Round-Up Talk: Equal Rights and Opportunities
Five experts, five questions: question 4
Why and how did your commitment for equal rights and opportunities come about?
Both my parents came from families who had to struggle to make ends meet. They studied in state/municipal schools and my sibling and I grew up hearing stories about how every step towards their education was a struggle. Yet we also realised that this very education was a great democratic equaliser that gave them the opportunity to provide us with whatever we needed as children and allow us to reach our present positions in life. My in-laws, too, came from a similar background. They did everything they could to provide their children with a good education and this has led to the upward mobility of the family. My mother-in-law and my husband believed in educating me after marriage and seeing me through my BA, MA and PhD. I therefore believe that every student has a right to similar opportunities.
Many of my students have experienced gender-based violence in their marriages, but I have seen them survive only because they had an education which allowed them to support themselves and their children in dire circumstances. At the same time, young women who have dropped out of college are at a loss when personal tragedy strikes them. As the leader of my institution, I am committed to providing a holistic education that will equip my students with life skills and physical and emotional stability. It is important to conduct programmes that relate to women’s productive role in society, rather than merely their reproductive role as mothers and caregivers within the household.
Anybody can be exposed to episodes of injustice and blatant racism on a daily basis if you live in a multinational and multicultural country such as Ecuador. In my case, one of the most shocking examples of injustice was seeing how illegal loggers orchestrated the killing of countless members of a group of indigenous people living in isolation in the Amazon region. I could not understand how the pursuit of profit could lead to committing such an abhorrent act, which was later not even thoroughly investigated.
Maybe this example is an extreme one, but it portrays how those members of society that have less power and influence are treated. It also exemplifies the existence of expendable citizens and the urgent need to materialise those principles enshrined in human rights documents into real and effective action. This exercise must take equality as the horizon to correct the historical and ongoing power asymmetry.
Equal access to education, arts and culture cannot be taken for granted.
I have been experiencing social and cultural progress for a long time, both in Finland, my home country, and throughout my time in Germany. Finland especially offers many forms of social support. Arts and culture are held in high regard there and here in Germany. The Nordic countries are still an important source of inspiration for me. I have always considered arts and culture as a means to confront, to learn and to expand my capabilities. This is what I want to preserve for myself and for others.
Currently, though, I am also motivated by the many attempts to force regression: We have to witness how inequality, privileges and discrimination are elevated to “values”, “merit” and “traditions”, and how lies are declared “alternative truths” and cowardly defamations are called “breaches of taboos”. I want to counter these tendencies in favour of enlightenment and liberation.
Sport has been an integral part of my life and identity from early on and in fact, was my personal source of mental strength in very difficult personal circumstances. But only when I had started organising it for other women did I realise how much can be achieved by simply creating the enabling environment for women to have an active lifestyle. I saw how they grew more confident, how they were ready to take charge and lead others and how they enjoyed being active and full of life among other like-minded women. I also saw that there wasn’t any particular public interest or support towards this cause because the common line was that “women don’t do sports”. Despite finding this rather upsetting, I decided to push on and first created Wamsport – a social enterprise that aims to connect women with various sports, and then I hatched the idea of the Women’s Summer Games as the overarching event.
Marco Tulio Pereira Silva:
I believe harmony among mankind is the key for a better, more developed, wealthy, healthy, free and equal society. Economic and social development should walk side by side in a sustainable way. There is no way of reaching that without acknowledging diversity and seeking inclusion and equality at all levels. It is simply a win-win situation that requires the participation of everyone.
Based on my life experience, having always been surrounded by people of all kinds and with so many different backgrounds, a world where the few dictate the fates of the many and consider themselves “better” than others is unthinkable. I have worked in different companies and organisations over the past years, particularly at the public administration level, and dealt with governmental relations with private companies and society. In my work, I have noticed that if civil society is united and the government works together with – and not against – its people, there is no room for hate, segregation and inequality. That is how inclusion and equality can flourish.