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“It is important for men to also understand that this is not only the problem of women…”

 

 Interview with  president of WINNET-Europe Britt-Marie Torstensson

The delegation representing Europe’s biggest network of women resource centers “WINNET Europe” arrived to Armenia from Sweden in early May at the invitation of the OSCE Office in Yerevan. The aim of the trip was to get acquainted with the activities of “WINNET Armenia”, a network of women resource centers, which is their partner since 2014, and to develop a new roadmap for collaboration. Our talk with “WINNET Europe”s President Britt-Marie Torstensson started from her impressions about the visit to Armenia.

“Our Co-operation is mutually beneficial”…

–My impression is that the women resource centers of “WINNET Armenia” have done a great job especially in Syunikregion. They have been able to bring together women and create a basis for the development of their network. Today it has come out of the bordersof one region, and, as we were presented during our visit,it now unites women resource centers operating in other towns of Armenia. It was very interesting for me to listen to the presentations made during the conference held in Goris and realize that our partners have deeply perceived the ideology of our network and adopted the mechanisms of mutual co-operation. We have passed the same path years ago that “WINNET Armenia” passes now. Let me mention, that “WINNET Europe” today unites 21 women resource centers from 28 EU member countries. “WINNET Armenia” is the only one now that is not from an EU member state. It is very important for us to enlarge the network among the non-EU member states, as we are living in a globalized world. This means that our cooperation with Armenia is mutually beneficial.

-How did your co-operation begin?

-Our co-operation began in 2010 when members ofSyunik women resource centersfor the first time paid a familiarization visit to Sweden, as well as with the Armenian translation of our “For women resource center” guidebook, which they have managed to successfully adjust to Armenia. In 2014 “WINNET Armenia” network, established by Syunik women resource centers, became a member to the European network. Today our Armenian partnershave their own innovative approaches as well. They organize trainings for women; create opportunities for them not only in the job market, but also encourage them to participate in municipal elections. “WINNET Armenia” carries out special activities in encouraging women in that direction, and, as far as we know, it has achievements in increasing women’s representation in local authorities.

 

 “Creation of our network was a social innovation in itself”

-What role does the innovation play in the activities of “WINNET Europe”?

-I think that the creation of women resource centers’ network was a social innovation in itself. It gives an opportunity for uniting our efforts to reach our objectives, so that both women and men have the equal opportunities to use resources, and so that their contributions in the development are equally evaluated.

During the first period of the 20th century some wealthy women initiated the “One drop of milk” project, directed towards assisting children from poor families. Later on it turned into a large movement, and now serious state organizations are dealing with this issue, taking care of children from its birth until the school age, etc. This means that the idea is being born from the ground, starts to develop and influence on state decisions.

In that way we now try to influence the public opinion by not only spreading knowledge and promoting the improvement of women’s life, but also by changing the policies at the local, regional and federal levels, especially in struggling against the gender segregation in the job market. For example, we have done studies which show that the spheres where men are dominant receive 80% financing, while the spheres, where women are dominant, receive only 20%. This is where we need innovative approaches for exploring the issue, justifying it in order to present to the general public. The “Excellence centers” created by us unite the best researchers, who analyze and summarize the practice of all women resource centers, as well as the data received from the researches done all over Europe. In this way we create a scientific basis for developing such strategies, which take into account the gender approaches. By presenting them to all interested bodies, including the state, business sector, NGOs, we influence development policies in different spheres, contribute to activities and the implementation of projects tackling inequality.

 

– We cannot avoid the traditional question: which are the priorities of your work?

-The network works for creating equal employment and development conditions for both men and women, as well as for the equal distribution of budgets and opportunities. The gender mainstreaming policies at the regional and local levels are among our priorities, as well as the struggle against the gender segregation and the enlargement of opportunities for women in the job market.  We have created capacity building centers women that promote the development of women’s entrepreneurial skills, which is one of the most important preconditions for the sustainable development of the economy. We also pay much attention to digital technology and innovations for women’s advancement. We have done studies to identify female innovators, who have introduced very practical innovations, have invented practical equipment. For example, the device intended for disabled peoplethat can be folded and turned into a seat, has been invented by a woman, but very few people know about it. We also try to make the innovative women more visible through our network.

