Women in Diplomacy

International Women’s Day 2022 : H.E. Aliya Mawani, Ambassador of Canada

During your tenure in Kuwait what is your opinion about women’s empowerment in society?

Kuwait is full of talented, creative and inspiring women, and I have been fortunate to meet many of them during my first few months here. These women are trailblazers in their fields — from business, to education and academia, healthcare and wellness, law, the arts, media, climate action, and community mobilization, to name but a few. But they’re not stopping at just leading the way. They are actively involved in empowering other women, through education, advocacy, and mentoring and by building alliances and partnerships with government, private sector and civil society to ensure that women have equal access to opportunities and that their rights are respected and protected.

I’ve been so impressed by the organizations and initiatives that I have come across since arriving here, as well as the number of men who are stepping-up as allies and champions of women’s empowerment. Like anywhere, though, there are challenges. Some women and girls are well-aware of their rights, but others less so, because they lack access to information and support.

And, unfortunately, there are people who seem to view women’s empowerment as a threat, instead of something positive that will benefit and enrich society as a whole. Since being here, however, I’ve learned that Kuwait has always been a regional leader when it comes to women’s empowerment. This rich history, combined with all of the impressive efforts to empower women in Kuwait, makes me very hopeful for the future.

Women are increasingly participating in leadership roles. Do you see this trend rising and what do you feel should be done so that their participation can be increased?

Around the world and across all sectors we are increasingly seeing women in leadership roles. I’m thrilled to see this trend! The fact that the active and accomplished group of women ambassadors here in Kuwait is growing, and that we all are able to represent our countries without obstacles, is a sign that things are moving in a positive direction.

Having more women in leadership is good for everyone. Data shows that high-performing businesses tend to have more women in leadership roles, and that companies that have the greatest diversity (whether gender, ethnic, and/or racial) are more likely to have financial returns above their industry’s average. It also shows that having women leading and being involved in negotiations and decision-making increases the likelihood of achieving effective and sustainable solutions. This is why Canada has made gender equality a priority in both our foreign policy and our international assistance policy.

While the trend in women’s leadership is positive, it is not something that ‘just happens’. More can and needs to be done to get women into leadership roles. For example, sponsorship and mentoring are essential to identify and encourage women to take on senior roles. All institutions, whether public or private, need to make deliberate policy decisions to increase the number of women leaders in their organizations and then ensure that their hiring and talent development practices reflect these commitments. Having more gender equity in leadership is not only the right thing to do, it benefits us all.

In your career have you faced discrimination or hurdles being a woman?

I have had many wonderful opportunities throughout my career, but I have also faced challenges. I’ve had my role as the head of a delegation or my presence in meetings questioned because I’m a woman, relatively young, and “don’t really look Canadian”; been excluded from key events because assumptions were made that I wouldn’t be comfortable in predominantly male settings; and, unfortunately, dealt with harassment by male bosses aimed at undermining my confidence in my judgment and abilities. These experiences have been frustrating, but I’ve found that getting angry does not help fix the situation. My most powerful tool has been to demonstrate clearly that I can do the job, that I excel at what I do, and that I belong at the table. I have benefited immensely from having allies and mentors to encourage and guide me along the way, and I am committed to providing that same support for others.

What is your take on the 2022 IWD theme ‘#BreakTheBias’ or the UN theme ‘Gender Equality today for a Sustainable Tomorrow?’

To me, #BreakTheBias is about every one of us doing whatever we can, each and every day, to break biases and stereotypes that stand in the way of gender equality. These biases may be in our families, our communities, or our workplaces. They may be obvious, or subtle. The actions we take will be varied. It could be something as simple as taking a moment to amplify the voice or idea of a woman you respect. It might be something a bit more uncomfortable, like challenging someone expressing views against gender equality. It might even be participating in a demonstration to advocate for policy change. Each step we take in challenging these biases, little by little, will help us to achieve a world in which diversity is valued and celebrated; a world which is equitable and inclusive; and one where the empowerment of women is regarded not as a threat but as a strength. It starts with us.

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