Women around Europe and around the world are fighting. They are not fighting with weapons, guns and shields but with their strength, their skills, their determination to achieve, contribute and provide. Their provision is for themselves, their children and families, the jobs and employers that trust them and pay them, the society which constantly increases its demands towards them and hardly gives them time and space to triumph over their achievements.
Stereotypes and expectations, empowerment and goals
Women are strong and caring, determined and sensitive, hard-working and fun, beautiful and stern. Their lives are ruled by contradiction, diversion and differences, gender stereotypes and roles obliged by gender, but they thrive through and despite it.
Simply put, gender stereotypes are generalizations about the roles of each gender. Gender roles are generally neither positive nor negative; they are simply inaccurate generalizations of the female attributes. Since each person has individual desires, thoughts, and feelings, regardless of their gender, these stereotypes are incredibly simplistic and do not at all describe the attributes of every person of each gender.
While most people realize that stereotypes are untrue, many still make assumptions based on gender. There are many stereotypes we may all be guilty of, such as assuming that all women want to marry and have children, or that all men love sports. These are stereotypes because they claim to apply to all women. Gender stereotypes begin the second a baby’s gender is found out. As soon as we find out it’s a girl, we immediately begin decorating a pink nursery filled with soft décor and butterflies and flowers.
We assume that the daughter will be very girly and fill her closet with frilly dresses and her toy box with tea sets and dolls. What this is essentially doing, even though many parents don’t realize it, is setting our child up to be the perfect lady, and teaching her how to be the stereotypical woman. We are teaching her that girls are supposed to wear dresses, serve food, and take care of babies; the biggest and most common stereotype put on women.
Have you ever watched a little girl playing house? Even as young as five or six, she is well aware that she is supposed to stay home with the baby while the husband goes to work, and she has dinner ready when he gets home. Here is another stereotype; women stay at home while men go to work. While there are a million gender stereotypes about females, these are definitely the biggest, and the most debated by feminists of today.
These contradictions and stereotyping behaviors became obvious to me even from an early age. I was expected to be the first of my class in high school, the best ballet dancer and athlete and the best piano player, only to come across narrow-minded teachers, who thought that the sole purpose and goal for a girl living in Greece should be a marriage, a home.
These facts made me stubborn. They enabled me to try even harder to accomplish my goals at each and every period of my life. My goals were a family and a home but also to graduate from a respectable University with a Masters’ degree, to do so with good grades and better knowledge, to become fluent in languages, to have options career-wise, to be a better person rather than a better woman. My goal, as it turned out, was to empower women around me. To make them see and believe that if I could do it, they could too. It was not and will never be easy but it is a worth the shot.
The difficulties and the solution
The road was not paved with roses or good intentions. Skepticism was a default option for many, doubt was ‘’painted’’ on the faces of potential employers who saw a woman trying to do something ‘’only men can do’’ but I never gave up. I drew strength and faith from God, my parents and family, my friends and mentors, their advice and continued my quest.
Being committed and dedicated, being determined to ignore the ‘’sirens’’ and see the ‘’bigger picture’’ helped me stay focused, look for employers who would appreciate me for my skills and expertise, look for sources of knowledge that would expand my know-how, look for experiences that would make me a capable woman. I looked for Life Long Learning programs, joined women empowerment teams and never stopped educating myself towards a better career and personal development. I even dared to make a shift in my career and become a Gender Business Coach with a social aspect after a decade in Strategic Planning and Marketing.
That shift gave me the chance to interact with more women and listen to their needs and fears, hopes and aspirations. These elements –expectations, worries, desires- are not always the same throughout the years but the need of women for acknowledgement and appreciation is a given.
5 Tips For Women To Develop Their Career
- To get to the top, don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom, as the experience of living and working in developed countries is essential to building a career in development. Sometimes this means we must be willing to do something that we had never really considered. Women shouldn’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working their way to the top.
- Adaptability is the key. In any field, we need to renew ourselves constantly, maybe more so in development. It is varied, dynamic and constantly evolving because of its very nature so there is always room for innovation, learning and sharing.
- Programmes to develop leadership skills are essential. If we want to see more women in key positions around the world, we must invest in leadership development, building strong networks and providing mentoring opportunities and resources to help women get plugged into the power structures. Especially for the E.U., the WISE4Women programme, gave me an excellent boost for networking, entrepreneurship and career development initiatives.
- Mentoring. Mentorship is vital but there needs to be a greater emphasis placed on mentoring not only western women in the global development field but also women from the developing countries so as to enable them to seek personal and career focus whilst not contradicting with the local cultures.
- Support. Women need the support from the men in their lives, from other women and from society as a whole. It is as simple as it sounds. Support does not equal weakness or incapability; it means understanding, compassion and continuous struggle. It means life and its phases. Sustenance for a woman should not be frowned upon or misjudged; it should be taken into serious consideration, whether it is by the family, the employer or the State.
Women need stronger support networks. Power networks are still male networks in the development community. Getting support from mentors, people more experienced in the job or the community a woman is activated, male or female, is immensely important. As a woman, when climbing the corporate and social ladder, we will be more isolated than our male counterparts so we need stronger support.
Women have accomplished some goals, some they are still working on, some are goals for the future, and all are or should be the credentials for an interesting and fruitful life. Us women fight, but only for something greater, something superior and something major, equality and respect.