger.

Please LIKE my blog on Facebook to see and read more about what I’m learning on the rest of my journey.

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