Paula Alionyte is a volunteer on our Executive Development Board. As someone who is helping us to champion Seed of Hope and our work to empower young women, we thought it would be interesting to hear her thoughts on gender equality and empowerment…
Do you think there should be equality for women?
Every day women around the world are showing how they are capable of achieving as much as their male counterparts, when they are given a chance to do so. Women are equal to men in their ability to be conscious and active members of society, all we need is more recognition of it.
What examples of gender inequality have you experienced and how have you overcome them?
I was brought up in a culture where women work as hard as men, but never acknowledge it. Everything that we, women, do and achieve is counted as the effort of the family, whereas achievements of men are considered as individual accomplishments. I never held these views and because of that, struggled in school – I was loud, opinionated, confrontational and, therefore, alien to most of my peers. When it comes to my family, my mother is the breadwinner of the family, however never identifies herself as such. Believe it or not, my dad still thinks that women should not get elected as presidents! As much as I found it difficult, my independence was very important to me – I always knew that being in control of my life made me content and happy and that I would never give it up, regardless of the situation. I had to fight through the stereotypes and, to be fair, in some situations, I still do it now. You have to learn how to be okay with who you are and never feel ashamed or scared to express yourself regardless of how different you are to those around you.
What do you think makes women empowered?
Having the space to be seen and heard is essential. Being listened to, instead of talked over; being given the power seat; being asked for your opinion and being allowed to make decisions. You can see the real strength of a woman when she’s in charge of a situation – the fearlessness, confidence and persistence mixed with emotional intelligence and consideration is the best combination for a conscious future leader.
Why is empowerment important to women?
It might sound like a controversial statement, but women try a lot harder than some men given the same opportunities because they know they only have that one chance to prove themselves. Empowered women know that their power is not given by birth, but is rather accrued through hard work and, in most cases, at quite a significant expense. Empowerment allows women to be fully independent members of society and, therefore, choose for themselves the kind of life they want to live. It allows them to be independent.
What role do you see Vision Africa having in promoting gender equality?
Vision Africa supports women in understanding their rights, their ability and their potential by providing the confidence necessary to rise to the positions of power. It provides them with the skills needed to become independent members of society.
What messages would you share with both young men and women to encourage gender equality?
Young men and women need to understand that the reasons why women are underrepresented in positions of power and denied a voice, is not because they are incapable of fulfilling those roles, but rather because they were systematically being told to not interfere and keep their opinions to themselves for a very long time. As soon as the barriers preventing women from expressing themselves and choosing the lives they want to live are gone, I am certain that we can live in perfect harmony by having an equal number of women and men as powerholders.