Paris conference on women in leadership Paris conference on women in leadership  (Caritas Internationalis.)

Trócaire CEO: 'We must commit to dismantle barriers to women in leadership'

On the sidelines of the Caritas-sponsored 'Women in Leadership' conference in Paris, the CEO of Trócaire, Caoimhe de Barra, says that though women worldwide face discrimination, change can happen and long-standing societal concepts can slowly but surely be dismantled.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov and Francesca Merlo

"Change can happen," says Trócaire CEO, Caoimhe de Barra, to advance qualified women in leadership, but it is necessary to realize that the challenges women face are great, and that long-standing societal concepts must be broken down.

This was the observation which the Irish NGO's female Chief Executive Officer told Vatican News' Francesca Merlo in an interview on the sidelines of the conference taking place in Paris entitled "The Full Face of Humanity: Women in leadership for a just society," on 27-28 October.

The two-day event was organized by Caritas Internationalis, in partnership with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to UNESCO.

Trócaire: the Irish member of Caritas Internationalis

Trócaire is the Church in Ireland's overseas development agency, operating in up to 20 of the world's most fragile countries..

The Irish member of the Caritas Internationalis federation, Trócaire, last year alone, brought support and relief to 1.8 million people living in poverty, conflict and injustice.

Discrimination, even where greatest equality

Asked about her view of the current realities facing the equality of women in the workplace in particular, and in leadership, the CEO responded candidly.

“At present, all around the world, even in the countries with the highest degree of equality, women face discrimination in all walks of life, whether that is in the workplace, whether that is in public policy and participation in politics or in any facet that you can imagine.”

Exacerbated in low-income countries

She noted that this phenomenon is exacerbated depending on where one looks.

“Imagine how much more difficult it is for women in low income countries to achieve things like being elected as a female member of parliament, being a director of a company, being even safely able to stand up and say she wants to represent your community locally. The challenges that women face are immense.”

Society rooted in mistaken concepts

Asked why, she said: "It is essentially because our societies are rooted in a concept of what it means to be male and what it means to be female and what men can do and should do and women can and should do."

"These social norms," he said, "effectively determine the space that women have to safely decide to step out and to challenge what society expects of them."

"Very often when women do step out of their prescribed roles, they face discrimination, they may face violence, they face barriers, such as the fact that there is nobody else to do the child care," said Ms. de Barra. "If a woman wants to go out to work or even to put herself forward for a politically representative role. So it is because that we in society tolerate these norms, that change is not happening now."

Change can happen

“Change can happen. And here at the conference organised by Caritas, we are talking a lot about how we as Caritas members can work over time to change what people believe, their attitudes, their knowledge and their skills, so that women are freer to safely lead in any society worldwide.”

She responded to some ways to break down these barriers.

Since various "faith leaders are influential people to whom others look for direction," she suggested that this ongoing conversation they, as a faith-based organization, maintain among them "can be a useful instrument in advancing change, and adjusting mentalities."

Evidenced-based strategies can achieve awareness

"Ordinary community members asking each other to think about what it means to hold views that men and women are different and should behave in different ways and how things could be done differently and done better."

"Ultimately, by using evidence based strategies that are locally and contextually appropriate," she explained, "we can achieve huge change both in areas like reduction of gender-based violence, but also in other realms like enabling women to play bigger roles in the societies that they live in, roles as decision makers, as policymakers."

“This is to the benefit of all but above and beyond all of that, it is women's rights. Everybody has the right to be able to do as they wish to do in terms of public representation, engagement in the workforce or whatever that may be.”

Need to critically analyse 

"In all parts of our societies," Ms. de Barra said, "we need to have more women in leadership roles and we need to critically analyze what are the barriers that stop women participating at senior levels, whether it's in a corporate function or whether it's in a faith-based organisation or any institution."

By properly examining the barriers, she said, they can often be dismantled.

Listen to the full interview

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27 October 2022, 15:30