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What is the role of contemporary women?

On December 1st, 2015, we had the opportunity to join 100 other organizations around the world in a debate about the role of contemporary women. The BBC #100Women Debate posed questions around the themes of Leadership, Image, and Relationship. We had a wonderfully diverse group here in Berlin, from Ireland, Canada, Vietnam, India, Germany and the USA. For each topic, we watched a brief video prepared by the BBC, after which we debated via Skype. Then we sent a summary of our ideas and opinions through to the BBC, some of which were actually posted! Success!

On Leadership, we agreed on the motto “to lead, be yourself”. Leadership qualities are not a specifically male or female thing, But leadership style is gender-specific. Women are typically more empathetic, more consensus building. “Acting like a man” may be key to becoming a leader in today’s world, but acting is artificial. A woman should be herself; at best she shouldn’t be acting at all! We thought female quotas were a necessary evil, although some of us were on the fence on this. Most of us felt that they were necessary to enable women to be at the table at all. In an ideal world, we would not need quotas, but we are not in an ideal world. Raising awareness through education at all levels and changing the established systems as well as gendered expectations are what is needed to make change happen.

Next up was Image. Are beautiful women more likely to succeed? We agreed that beauty does open doors but that it then has to be backed up by brains. We were delighted to see that this comment was transformed into a cartoon by the BBC and posted online for the world to read! We talked about having to look and act the part in the professional world. Women can be their own worst enemies in terms of criticizing other women, showing that our values are sometimes skewed and limiting us in our own progress. We also said that age is an issue and that beauty can go against you in certain situations. From a very early age we are socialized to play a certain role. How are we raising our children? Boys and girls? Next we discussed needing and wanting to feel good about ourselves. We said there was a fine line between looking good stylish and reinforcing objectification. And what about inner beauty? Age was also addressed and we talked about how our self-image evolves as we “age out”. We decided that, however we choose to shape our image, choice is important. It was a lively discussion topic with much food for thought.

The final theme was Relationship and we were a bit surprised that we didn’t have such a huge amount to say. Exhaustion, maybe! We asked whether a relationship is more or less likely to fail when a woman is successful. We agreed pretty quickly that this very much depends on the individual woman and man. We also discussed whether it is expected for a woman to be subservient and said that this is different in different cultures. Religion was mentioned, and the part they play in roles for women. We talked about everyday sexism, for example cat-calling and the many “little” things that happen on a daily basis that have become so much part of life that we hardly notice them. We asked each other whether we would report to the police if we were groped on the bus and most of us said no.

Finally, we were asked by the BBC to each state one pressure on women that could be eliminated in order to make life easier and we came up with a list of wishes around expectations, conformity, judgmental attitudes, having to be strong and have it all, violence and even the elimination of anatomical difference.

It was a positive and lively debate with great participation from everyone in our group. We had a blast!

Susan Ring, on behalf of the AWC Berlin


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