Cerrar la brecha mundial de género, con Eliza Reid

15 de marzo de 2023 - 33 min escuchar

Con motivo del Mes de la Historia de la Mujer The Doorstep pone de relieve las medidas que se están adoptando para lograr una mayor igualdad de género a escala mundial, una propuesta que, según declaró recientemente el Secretario General de las Naciones Unidas, António Guterres, está "a 300 años de distancia". ¿Qué pueden hacer las sociedades para acelerar el ritmo del cambio? La primera dama de Islandia, la escritora y empresaria Eliza Reid, se une a los copresentadores Nick Gvosdev y Tatiana Serafin para hablar de los éxitos de Islandia en la consecución de la igualdad para todas las mujeres y de los marcos culturales y políticos que pueden exportarse a otros países para promover la igualdad de género.

¿Qué significa sobre el terreno la "infraestructura para las familias" (atribuida a la senadora Elizabeth Warren)? ¿Cuáles son los retos más acuciantes? ¿Cómo pueden los medios de comunicación ser una mejor "ventana al mundo"?

Cerrar la brecha de género Podcast de Reid Doorstep Enlace Spotify Cerrar la brecha de género Reid Doorstep Apple Podcast link

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Welcome, everyone, to this edition of The Doorstep podcast. I am your co-host, senior fellow at Carnegie Council Nick Gvosdev.

TATIANA SERAFIN: And I am Tatiana Serafin, also a senior fellow here at Carnegie Council, today celebrating Women's History Month as we will for the rest of this month, but we are starting out with a super-great guest. I am so excited.

I am going to read the first line from the author's note in her book because I love the way she describes herself, and then I will give you her name: "I am an entrepreneur, author, speaker, mother, feminist, and immigrant, and I am married to the president of Iceland." First Lady Eliza Reid joins us today to talk about her book Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland's Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World, but really to tell us about what the United States can do better—what policies, what cultural shifts we need—to get to greater gender parity here. I am so looking forward to Eliza joining us right now.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Eliza. I am so excited to have you here during Women's History Month. We have been talking a lot about International Women's Day, women's rights, and gender equality, and who better to talk about that than you. You are here on your book tour for Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland's Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World. Thank you so much for this book and for joining us today.

I want to get right into it with a quote from the book. It is beautifully written. This is not a Book Talk—I know we do Carnegie Council Book Talks—but this a great read on so many levels, and I will go into it. I have so many questions. Really my head exploded, but here we go: "The people of Iceland are changing the world by bringing gender equality within reach, but the secret to doing so and even trying to achieve it one day, an important if utopian target, are in the open domain. To translate an Icelandic idiom verbatim, 'They lie in the eyes upstairs,' they are actually obvious, in plain sight for all of us to see if we take the time to look, to understand their significance, and how we can use them to press forward step by step."

I mean, hello. They are all here for the eyes to see, and one of the things I thought puts it into perspective and brings it home here to us at The Doorstep is this term, "infrastructure for families." We talk about green infrastructure and infrastructure spending. Infrastructure for families I think is one of the best ways ever I have heard this argument for gender equality and how we can achieve it.

Walk us through, first of all, the genesis of the book, and second of all, the idea of infrastructure for families because I do think that this is one of the ways that we can bring it home to our audience here and around the world.

ELIZA REID: Thanks for that, and thanks for having me on the show. I have to give credit where credit is due, and the phrase "infrastructure for families" I at least initially heard Senator Elizabeth Warren use in speeches in the United States. I think it is always important, especially with women, that we credit women with phrases than what they used. It is exactly as you say. I like that phrase because it implies something that is vital to our societies overall and something that is improvable and arguably even fixable and vital to us.

What does "infrastructure for families" mean? In Iceland that means government-paid parental leave policies for both parents, colloquially called a "use-it-or-lose-it" scheme, which means that one parent gets a certain number of months—about five months if I recall correctly now; we are always expanding and changing it—the second parent gets the same amount of time, and then there is a third chunk of time that they can split between them, the idea being that, for example, in a heterosexual partnership with a father and a mother the father has to take his leave or nobody gets it. That enables people to go back to work sooner but also encourages fathers to get involved with their children's upbringing.

After that parental leave policy is finished, then there is heavily subsidized, high-quality child care, not at all compulsory, but a large majority of children go through the child care system, and then there are additional subsidies that are provided for single parents, students, people with disabilities, and even siblings. My husband and I, for example, had four children together in just under six years, a short period of time, and we had very extensive discounts on the childcare options because we had so many kids in the system.

