Friday 12 October – Deauville – the last day of conferences at the Women’s Forum
I took my seat in the agora, which was full to bursting point, in order to attend the session that Lenovo was chairing on a crucial issue: “women and power: taboo or new model of governance?” This conference provided the results of a survey conducted by Viviane de Beaufort, in partnership with Lenovo and ESSEC, among others. Around fifty women from all countries responded to the survey.
The aim was to determine whether women have a different relationship with power; whether they exercise it differently; whether they use different management methods; and ultimately to combat stereotypes. The points to bear in mind are:
- Yes, women are ambitious; they like power, but not for just for power’s sake, they like it to fulfil themselves, for the freedom of action and decision that it gives them, and for the opportunity to do interesting things.
- Authority is sometimes perceived as authoritarianism, and power as abuse of power, which hinders women’s desire to hold power, as they are driven by different values.
- A higher value is placed on ambition when it involves a man, and the women surveyed admitted that they had to fight not to be seen in a bad light as soon as they showed ambition.
- A large majority of women stated that power isolates.
- Power is perceived as a major responsibility, which is reflected in strong ethical values, a duty to change things, and a responsibility towards other women, especially from the younger generation.
- A majority of the women surveyed answered that they did not follow a career plan, but that they seized opportunities when they arose, and went where they would be able to find fulfilment, rather than seeking power at any cost.
- The men questioned following this survey confirmed that women are just as capable as them of gaining access to responsible positions, and women’s abilities were recognised. However, they believed that women take things too personally and emotionally, and that they should look at the situation through a man’s eyes! – I would add that this last point managed to irritate all the female attendees…We still really have a long way to go!
In conclusion: women in power are still a minority, which remains men’s exclusive preserve, as ambition in a woman is always seen in a bad light, and she will have to comply with masculine standards in order to create a place for herself, and to keep it. Women must not only fight to prove to men that they have deserved their place, but also fight against other women, who often see them as tougher than the men themselves. Management methods and the opinion of power remain very stereotyped; power involves harshness, conflict, intransigence, unilateral decisions, isolation, and abuse. To go forward, and move towards more balanced power, men and women need to learn how to collaborate, to communicate, to listen to one another, to accept their differences, and to learn one another’s methods. Everyone has skills and qualities that can be combined.
Lastly, women must learn to project themselves as leaders, and to do so, it is clearly necessary to teach girls that they are not weak and fragile at a very young age, and that they also have the right to have the ambition to reach the innermost circles of power.
This need for girls’ education was actually one of the topics of the following conference: “reducing education and health inequalities: a priority for social and economic development in Africa.”
Melanne Verveer, Barack Obama’s Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Issues, attended, in order to tell us that there was tangible progress, but that the issue of world-wide girls’ education was a real challenge. According to Ms Verver, we need to involve families in every country in this issue. We need qualified teachers in schools, and we need girls to remain in school, she said, as she criticised their early removal from school, and we need to give them confidence and self-esteem. These issues must be supported by governments.
Nathalie Delapalme from the Mo Ibrahim Fondation confirmed that considerable progress had been made in Senegal, but that this progress was due more to financial backers than to the Government’s involvement. However, she criticised al lack of perspective regarding employment: “education, yes, but why?” We therefore need to think up a global strategy so that education leads to employment.
And even before thinking about education, we need to think about health, as “a sick child cannot go to school” said Amy Fall-Ndao, Head of Business Development at Sanofi. Diet and access to drinking water are key. The training of health professionals is another priority, since outside the capital, there are very few specialists in rural areas. The Sanofi Foundation has therefore developed local programmes like remote medicine, which enables doctors in rural areas to link up with specialists in major cities, e-learning training programmes, including programmes intended for midwives, which have benefited 11,000 midwives in Senegal, and mobile telephone preventive programmes, which enable warning messages to be sent in the event of complications in a pregnancy, or to ask for help with a remote diagnosis.
Brelotte Ba, the Director of Orange Niger, confirmed how useful mobile telephones were in Africa: “50% of Africans have access to a mobile phone, which is more than have access to water!” Mobile telephony therefore represents an extraordinary opportunity to reach out to men and women, in order to raise their awareness of healthcare and education. Mr Ba gave three examples that are in keeping with the Sanofi Foundation’s initiatives.
- The transmission of healthcare information via SMS, like the weight of a newly born baby, which enables malnutrition to be prevented. This information is vital, although it is often lacking, due to the cost of transport to hospital, or the lack of specialists in rural areas, as Amy Fall-Ndao underlined.
- Remote medicine, which provides help with diagnosis using cutting-edge technology.
- Supplying tablets pre-loaded with educational content, in order to combat illiteracy issues.
Raymonde Goudou Coffie, the Ivory Coast’s Minister for Women and Children, joined the debate with this committed sentence: “Educating a woman means educating a Nation. I would add that nursing and taking care of a woman is ensuring the long term survival of a Nation”. For Ms Goudu Coffie, educating women is therefore a priority. She gave the example of Women’s Training and Education Institutes (IFEFs), which have received support from the Orange Foundation, and not only enable adults to receive an education, be given training and access to IT, but also enable little girls to be educated. “Access to knowledge gives these women confidence, so that they can then put projects together”, claims the Minister.
She also defends access to family planning in a country where abortion, which is forbidden regardless of the reason, is practiced under dreadful conditions. Amy Fall-Ndao joined her by declaring that abortion is her “personal hobbyhorse”, since abortion is only authorised on health grounds in Senegal. To prove the need to review a law that does not even authorise abortion in rape cases to us, she gave us the example of a woman who was never able to accept the twins that she gave birth to after being raped, and that she ultimately abandoned. This was just one example among many others.
Following this conference, the “Women for Education” award was won by the EAST (Water, Agriculture and Health in Tropical Areas) initiative, which was set up in Madagascar. Village women in that country were living in appalling, insanitary and dangerous conditions. For example, some women were treating waste water with no gloves or anti-tetanus vaccinations, for $1 per day. The EAST initiative in Madagascar aims to provide them with comfort and healthcare, employment, education, and training, as well as with access to drinking water, and the treatment of that water.
Education and health definitely remain two major challenges for Mankind in the 21st century, even though this was already confirmed by Articles 25 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…which was written in 1948.