Gender issues: the voice of students

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Who is your female role model? Did you ever suffer discrimination based on gender, or do you know someone who did? What do you think about gender quotas? International Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide on March 8th. To raise awareness on gender issues, we asked Tra i Leoni girls these questions, to know more about their female role models, their experience of gender discrimination, and their opinion on gender quotas. Read the article to find out their very interesting points.

Gender issues: the voices of students

Today is International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on March 8th. This global event was created in August 1910 by a group of German socialist women, who proposed the establishment of an annual “Women’s day”. The following year on March 19th, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. Since then, it is one of the most important days of the year to raise awareness about women’s equality, celebrate women’s achievements, lobby for accelerated gender parity, and fundraise for female-focused charities. Indeed, there is the need to discuss the discrimination experienced by women, in domestic life, the work environment, and society. For this reason, we thought it could be interesting to ask Tra i Leoni women some questions, to know more about their female role models, their experience of gender discrimination, and their opinion on gender quotas. While we have already heard our Professors’ opinions, we thought this year it would be important to listen to the voices of our students.

Who is your female role model? Why?

“My female role model is Sojourner Truth, an African American abolitionist, and women’s rights activist that performed a speech called “Ain’t I a Woman?” at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. Even though she was separated from her family at 9 years old and sold as a slave in an auction along with a flock of sheep for $100, she managed to overcome all that and dedicate her life to fighting for women’s rights, universal suffrage and the abolition of slavery.”

“My female role model is Oprah Winfrey. She is the definition of perseverance and strength, and her story is truly inspiring. Coming from a toxic black family in Mississippi, no-one would have bet she was about to become the first Black woman billionaire in the US. What is even more admirable is that despite her influence and her success, she keeps her values close to her heart and is one of the biggest philanthropists of all times, constantly giving to many charities and her employees. ”

“One of my many female role models is Harriet Tubman. As a black woman in the 19th century, she not only managed to escape slavery, but she went back numerous times to the place in which she was a slave to save other people, never leaving anyone behind on the journey to freedom. All her life she fought for what she believed in: women’s rights, even when she had a bounty on her head.”

“I think that talking about one female role model is reductive. I am surrounded by such powerful, determined, and intelligent women that I can’t choose just one role model. In my family, in politics, in cinema, in literature, in the humanitarian field, and music, the world is full of strong women who I admire and who inspire me. I hope to be able to absorb from them a little of everything they represent.”

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“I don’t have a role model, neither female nor male. I admire a lot of people, both men and women, and I think each has something to teach. I could never have a model without knowing every area of their work, family, and wider personal life, without knowing how they balance these components. My goal is to do my best in every aspect and above all to build a balance. This means having as role models both well-known women who have achieved great things – such as Maria Montessori, Margaret Thatcher and Sappho and women who have been present and loving mothers, good friends, supporters for their families who have made the world a better place in another way.”

“My female role model is Esther Duflo, as she is the youngest person to receive a Nobel Prize in Economics (she received it at age 46) and the second woman to win this award. I find her research agenda focusing on policies to alleviate poverty very inspiring and admirable because it has the potential to make the world a better place for all of us.”

Did you ever suffer discrimination based on gender, or do you know someone who did? Could you describe the situation?

“To be honest, I feel like overall I have been a very privileged woman. I come from Colombia, a country in South America where women are raped, beaten, killed, and suppressed. In September 2020, 87 women were killed. That was an average of three women per day killed ONLY in that month. So, I feel like it is my place to speak for them. Even though we don’t personally witness femicides and aggression against women in developed countries, it doesn’t mean it is not happening. Feminism is still needed, it’s still relevant; women are still being killed based on their gender.”

“I think I have suffered from a very (unfortunately) common type of discrimination based on gender. For instance, many of the times in which I went to buy household appliances, or tools related to house-repairing activities, the shop assistant would say something along the lines of “your father will know how to do this” or “it’s better if your father does it, it’s too difficult for you”. This might seem trivial with respect to other types of discrimination, but I believe it is a “daily” issue that highlights how gender inequality is deeply ingrained in society.”

