It was a phenomenal experience, listening to UN Secretary-General, Ban-Kimoon and other influential people from around the globe discuss how women were being empowered and strategize a future of equality and inclusion. They called for leadership to promote equality in the workplace; for parents to teach equality in the home; for males to champion the cause and for transparency, and reporting, on progress in the equality effort.
Yet, the most profound moment of this elite gathering happened to me during a coffee break. That’s when I met Miriam from Egypt. A tall, forty-five-year-old brunette, she towered over me as we greeted each other in Arabic, kissing on both cheeks. Like long-lost friends, we chatted casually for a few moments. Then, I asked her when she would return to Egypt.
“I fly back tomorrow. I can’t stay until the end of the conference because I’m marching in Tahir Square on the 8th,” she replied nonchalantly.
I was momentarily speechless. Miriam was not some vague image screaming protests on TV. She was real. In fact, she was a successful businesswoman and yet she was determined to actively fight for women’s rights in Egypt. And she did not just fight from the safety of a conference room, but from the streets. Side-by-side, she would join women from all classes as they marched.
I felt remarkably humbled by our encounter.
As I walked back to my seat I considered our differences. Though women in Cayman do have more rights than Egyptian women, I wondered why it didn’t seem to disturb women here that they were still not getting their equal rights. Didn’t it bother them that their male counterparts were still being paid more than they were? It bothered me. And the echo of all those voices calling for equality now had a face – Miriam’s face. That chance meeting with the fiery Miriam inspired me to press on, advocating for women in Cayman in my own way.
On my return to Cayman, I presented the WEPs to the management of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (CIMA), my employer, and they readily agreed to start openingly advocating for gender equality.
Later that year in June, the experience of that NYC trip culminated in CIMA being the first statutory body to formalise its gender equality efforts with a massive training effort in the Gender Equality Law, 2011.
But that was last year.
This year, CIMA became more bullish about its gender equality efforts with the active commitment of top leadership by way of the Gender Equality Pledge. And what better organisation to lead this effort than one led by a woman.
As the MD signed the Pledge with the Minister of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs, the Honourable Tara Rivers, I was flooded with gratitude to be part of such a momentous occasion. CIMA was making history. We hope that others will follow suit.
CIMA pledged to promote gender equality in the workplace and equal opportunity in employment-related matters; prohibit discrimination against any person on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy or any characteristic based on gender which applies or is attributed to a particular sex or marital status or pregnant state; and ensure a safe working environment for all, prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace and taking immediate and appropriate actions to prevent such conduct.
CIMA was already one of Cayman’s leading gender-equal organisations, upholding many of the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles. Boasting 65 percent female employees, CIMA also has existing initiatives in place to support work-life balance and the full participation of women, proactively appointing female employees to management roles. Still, we wanted to be even more active in the initiative.
In recognition of International Women’s Day 2014 and Honouring Women Month, CIMA also hosted a staff lunch and a screening of the award-winning documentary, Killing Us Softly 4, to increase awareness about gender discrimination in advertising.
But it doesn’t stop there.
CIMA is also striving to introduce a mandatory, online training programme on gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace for new employees.
As International Women’s Day (8 March) approached, I thought about her. I imagined her shouting and marching boldly through the crowded streets of Egypt, demanding her God-given right to be treated fairly. Little did she know that on a tiny island on the other side of the world, her unwavering dedication had now become part of my story as well.