Empowering women one step at a time ~Rebecca Reichmann Tavares

Even though about 50% of the worlds population consists of women, even the most advanced countries are yet to achieve complete acceptance of women empowerment. Dr Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, former United Nations Representative for gender equality and women empowerment, shares her insights towards the adoption of women empowerment and the challenges faced at present.

Women empowerment is about gender equality where women and girls have the same access to opportunities as men and boys and that means they are treated equally,” says Dr. Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, President of Tavares Associates, an international consulting firm based in New Delhi. She served the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women) in Latin America and South Asia from 2009 to 2017. She was Representative of UN Women’s Multi-Country Office for India, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka (2013-2017), and Representative for UN Women’s Afghanistan Country Office (2017). A native of California, Dr. Reichmann Tavares graduated from Yale University and holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has published books, monographs and articles on race in Brazil, women’s empowerment, reproductive rights and microfinance in Latin America and South Asia.

Reichmann believes that women’s empowerment primarily is for women being able to take advantage of opportunities on an equal basis as men but that also means that women and girls need to feel more self-confident and have more self-esteem. Reichmann adds, “The barrier towards women empowerment is, in fact, women’s own attitude towards themselves and towards other women. Therefore, because of the social norms and the patriarchal attitudes that are seen in the society,  girls and women lack the self-esteem to be able to actually feel that they can perform or they can compete for those jobs or the places in the most competitive environment, whether education or workplace. We need to, as a society, work through the social media campaign, the education system including parent education so that girls are brought up to believe that they are just as adequate and have the same level of potential as boys  and that’s particularly true in the science technology, engineering and mathematics field.”

“The social norms continue to hold women and girls from being able to fulfill their potential” 

Reichmann’s role as head of UN Women was to ensure that the UN supports the government of India to achieve the sustainable development goal, particularly with regards to gender equality and women’s empowerment including especially equal access to education and employment and freedom from violence and ensuring that the rule of law and the government’s system of justice will protect women and defend their rights to live a life free of violence.

The primary purpose of UN Women and its other UN partners like UNDP, UNICEF is to help the government and ensure that its policies and laws and programmes can reach the goals to which the government has committed. “We work with helping the design of the program and also to evaluate it and make sure the indicators and the benchmarks are set up so that the outcome can be measurable,” says Reichmann.

When asked about the challenges that are currently plaguing the issue of women’s right, Reichmann says the common challenges in India are very similar to the challenges across the world. She further adds, “Even when we have strong walls in place and the legal and the policy frameworks are very much up to date in terms of guaranteeing and opening up opportunities for women’s rights and safety, unfortunately in India and in most of the world the laws are not adequately enforced and therefore inequality continues.”

Reichmann feels there are unconscious biases that govern the way girls are perceived and what their capacities really are. They’re held back and, in addition, in the criminal justice system, often times the complaint of women or girls is not taken seriously enough and so the victim of these crimes are encouraged to withdraw the case. The percentage of cases that actually are withdrawn or they simply are never finalised in the criminal justice system is about 65 percent, which is a very high percentage. So whether it’s in the criminal justice system or in the economy or in the education system, the attitude and the social norms that continue to persist despite all of the public campaigns that promote girls and women’s equality, those persisting attitudes and social norms continue to hold women and girls from being able to fulfil their potential.

Citing an example, Reichmann continues, “In a research project, it was found that while hiring in United States, for men it’s based on potential, whereas for women their decisions are based on their performance, their actual experience. Thus, women tend to be in a different criteria than males and this type of phenomenon is in every country so I don’t want to imply that India is just like every other country but I do want to say that India is dealing with the same challenges and barriers faced by women that are prevalent around the world.”

Since women empowerment has very little to do with women and much more to do with men, Dr Tavares says it’s important to recognise that many males, from the time they’re small children, are brought up to believe that they are supposed to behave in a certain way. They believe that they have to ignore their emotional side, that they should not be empathetic or it’s a sign of weakness if they cry or if they show their emotions, so they also are oppressed from their true full self by having to conform to patriarchal gender stereotypes. Therefore, UN Women not only works with women’s organisations but also with men’s organisations like the one in India called ‘Men Engage’ which is one of the largest and most important organisations, who work with schools to try to bring curriculum and projects for boys to understand that men and boys need to change their attitudes towards women.

Dr Rebecca Reichmann Tavares can be reached on Linked-in and Facebook 

Interviewed by Deeba Kazi


First Published: 08-Jul-2018- 07:18