“I know several women who have suffered discrimination based on their gender, especially in the workplace. There is always a tendency to perpetuate a stereotype of intellectual and social inferiority, masking it behind funny jokes and laughter, which however carries on a stereotype that is now anachronistic and toxic, especially for the new generations, which instead should represent a clear change from this archaic vision of women.”

“Starting from my family, I have always been in “meritocratic” environments and companies: no one distinguishes anyone based on gender, political or religious ideas, social class, and so on. I am aware that this is a great fortune and that it won’t last forever, coming up against prejudices is – sadly – normal. It has happened, in some conversations, that I have been told ironically that as a woman I could not fully understand an issue or a point of view, but I have always replied, leaving the interlocutor embarrassed by himself.”

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What do you think about gender quotas? Do you think it is a good tool to reduce discrimination?

“I do not think gender quotas are the solution to discrimination, but I think they can help reduce it. Discrimination is a cycle that can only be solved through education. Gender quotas are a very controversial topic, and of course the thought of “Oh, but then they will be choosing women only because of their gender and not their qualifications/abilities” has crossed my mind- and it has some truth to it- but at the end, it is positioning women in places they were never included before.”

“I am supportive of inclusion tools such as quotas when they are needed to change the mindset of the population about the abilities of a minority. However, what concerns me with gender quotas is that I strongly believe many women have walked the path for us and proved to us that women are as competent as men. Thus, I do not see the utility of the quotas anymore and would be hurt to know I have been hired because of my gender. If people are aware of the benefits diversity brings to a board and to an enterprise, we will meet the quota even if it is not mandatory.”

“I think they might be a good start, but they are only a small step in the right direction. In my opinion, it is not only a matter of percentages or quota, but it is about the quality of such a percentage. There can be 80% of women in a given council or board, but if they are not given any substantial power, the quota is nothing more than a symbolic thing. Similarly, I think quotas should be used rationally and taking into consideration the competencies and expertise of women candidates, or they will not contribute to solving the issue of gender inequality.”

“I find it worrisome that we still need this tool to reduce gender inequality in the workplace in the 21st century. Their existence means that society is failing to ensure gender equal representation. Given this critical situation, they could be a useful tool to achieve effective equality in the workplace and hopefully a change in mindset as well.”

“I think that gender quotas have positive aspects but that they cannot be a solution, not even partially, if they are not accompanied by a welfare reform not so much in favor of women but rather in favor of promoting an equal sharing of family responsibilities between men and women. For example, when a child is born, after the physiological time needed for a woman to recover, she must be able to return to work and the father must be able to stay at home with his child. In this way, on the one hand, hiring a male or a female worker does not make any difference in terms of paternity or maternity leave because both will stay at home for a few months, and on the other hand, the father is also allowed to be fully present in the life of his child. ‘Children belong to their mother’ is an outdated concept. It goes without saying that this reform will also require a new mentality: for men, it should be natural and pleasant to share family commitments on an equal footing, and for women, it should become physiological not to have to choose between career and family.”

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“It may create unintended effects. Say a company wants to hire 60 people, and among the applicants 40 men and 20 women are the most suitable/qualified candidates for the job. But if there is a mandatory 50-50% gender quota, they will end up hiring 30 men and 30 women, hiring 10 less suitable/qualified women instead of 10 of the men that were in the initial pool. This will create a reduction in productivity. Besides, those 10 men who were not hired although they deserved to be hired may end up with misogynistic feelings, even if they had no such tendency before.”

Author profile

Sara Gobetti is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Politics and Policy Analysis at Bocconi University. She graduated in Political Science from Università degli studi di Milano in 2019. She is passionate about public policies, sustainability, and gender equality. She loves reading, writing and hiking.

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