That infrastructure for families I think is important, but you also asked me about the genesis for the book. At the risk of not wanting to take up all the time talking too much, in a nutshell you can maybe hear from my accent that I am not originally from Iceland. I grew up in Canada, and so I see Iceland, my adopted homeland, where I have lived now for 20 years, a little bit differently maybe. Maybe there are things that I see as very remarkable that perhaps people who were born in the country take for granted.

Because Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index for 13 years, which colloquially means we are closest to closing the gender gap in the world, I wanted to paint a portrait of my adopted homeland using that as the theme, so I wanted to explore what it is like to be a mother, an entrepreneur, a politician, or a soccer player in "the world's best country for women." I wanted to do that by speaking to regular people, regular women, not Björk, the singer, or our first female president or female prime minister, because I wanted our stories to be special and unique to people about Iceland but also be relatable to all of us so that we can all see that even though we may not all change the world in a massive way we can all try to nudge things in the right direction and that we all have an influence.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I like the way you are putting it because this directly speaks to our ethos here at The Doorstep, which is that things matter, they matter to you in your everyday life, and your everyday life is connected also to bigger trends. So this idea and focus of you and women, of the World Economic Forum on gender parity and gender equality, has been discussed on a macro level. You mentioned these macro indicators—what are we looking at?—and you talk a lot about it in the United States on how much is a woman paid? Much less than a man in general. Looking at this as an infrastructure for families and your example that we can maybe follow from the United States there are opportunities, looking at Iceland, because I think benchmarking—you are a businessperson—is such an important part of changing and making those changes.

What I also got from the book is that it is these policies on the one hand, but it is also cultural. There is something very specific about a culture of equity and equality. I would like to talk about that because I wonder if there are things we can nudge in those areas as well as the policy areas.

ELIZA REID: I absolutely think that is important, especially when we are talking about big issues like equality because sometimes I feel it is a bit like the climate crisis. We all think, What can I do?, but it is too big—if I recycle something, that is not really going to make a difference—and if I am working toward a more equal world, I can call my representative if I want better child care options, but there are so many levels to reach that stage. What I hope is that the stories of the women I spoke to in the book inspire people on an individual level.

I try to give some examples. Not only do I try to talk about these top-down policies and approaches that we have, I also try to talk about grassroots movements that have led to changes in law, for example, the movements from the queer associations in Iceland and movements that are working to enshrine the rights of trans individuals specifically more in law.

But if we look to an even more individual level and what we can do as people, I try to talk a lot about using our voices and following our own dreams. One specific example I would give here is this idea of what I call "putting our gender-equality glasses on all the time," or our "diversity and equitability glasses."

If you think about all the books that you have read in the last month, what was the diversity or the breakdown of the authors of what you read or the topics? What about in the movies that you go to see? I was just driving on my road trip here in a number of Southern states, and I remember looking at—you know there are sections of the highways that different people can donate and contribute to? I do not remember seeing any names that were women or any schools that were named after women. I do not know that I saw any statues of women in places. I was not looking absolutely everywhere, but I sort of absorbed that.

I think these are subtle messages that we get over and over and over again that somehow say, hm, men's contributions to this community are more important than those of women. That is not to say that the men's contributions are not important, but it is all to say that we need to be seeing in our lives those voices and images of women and diversity in general more I think. That would be one small thing for us as individuals to think about in our daily lives, what we are reading, consuming, and talking about.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I like your focus on diversity, and I want to address that because you are an immigrant and you call yourself an immigrant to Iceland throughout this book. You talk to and address immigrants in Iceland from Colombia and Jamaica. You have many examples. Can you talk more about the immigrant experience in Iceland and maybe how that is different? We are facing a big migration crisis here in the United States. Are there learnings from that experience we can also parlay?

ELIZA REID: This was something that was important for me to discuss in the context of Iceland because I think there is an impression that Iceland is a very homogeneous society and that perhaps when we are talking about gender equality that makes it somehow easier. In fact Iceland is a much more diverse society than people think. About 16 percent of our population holds foreign passports. That does not count people like me who have acquired Icelandic citizenship and were born and raised abroad. The comparative figure in the United States is 10 percent, so there is quite a big percentage.

A large majority of immigrants are from European countries; they are not people of color, and I think there is still in some ways inherent prejudice that we need to be working throughout within Iceland. For that reason it was important for me to discuss these issues in the context of gender equality in the book.

There is obviously no cookie-cutter immigrant or cookie-cutter immigrant experience. I talk about my own experience—it has been largely positive—but I also acknowledge that I fall into the most privileged category of immigrant. I am a white, heterosexual, educated woman from an English-speaking, high-income country, and I moved because of an Icelandic partner. Yet I have still experienced several little microaggressions or occasions when I have been "othered." For me it was important for the Icelandic audience to read about different people's experiences and also for people abroad.

