Interview with Dr. Alexia Panayiotou

Feminism has done great leaps over the years. Do you believe that in some developed countries we have reached equality between the sexes?

“Um, no, in none. That’s a simple question. Unfortunately I don’t think we have reached equality anywhere in the world. There’s varying degrees of it, there’s some countries that have done better than others, and I know we always refer to the examples of Scandinavian countries. But even so, even in the Scandinavian countries, there is no representation, there is still violence against women, there’s still trafficking, there’s still honour violence in Sweden. So we’re not there yet.”

In your opinion, what do you think is the biggest reason why women are so under-represented in leadership roles and STEM fields of study?

“As I said in my presentation I believe there’s the demand side and the supply side of the explanation. The demand side is that I think there’s still discrimination, so even if women come forward, we stereotype them, we don’t promote them, we don’t vote for them. It’s just that now I think we’ve become more savvy and more sophisticated in hiding our sexism. So we’ll say for example, like I said in this HBI study, women are outperforming men and have all these great measures but you know when it comes down to it ‘We’re really looking for something else to make someone a manager or a partner, so unfortunately she doesn’t have it.’ So yes, we’ve become better at hiding it. It’s always there, in the way we treat female politicians, in the way they’re represented in the media, the way that school counsellors still deal with girls who want to study medicine or STEM. This is all the demand side, and then there’s the supply side, and that is that women are not coming forward, not demanding equal treatment or just being overburdened with the double shift, so okay we’ll say I do want to see my kids and we don’t have equality in the family and the states don’t care so we don’t have proper childcare. So yes, this is a very complex issue, girls are holding themselves back and girls after they listen to their counsellors who say ‘Are you sure you want to be a doctor? That’s at least 15 or 16 years, and you’re also a very giving person, and you’re also very good at Chemistry and Biology. Have you thought about being a nurse?’ And girls believe that, and they don’t think about going for Medicine or Maths so it’s both issues, the demand and the supply.”

Do you feel like being a woman has ever been a disadvantage through all the years of studying you’ve been doing in order to be successful?

“I’m not sure if I would say disadvantage but it something that I would take into account. We may think that we live in a gender-less world but it’s a very gendered world. From the moment we get up in the morning, to going to bed at night and throughout our lives we have to live in a very gendered world. It could be the little things like people honking at you when you’re driving because they assume that you’re a bad driver when they look at you and they see a woman. It could be the person in the parking lot who is bossing you around about where to park but they wouldn’t boos around your brother or your friend. So it’s these little things that you have to tackle on a daily basis and then there’s issues in safety. You can’t walk on the streets safely, you have to watch what you’re wearing, no matter what they say. We see research that when we go to see our school counsellors, they treat us differently, our teachers, our managers, our professors treat us differently. So, I would hate to use the word disadvantaged but I would say that yes it’s an issue for women throughout their lives, whereas it shouldn’t have been it the same way that it’s been for boys and men but in a different context. Like, we assume that after a divorce a father shouldn’t be with his kids and that’s a result of a sexist world as well, it’s just the flip side. But sexism is bad for everyone, not just for women.”

In your speech, you mentioned the quota companies would have, to have a specific percentage of women on the board. As you saw, many disagreed, on the grounds that the most skilled people should be hired, regardless of their gender. Why do you support the implementation of this quota?

“Because, first of all I strongly believe that women are equally skilled, if not better skilled, and yet because of years of discrimination through multiple levels throughout their lives, they’re not equally represented on company boards. I think another question that often comes up is ‘but won’t we end up with less skilled women and how tragic would that be?’ But we don’t stop to think of the less skillful men that we have had for centuries in multiple countries that have destroyed the world, not just businesses – and we didn’t stop to think that the only reason he got the job was because of male privilege. We don’t stop to think of it that way but then when it’s about quotas all of the sudden we remember issues about equality and equal skills and discrimination, oh and a very skilled man is going to be discriminated upon but all these centuries, millennia we don’t stop to say oh that skilled woman, she was discriminated against. So I think it’s a necessary thing to go forward. Will some people be discriminated upon, reverse discrimination? Probably, but this has been happening all along.”

If there was one piece of advice you could give to all the female members of MEDIMUN to face this discrimination what would that be?

“I would say first of all believe in yourself and your abilities. Believe in your brain. And second of all – I have [a second piece of advice], I’m cheating – demand a better world. Organise and demand a better world.”

 

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By Constantina Courea