As we settle in post the euphoria of International Women’s Day, observed on 8th March, we are left wondering how we can advance and accelerate gender equality during the remaining 364 days of the year. The answer is male allyship. Men must take an active interest in advancing gender equality and making space for their female colleagues especially at leadership levels.
So it was with great interest that I noticed amongst the diplomatic fraternity they have a function called as EU Gender Champion which was instituted last year by EU Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto with the aim to strengthen engagement on gender equality. On 10th March the Swedish Ambassador Klas Molin took on this role for the next six months. His predecessors were the Ambassadors of Finland and Estonia, both female. The EU Gender Champion is part of the Gender Action Plan (GAP II) which seeks to promote the empowerment and full enjoyment of human rights for women and girls. It is key to sustainable global development, including recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and to building fairer, more inclusive and prosperous societies.
Ambassador Molin represents Sweden, a country that has long prioritised gender equality and was one of the first to launch a eminist foreign policy in 2014. It has three pillars: equal rights, equal representation and equal resources. Subsequently Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Mexico and Spain have also proclaimed feminist foreign policies. As a diplomat and a male ally, Ambassador Molin believes, “Women make up half of humanity and should obviously be represented in the same way as men.”
EU Gender Champion in India and Male Allyship
On speaking with him, he shared many initiatives he and his colleagues took to be an advocate for gender equality, to create a level playing field for his female peers and develop a robust pool of female diplomats. In the 1990s working in the HR department, he and his colleagues saw that while women made up half of the new recruits, at the mid and top echelons things still looked very traditional. The Ministry therefore set quantitative goals for increasing both numbers. The mid-career level is important because that is typically the pool from which new Ambassadors are chosen. Among the Ambassador posts, a deliberate attempt was made to appoint women to more visible posts, thereby shattering also any remaining mental ceilings. Today this is no longer an issue and Sweden has a number of very accomplished female ambassadors. Currently, four out of five of the P5 capitals, the Heads of Mission at the UN in New York and in Geneva, as well as in the prestigious neighboring countries of Denmark, Finland and Norway, among many others.
We need more male allies like Ambassador Molin who are astute enough to realise which groups are missing from the table and create space for them. With intention and investment, not quotas alone, it is possible to increase the numbers of female leaders and provide them with a nurturing and supportive environment to thrive in. As an alumna of the Swedish Institute Management Programme (SIMP) I have used many useful toolkits on gender equality that increases male ally ship and provides role models for men to emulate. Swedish Dads is a photo exhibition showcasing the famed parental leave policy that encourages and incentivizes fathers to take on a more active role in their families. As we are well aware, during the pandemic, the burden of domestic care work fell disproportionately on women and we need more men to step up and do their fair share. Global Guy Talk is another program to create a safe space for men to challenge harmful gender norms and redefine masculinity and male responsibility.
Several of my male batchmates in the SIMP programme in 2012 came back to India and introduced policies to pro-actively increase the number of women in male dominated industries. One example is that of recruiting entry level women engineers in a petroleum company. I was informed that for every couple of male recruits, the hiring committee approved three female recruits keeping in mind that at the early stages there might be attrition. However, over a period of time, they created a robust pool of female engineers. Kraftsamla is a skilling program for women which has so far been adopted by Swedish companies in Pune and Bangalore with the help of UNDP. One of the women who was trained as a forklift driver felt so empowered, she expressed her dream to fly a helicopter.
Men in leadership positions must use their power to invest in policies and programmes that give a platform for women and other vulnerable groups to learn, grow and thrive. They must do it with intention and mindfulness as diversity brings a positive impact to the bottom line. This is not only applicable in the private sector but also in politics where there is poor representation of women in Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies. But we do have examples of parties like BJD that gave a 33% of Lok Sabha tickets in 2019 to women and ended up with one of the highest number of women in Parliament.
As Ambassador Molin takes on additional responsibility as EU Gender Champion in India, it is clear that his enthusiasm and personal motivation will be infectious in accelerating gender equality. Hopefully, he can be a great role model for his male colleagues from France, Spain and Italy who willingly have signed up to follow suit. We need more men to recognize and accept that the time for gender equality is now and a feminist leadership mindset is the need of the hour. Ambassador Molin is leading the way and we wish him the very best in his tenure as an EU Gender Champion!
The views expressed are the author’s own.