News

30 Sep
2020

Pride not prejudice: Women leaders in Latvia discuss gender equality and their experience as politicians

On the evening of 23rd of September, a panel discussion was held at Birojnīca (Riga, Latvia) where ambitious women—who have, in fact, proved that a woman’s place is precisely where she intends to be—shared their stories about perseverance, courage, and fight against prejudice. The discussion was organized by a political party Latvijas attīstībai and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

“It almost seems that society is becoming unbearably more traditional and you can’t even call it an honorable conservatism. It’s just prejudice as a political affinity. ”

—Iveta Ratinīka

On the evening of 23rd of September, a panel discussion was held at Birojnīca (Riga, Latvia) where ambitious women—who have, in fact, proved that a woman’s place is precisely where she intends to be—shared their stories about perseverance, courage, and fight against prejudice. The discussion was organized by a political party Latvijas attīstībai and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

The panel consisted of Dace Rukšāne-Ščipčinska, a published author and a member of Latvian parliament; Baiba Bļodniece, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Defence; Iveta Ratinīka, a member of the Riga City Council, a poet and a well-known teacher; Anda Ķīvīte-Urtāne, leading researcher at the Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) Institute of Public Health and a lecturer at the RSU Public Health and Epidemiology department.

The discussion, moderated by Dace Bargā, was a part of the international campaign #FemaleForwardInternational which aims to tell stories about courageous women around the world, encouraging people to step out of and see further than the traditional notions about gender roles. 

Taking off the glasses that somehow make you see the world as sensible, comprehensible, and easily understandable is not as simple a task one might believe at first though. It is no secret that dualism largely guides our relationships with fellow members of society and the environment we live in. Black and white, good and evil, man and woman. However, we must remember that not all that glitters is gold and the devil is not so black as he is painted. It is not hard to imagine that opportunities would reveal themselves when the two opposites meet halfway.

The panelists emphasized this existing (dis-)order in relation to gender roles and discussed the conventional “a woman’s place is at home” idea with which they themselves have encountered during their career. For example, Baiba Bļodniece shared her observations about the resentful attitude toward women who aspire to achieve something regardless of the industry they work in:

If women want to become successful in their professional life, they are automatically perceived as hyenas. Agressive. Evil. Solely because they have the ambition to prove something. There is no middle ground.

Interestingly enough, this negative connotation is mostly prescribed to women who relentlessly march toward their goals. Men in the same position are praised and proudly called business sharks. Touching upon the politics in Latvia, Iveta Ratīnika stressed the women's stereotypical social role stemming from the seemingly primary biological task:

If you have a uterus and breasts, then you rather have to focus on using the respective organs, than trying to crawl your way into politics. 

The belief that the main (and oftentimes the only) role for women is being a mother is a tale as old as time, but it does not have a place in a modern society. Every woman has to have a chance to choose her calling without being judged. Especially, being judged by other women. Therefore, the panelists emphasized that women should support each other, not put each other down.

“Policy-making is meaningful only if the representation of men and women in politics is in balance. Societies where women are actively involved in politics are much more empathetic.”

—Baiba Bļodniece

And it’s not only about gender equality and representation in government, but in civic society, too. Ratinīka believes that we, Latvians, are a nation with a relatively low civic involvement. We don’t care about laws. We think politics is something that’s far away and out of reach—it doesn’t concern us and is made for old, grey-haired men. However, alienation from politics can have unpleasant consequences. It may seem that day by day nothing changes yet suddenly we wake up and everything is entirely different. It is vital to contribute to shaping our future so we are not ashamed of it when it knocks on our door.

Dace Rukšāne-Ščipčinska added that it’s important to talk about unpopular ideas as it is a means of broadening our point of view and switching on our critical thinking. That’s exactly why she hasn’t shied away from speaking openly about sex and sexuality back in the day when many saw this as a taboo. Historically, female sexuality has been silenced and suppressed in public discourse, hence Rukšāne-Ščipčinska humbly agrees that she is, in fact one of the first Latvian authors who proudly addressed the topic and brought it to daylight simply to raise awareness that sex is not always about procreation, but about pleasure, too.

“I wasn’t like I was courageous on purpose.”

Dace Rukšāne-Ščipčinska

She says that for the same reasons she started talking about mental health and depression-related issues publicly a few years ago. Yet still today, people lack the understanding of what it really is, what it means, and what effect does it have on public health as a whole—not to mention the effect on the lives of those suffering from psycho-emotional disorders.

In addition, critical thinking is one of the most important tools that are at civic society’s disposal—to question and to analyze is to keep accountable. It is of particular importance knowing how easily is to get lost in this disinformation era we currently live in.

“Evidence-based policy-making is one of the basic principles to follow if we aspire to free ourselves from prejudice and achieve gender equality.”

—Anda Ķīvīte-Urtāne

Yes, we are moving forward and the voice of women is becoming ever more louder, but the noise itself is not enough—we don’t need to just hear it, but listen to it, too. In order to fulfil this resolution, we must rid ourselves from the burden of prejudice that, without a doubt, hinders the birth of a meaningful dialogue. And, like with any other obstacle, first we must recognize that prejudice indeed exists and that it prevents us from becoming a society in which everyone has equal opportunities to realize their full potential and lead a dignified life. And gender should never be a limitation.

Yes,we are moving forward, but there is still a long way to go.     

“We don’t want to be the same. We want to be equal.”

—Anda Ķīvīte-Urtāne