I think the diversity that we are seeing in Iceland is adding to the dialogue. There is a woman I speak to, an entrepreneur originally from Palestine, who has contributed by her new company in Iceland, but then there are other issues, and I use immigration as an example of the intersectionality between gender and other issues to underline the point that when we move toward greater gender equality first of all it is not lifting up one group of women at the expense of men or another group—it is lifting up the playing field and benefiting society for everybody—but that we cannot leave any groups behind. We cannot leave behind women of foreign origin, queer women, women of color, women with disabilities, and there are unique and different challenges that these groups also face. That was something that was very important for me to explore in the book in different dimensions.

As you mentioned, I speak, for example, to a lawyer who is originally from Jamaica and who talks about her experience as an immigrant of color. I also speak to another woman who is from Mexico and who lives in a very small isolated community and the challenges that come about from living somewhere very, very small and remote and yet also quite diverse. As you mentioned, in that community 20 percent of the people are foreign-born. I hopefully am able to explore a little bit of the nuance there, but the overall message is not to leave anyone behind.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think in terms of looking at equality it is a fresh look at saying elevate all and not just focus on one group. I do think we tend to get headlights and talk about one topic without being expansive. The wonderful part of your messaging is that it is a holistic approach to both policy and culture across groups with a lot of intersectionality.

Also—and I think you are very frank with this—it is not perfect in Iceland. I want to bring that up because you were very honest about, yes, there are quotas and there may be more women on boards, but we still do not have enough CEOs, and women do tend to go into certain fields and not others. I find that that messaging needs to get out there too because you mention how maybe people think Iceland is more homogenous than it is. I think people also think it is more of a utopia than maybe it is. To bring that perspective I think is important. Would you like to share what you have in the book here?

ELIZA REID: Thank you. I think you are right. You mentioned a couple of the examples that I talk about, one in the corporate world, what we have already discussed, this idea of not leaving groups behind. I mention a couple of other areas, one that I hopefully also mention fairly extensively in the book, and that is gender-based violence, which exists in Iceland as it does everywhere. We need to eradicate this if we are going to work toward equality.

I also talk about this idea that Iceland is part of this "Nordic paradox," as we call it, which means that there are actually in real terms somewhat higher reported rates of gender-based violence than we see in other countries, which is a little bit counterintuitive and needs to be examined further, but we hope that it is because there is perhaps less stigma about reporting it, a broader definition of what it constitutes, and more trust in law enforcement, and yet there are still these high-reported cases.

If you speak to any women who is a survivor of sexual assault or gender-based violence, she is going to be one of the first people to tell you that Iceland is absolutely not a gender paradise. There are very low rates of convictions in these situations. The example of the woman Rose, who I speak to in my book, said that actually the push toward equality actually hindered her in some situations when she was fighting for sole custody of her children, so that is a big area.

Another area that falls outside the scope of this book but I think is important to address is this idea of our definitions of masculinity and toxic masculinity because gender equality is not a women's issue. It is not just for women. One of the benefits of that, as we see in Iceland, is when fathers take parental leave, for example, and have a close relationship with their children, there are lower divorce rates as a result of that, etc.

Conversely as we get to more equality, many of us are taught now, "Oh, we teach our daughters they can do anything, they are very strong and independent women, and they can do all this," but somehow our definition of what a "real man" is has not shifted all that much. I think we ought to be a bit more expansive in our societal acceptability of masculinity. It leaves and isolates a lot of especially young men and adolescent boys who somehow do not feel like they find their niche within this narrow structure right now, and I think that can potentially be dangerous going forward and something that we ought to also be discussing when it comes to issues of achieving gender equality. In Iceland there are very high rates of suicide amongst young men and one-third of students at the University of Iceland are men now, so we also need to be looking at these issues.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Nick, do you have something?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I was struck, and I appreciate the point about how this needs to be holistic because of the point you raised about "use-or-lose" parental leave. We have seen that in other countries you can pass and say parental leave is available, but without the use-or-lose "pressure," to put it that way, to encourage men to use it, men do not take it—this goes back to your question about images of masculinity—because it is seen as this is going to impact them negatively in the workforce and they need to show that they are dedicated to their careers. This then has a negative impact on professional women because professional women who need to take parental leave are penalized for it, and it creates a cycle.

