Public awareness of gender equality among Georgian population has increased since 2013, however, attitudes towards women’s participation in public life and their leadership remain a problem, as shown by the results of a study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which has been published recently. When asked what they consider to be the biggest obstacles to participating in public life, women name their responsibilities in the family, which are unequally distributed between men and women. The study was funded by the Government of Sweden as part of the United Nations Joint Program on Gender Equality. “Forbes Georgia” interviewed Ulrik Tideström, Ambassador of Sweden to Georgia, who is a fervent advocate of gender equality.
The study – “Men, Women and Gender Relations in Georgia” – found that women have lower monthly incomes than men in Georgia. A similar trend is observed in other developing countries. How do you think the country should respond to this challenge?
You are absolutely right. This is not a problem which affects only Georgia. In Sweden, as well, there is still a difference between the earnings of women and men. We must close this gender pay gap. I think there are structural obstacles that we all need to overcome. We need to get rid of old stereotypes – for instance the idea that a woman should take the entire responsibility for household chores.
I also think that statistics and facts are helpful. Sweden is one of the international partners of Georgia in this regard, having cooperated closely with Geostat. We need data, such as hours worked by women and men, whether they work full-time or part-time, what their salaries are, and what their positions are. I think if we continue working on improvement of existing statistics, it will be easier to adjust the relevant policies to the reforms needed to reduce and abolish the gender pay gap.
However, employers, including in the private sector, have a really important role to play in resolving this issue. They can develop clear criteria for remuneration. We tried to do this i.e. to create an environment where gender would not matter and remuneration would be determined only on the basis of objective criteria. Every employer in every country should think more about this.
The perception of the role of women in business is changing. In 2019, 39% of respondents in Georgia thought that men were better business leaders than women. In 2013, 58% of respondents shared this opinion. What do you think is the cause of the change? What should we focus on?
This is a very positive and encouraging trend. And it seems to be part of a broader shift in attitudes. It will also help Georgia and any country to have more and more female business leaders.
How can we speed up this process? That is a relevant question. It takes time. The same is true in Sweden. If we take, for example, board of directors of large private companies, men significantly outnumber women in those boards. Therefore, I have to repeat that men have an important role to play, to take more talented women on board. There are some projects for business women in Georgia, including a programme we support – the EBRD programme, which is called “Women in Business”.
There are a number of projects that often focus on female entrepreneurs, however, the impression remains that this is not enough to encourage them. What new opportunities do you think we can create for female entrepreneurs in the country to strengthen their role?
During my almost two-year stay in Georgia, I have met many women entrepreneurs. There is a great deal of talent, innovation and inspiration among women entrepreneurs in this country. I think it is important to maintain a favourable environment for all entrepreneurs – both women and men. At the same time, I think it is important to start at an early stage – at home with our children and at school, and give boys and girls the same opportunity to take initiative, to be innovative. I think every child is born with this talent, but sometimes we have to encourage them. As they grow up, we need to provide them with equal opportunities to develop their interests and talents. We have to continue supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and small businesses, no matter whether they are run by women or men.
However, according to a study conducted in Georgia, Mr Ambassador, gender norms continue to affect the distribution of family obligations, which prevents women from using other opportunities. What do you think should be the role of men in improving the situation in this regard?
I am absolutely convinced that women and men should be equally empowered to shape society and their own lives. In practice, we know that equal societies are safer, healthier and more beneficial for everyone, both women and men. Certainly, if we want our countries to be fully successful, we need to involve the whole society in this process, to use their talents, and not just that of men. To answer your question, equality is not only important for women; equality is beneficial for all and the result is a win-win situation, therefore men should be involved in the process of achieving equality.
Finally, I think we need to get rid of the old stereotypes regarding the roles of women and men, this also applies to family responsibilities. In this regard, we see a gradual change in attitudes in Georgia, as well as in many other countries. More than half of young people in Georgia would not agree with the idea that women should stay at home, which is a positive trend that we see in many countries. However, research shows that women are still more likely to be involved in household chores than men. I see no reason why this should be so. Therefore, I think the main thing is for men to take a step and take more responsibility in their families.
In order for men to be involved in household chores, and most importantly, for fathers to be more involved in the process of raising children, it is probably necessary to make parental leave available for fathers, which is a challenge in Georgia. How do you think the country should start solving the problem?
