Almas Jiwani is the President and CEO Almas Jiwani Foundation, the President Emeritus of UN Women Canada and an Internationally renowned Speaker & Philanthropist. The Audacious Catalyst and Epitome for Gender Equality and Women Economic Empowerment. She graced request of Mélange International for an exclusive interview.
Q: What are the major factors affecting gender equality?
Ans: One of the main obstacles, in my opinion, is that women disproportionately lack access to the tools they need for success, notably finances, education, technology and a sense of self-confidence. Women are denied loans and financial support in many countries around the world for their entrepreneurial endeavors; often loans can only be taken out by husbands or a male relative, which not only discourages women entering the business or start-up instead, it promotes patriarchal values. Finally, there is a large confidence gap between men and women in business, and this gap exists in all countries, including the developed countries such as Canada. Empowering women by focusing on renewable energy brings two fold powers in their lives, i.e. light and communication. This can become a catalyst for turning an ordinary grass roots women into an entrepreneur. Cellular phones can reduce the gap and empower remote women.
Q: What is the status of gender equality in our country. How can we improve the situation at grassroots level?
Ans: We are getting there… It will always be a challenge for our women to face this gap in equality… Nevertheless, we are achieving this and adapting and facilitating methods to empower and support women in all fronts. I do not believe we have achieved it even though we are getting there or I would not have started the AJF. Our mission statement as a foundation is to empower women and girls through focused projects that will directly address gender equality, education, and energy and entrepreneurship rights affect; their lives in positive, meaningful ways. AJF programs are aimed at empowering girls and women by expanding access to education, increasing economic opportunity, and providing or improving access to energy at the most local levels possible. An improved access to energy will yield a co-benefit of better use of technology and modern communications systems, including smart phones and the internet. Our goal is to evaluate millions of women out of poverty. The technologies that we in the west take for granted, could affect these communities the most, and help them harness their power for economic gain.
Q: Why our work matters?
Ans: The threats and challenges women and girls face all across the globe are more sinister and fierce then ever. From the ravages of war and famine to sexual and reproductive rights and health, women are frontline fighters for their own survival, for the survival of their communities, and for the survival of their lands. In a context of increasing violence and environmental devastation; AJF proposes and will provide opportunities for the empowerment of women and girls through its 4E capitalization, as this has the potential to change the struggle from survival to ‘thrive’ of humanity. Empowering women is the single greatest tool we can employ to lift millions out of poverty, and is a resource that has been underused.