One of the things that struck me about infrastructure for families again is that is, as you said, not a women's issue but a societal issue. We see throughout the industrialized world concerns with younger generations—"We can't afford to start families, we don't have stability for family formation." Of course it is not just about personal satisfaction, but it has impacts for a country's ability to generate a population, a workforce, and so on. As you said, one of the things I appreciate about how you are framing all this and why it is important for Doorstep listeners to take this into account exactly is that this is not just about a narrow set of issues.

I wanted to go further about this idea of scaleability. Can this in fact, the things that Iceland has been doing, be transferred? We saw a few years ago that there was this—again getting to the Nordic question; I know that maybe Finland does not always see itself as a Nordic country—infatuation with the Finnish school system that you saw in the United States, "Let's import aspects of Finnish educational policy," but without the holistic understanding that you need a whole variety of support for it to work.

Do you find in your conversations that policymakers in other countries have a sense of the wide variety of measures—not just the passing of parental leave policy or changing something there? What reception have you been getting?

ELIZA REID: Generally a very positive reception. I think you are right. I almost try not to emphasize the policy area so much, even though it is important, a little bit because I feel, especially in my role as a first lady, it is not my place to come to another country and say, "You have to introduce this law like our law." I can talk about the positive effects those policies have had in my country. My function in the book as well is just to inspire people and to know that we can all have an impact on an individual level.

Your earlier example, when you spoke about, say, fathers not necessarily taking their leave because they do not have to, I think we know—or you can instinctively see—that father, that individual, if they take their leave, the benefits that that brings in terms of domestic violence at home, in terms of relationship with children, but if you are the employer, for example, if you are not the one taking the leave, don't we want to have employees who are happier in their home life? I think employers are looking for more of that holistic approach to give employees reasons to stay with them longer. There is that reason, as you are talking about this holistic idea, that if you consider, am I as an employer somehow inadvertently pressuring a man to think, You can't do as good of a job if you take parental leave?

We are all connected all the time anyway. So many people, especially in very "white collar" jobs, are online. It is not like you cannot reach them when they are on leave, but that takes time to become the norm. You will see that if you walk around Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, and you go to parks. It is not at all uncommon to see men pushing strollers, going to the park with kids, or taking them to the swimming pool and doing activities with them. That is the normalization that we need, and we need people to break that barrier.

Those are also some of the women that I try to speak with in the book. They are not women who define themselves as glass-ceiling breakers or activists necessarily, but to me they are because they are like the fishing captain that I spoke to. She did not describe herself as a feminist or activist, she just wanted to captain a fishing vessel. She was the only woman in her class who graduated, and she caught the most fish the first day. I think that is a great example because she is not letting the societal pressure tell her what to do, and the more we see that the more we all learn that it is okay to do what it is we want to do.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I want to jump on that. I was going to ask before, is part of the societal change driven by a younger generation? I want to know if you see that. It is a little bit outside the scope of this book, but I am always talking about Gen Z. It is no secret. I was trying to look up population data in Iceland. I know the Millennial population is a little bit bigger than the Gen-Z population, but do you see a generational shift as well, and can that lead to faster change?

I am thinking about faster change in particular because I just read this sad quote from the UN secretary-general that it is going to take "300 years for gender parity to be achieved worldwide." I do not know if you saw that quote, but what?

ELIZA REID: I agree. I think we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us always, the generations, and we need to give a lot of credit to older generations, everybody from fighting for the right to vote to legal representation areas. In Iceland we have a first female president, political representation, and all of this kind of thing. I think we need to acknowledge that. That was a concerted, difficult effort with a lot of sacrifice.

I think now that just needs to continue. We need to fight back against any kind of apathy, but we begin by broadening the definition. Someone asked me at an event I was at the other day: "When I was young I was very limited to my career options, and now young people are not limited anymore," and effectively said, "So isn't that kind of enough?"

I pushed back against that and said, "Yes, I think many women in high-income countries now feel like we can pursue more careers, but what about gender-based violence? What about queer women, minorities, and women with disabilities who still feel discriminated against in some way? What about the online community? We see all the threats, especially to young girls and to their self-esteem and the ways in which we see downright misogyny online trying to silence women's voices?" The battle continues, and I think we are just shifting what it is that we are working toward.

Certainly young people need to be very optimistic. I have four children. My three oldest are all sons. They make me very optimistic. I would not say that they are activists or that, but I think they will be good people and good men when they are older, and the people that they are around feel that way. That makes me optimistic for the future.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I want to talk about the online idea because part of what I look at is the global internet that makes us feel like we are next door to each other. I may never have been to Iceland, but I certainly feel like I have seen it. Before the holidays on Instagram everybody was talking about how in Iceland—I do not even know if it is true because I did not fact-check this; as a journalist, please help me—is it true that you give books to each other for Christmas?