This question is very important for me. If you look at the research, you will find out that most women and men think that both parents should be able to benefit from parental leave, and that is very good. I want to encourage Georgia to keep developing a parental leave system for both mothers and fathers. Naturally it takes time, in every country. It is not that simple, but it is definitely worth it in many ways – for children to have a close relationship with their mothers and fathers from an early age, as well as for mothers to have the opportunity to combine motherhood with their professional life. This is also good for strengthening the economic situation of the families.
To take the experience of Sweden, we had been building this system for decades, which had been gradually becoming more and more gender-equal. As a result, today we have a system which allows parents to take 480 days (approximately 16 months) of paid parental leave. Three of these 16 months are earmarked for each parent and cannot be transferred to the other, which serves to encourage fathers to take parental leave. In addition, it is possible to use some unpaid parental leave period until the child is a few years old. How does all this work in Sweden? Have we achieved gender equality? No, we haven’t. We have not yet reached this point. Mothers use about 70% of paid parental leave and fathers 30%. However, we see that the uptake of paternity leave by fathers is increasing. For example, 10-15 years ago, fathers used only 15% of the paid parental leave. I believe that the trend will continue and more and more fathers will benefit from the opportunity in the future.
As for my personal experience, my wife and I have three wonderful children. I used the opportunity of parental leave in all three cases, as did my wife. I have to admit that these periods were definitely the best in my life. It is really hard work, but it gave me the opportunity to get to know my children well, to build close relationships with them. Lastly, I would like to say that I gained more confidence as a parent and learned a lot during my paternity leave. I have also developed a number of practical skills that I can use in a variety of situations, including in my professional life.
So, I would like to encourage all men in Georgia to get involved in the process of raising and taking care of their children, which many men here are already doing. This is a great opportunity for those who can take paternity leave. Others will be encouraged by them. If you cannot afford it, try to have as close relationship with your children as possible. This is my recommendation to all fathers all over the world.
How can the public and private sectors encourage fathers to exercise this right?
I think both the private and public sectors have a big role to play in this regard. Let us start with the public sector, of course, in order to further develop the parental leave system and to give fathers the opportunity to use the parental leave, political initiative, as well as relevant legislation and reforms are needed. In Georgia, as well as in Sweden, the public sector also includes the biggest employers. As for the private sector, companies can set good examples, I do not think there is anything preventing them from moving forward and offering parental leave to both mothers and fathers. Following the example of Sweden, this is a very good business as well. Among other reasons, when a company offers paternity leave to its employees, it helps the employer to hire top talent and retain them.
How long did it take you, as a country, to become a role model for the whole world in the fight for gender equality?
It took us a long time to get to where we are now. We have not finished our work yet, there is still a lot to be done to achieve full equality. We are taking a fairly broad and comprehensive approach to equality. Of course, we have worked a lot in terms of legislation, and in terms of reforms – we have already talked about the parental leave system. We have also improved the accessibility and quality of childcare in kindergartens, there is a long list of reforms. At the same time, we have worked hard to raise awareness, and we will continue to do so. We have worked hard in the direction of education for young people. There are information campaigns and also very positive examples from “influencers” as well. The private sector has done a lot too, as well as the media and civil society.
Finally, why is this issue a priority for the Government of Sweden, both within and beyond the borders of the country, as it was the Government of Sweden which funded the Gender Equality Project in Georgia?
You are right. This is a priority for the Government of Sweden, both domestically and in foreign policy. Sweden has had a feminist foreign policy for several years now. What does this mean? This is related to the three words that start with “R”. We want to help countries ensure equal rights for men and women. This is the first “R”. The second is to ensure equal representation, including in politics. And the third, to help other countries ensure equal distribution of resources.
As for Georgia, Sweden has been one of the largest donors and development partners in Georgia for more than two decades. We welcome Georgia’s European choice and our cooperation with Georgia is in support of reforms for European integration. When we talk about supporting gender equality reforms, we are doing it in two directions. First, there are projects and programs in Georgia that are directly related to gender equality. Second, the perspective of gender equality is integrated into all the other projects we support. We want to make sure that gender equality is integrated into all spheres.. The sustainability of the results of these projects will be ensured if both women and men are involved.