Our special target is the development of rural areas, as well as the close cooperation with the regions. In a nutshell, the main objective of the network is finding areas for co-operation. It can be at the local, regional or federal levels, or between the representatives of different NGOs, media, political and business organizations. As well, wedo researches to influence different policies, which also include cooperation with the researchers. It is very difficult to move the issue forward in the Parliament or Government without any figures or facts. When the politicians get to know the issues without any grounds, they approach it differently. For example, there is a serious issue in the job market concerning segregation in women’s income. We have a research center which does studies in that direction.

Or when we simply say that the gender equality brings economic growth and the whole economy benefits from that, many politicians may approach this issue with some skepticism. Whereas we can prove that fact with exact numbers very easily. Let’s imagine that 48% of women are presented in the Italian job market, and if that number reaches 50%, the GDP of the country will increase by 3% according to the research. The employment of women in Sweden is 78%, and there is a goal to increase that number to 80%, while the EU has an objective to bring the women employment to 75%.

 

 “Without women’s organizations the gender equality will remain on paper”

-What can you say about the co-operation with the Government? Sweden is considered as an exemplary country in this sense…

-As I already mentioned, we need a multilateral co-operation between the state bodies, business structures, international and local organizations. There is a need for gender mainstreaming, to take efforts, to analyze the statistical data, so that someone up above does not decide, which will deepen the inequality.

Even in case of a strong political will, when the moment comes to implement all that has been written, the state structures feel the need to involve others. As a matter of fact, without the efforts of women’s organizations the projects directed to the gender equality will remain on paper. Today we implement researches, polls, the results of which are for the most are needed by the state itself. We have a strong women’s lobby, through which we raise the questions of women.

The government itself should also support women’s organizations. It is very important for the resource centers to become part of state politics through their activities, which will solve their financing issue as well. Since 2012 our organization is part of the regional development policy and has its own influence on gender politics. We have received an opportunity for long-term financing, 3.3 million Euro per year, we are also co-financed by EU projects.

 

-What if you don’t have that money?

-We’ll work like we did before. Before this financing we worked by receiving finances from the municipality, also getting money for different projects, as well as we did a voluntary work. “WINNET” is a non-state, non-political, non-profit organization. Our experience shows that even with a very small budget one can create resource centers and have successful examples.

These are only options, however our biggest aim was for the gender equality to become part of state politics. With the help of our efforts today our program has financing both from the state and the parliament. There are 59 member organizations involved in WINNET Sweden. Both regional and local women resource centers have been established. About 8 thousand people are involved in the activities. Money has given the opportunity for women resource centers to fulfill their mission, i.e. to increase the economic involvement of women, create new jobs, increase the influence of women in the job market and overallcreate equal economic opportunities for men and women. For example, in the last 15 years women entrepreneurship increased from 27% to 33%. Of course, this is not only the result of our work, but we have had a large contribution to reach this result. We have been doing this for years, implemented different projects to develop women’s entrepreneurship. That was done for everyone, who was interested, with a flexible schedule with full-time and part-time options, or working in the evenings or during the weekends.

-How can your experience be useful for other countries?

– Of course, the experience differs from country to country, but it is important that active women become an active part of the civil society, that they have their voice in the decision-making and become part of the policy development process. As a civil society we must understand the perspectives of gender equality and how to achieve it.

Through all these years we have been working to make also men understand that this not only a women’s problem, that this is very important for the development of the country and that there should be some steps undertaken to reach the gender equality. By the way, we engage both men and women in lobbying process. If there are many women in the parliament, then there are more opportunities both in the parliament and within the parties to discuss issues concerning gender equality, which help men to be aware of the issue as well. And in many cases it is important not so much the support of women who have higher positions in the parliament, but, for example, the opinions of those men who believe that the equal contribution can bring to prosperity and development.

 

The interview was done by Tamara Hovnatanyan

 

Read  more on our website:

 

WINNET-Armenia: Opportunities for Women

 

100 job opportunities for women

Delegation from WINNET Europe in Goris/ video

 

New opportunities for women enterpreneurs of Syunik/video/

 

Ruzanna Torozyan: “It is very important to increase the role of women in the economic field”

 

«Goris Crochet» handmade souvenirs. sucess story

 

 

 

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