TATIANA SERAFIN: Okay, so that is true. That was on Instagram probably a hundred times a day in my feed, at least.

I am wondering what your hope is for the online connections and how they can help promote perhaps looking at infrastructure for family planning? How can we connect via the Internet more effectively and efficiently and in a positive way?

ELIZA REID: As you say, this is a double-edged sword. I think there is a lot of concern in terms of self-esteem especially for women and pressure for different things, but it does shrink the world a little bit as well, which is excellent. It enables us to communicate in other ways.

We also see the Nordics are leading—I have not read it in great detail, but I guess it was last week at the Commission for the Status of Women in New York. Iceland's prime minister was in attendance along with another delegation to talk exactly about new policies that the Nordic countries are leading against digital violence against women. This is a whole other area we need to start creating legislation around so that gender-based violence online can also be prosecuted.

What often happens in an online community like this is that we end up silencing women's voices. People share a post or make a comment online. I have a number of female friends who are journalists abroad, and they face a deluge of misogyny and hate in different ways than male journalists face. Not to say that they do not also face attacks, but threats of rape, murder, and violence are very different.

I have such respect for women who keep doing that and do not let their voices be silent, but maybe we all need to somehow speak up. In my book, where I spoke about this idea of the online community, the Instagram influencer I spoke with said, "You know, when I got threats, every single time I got an actual threat, I reported it to the police." Not necessarily the things did not always come about, but just so they have records of it and they have a number of it, and they can find people because often it is—in her situation, she spoke about a death threat she received that was from a high school kid who did not realize what they were saying and were able to go and speak to them. I hope that we can use it to communicate more and relate more, but we have to be really vigilant in terms of the dialogue and remember that there are people and human beings at the other end of those discussions.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I want to ask you now my two favorite questions. I saw that you already half-answered it in the Appendix 2: Further Reading. I always ask about the media. Since we are online and you mentioned journalists—you are a journalist yourself—where do you go to find good information, good storytelling? Who would you recommend to our audience to read? You do have here about Iceland—and I can post all of these in our feed—

ELIZA REID: Probably these ones because I have forgotten a lot.

TATIANA SERAFIN: RÚV English. Did I pronounce that correctly? Iceland Review, Reykjavik Grapevine, Iceland Monitor, local writer—

ELIZA REID: Alda Sigmundsdóttir.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Anybody else, not only about Iceland but in general? Where do you feel good information is available?

ELIZA REID: That is all Iceland news to stay updated that is provided in English. That is pretty much all of the Iceland news sources in English.

I tend to follow for news the BBC, The New York Times. I read a lot of Canada's Globe and Mail to follow news from my home country. I always intend to read more of the long-form articles. I do not know if you can relate to this idea of having a whole lot of "to read" articles that we never quite get through, but I try to stay as up to date as I can on current affairs. I am not active enough on Twitter to follow all the latest stories. These are the sort of main media outlets that I listen to, and sometimes on social media the algorithm gives you various other stories and studies, and I try to follow up those.

I like reading a lot of nonfiction and I enjoy books that talk about important non-fiction issues like Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, for example, which is an excellent book I think, Caroline Criado Perez's book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, books that make you think about different topics.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Speaking of books, what is on your bedside table?

ELIZA REID: I am in a hotel room; nothing. I will tell you the book that is in my backpack. You can tell me this. I have always wondered when people do books do they actually tell you a book that they think is the actual answer or what is actually on the bedside table?

I am going to tell you the book that I am actually reading right now. It is called The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany. I bought it a week ago at an airport in Stockholm, and it is about nine women who were primarily members of the French Resistance during the Second World War and were captured very near the end of the war and sent to concentration camps and escaped in the death marches that took place as the Americans and Soviets were approaching Berlin. It is their story. That is what is in my backpack, what I am reading right now.

I am into audiobooks. I just listened to an audiobook called Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears, which is all about the Oscars, a new book by a New Yorker staff writer, and I got a new book recommended to me by the American ambassador to Iceland, which I have not started yet. It is about NATO, the United States, and relationships with Russia, so just a little light listening in the evenings.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Very light listening.

Thank you so much for the recommendations. Our audience thanks you too, and thank you so much for your time today.

ELIZA REID: Thank you. Thanks for having me on the podcast.

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Carnegie Council para la Ética en los Asuntos Internacionales es una organización independiente y no partidista sin ánimo de lucro. Las opiniones expresadas en este podcast son las de los ponentes y no reflejan necesariamente la posición de Carnegie Council.

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