TV & Radio
Changing the world one mind at a time
Kiyomi Arai Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Having had abundant experience in promoting gender equality in Sweden and in international organizations, Carolyn Hannan is well-qualified for her post at the United Nations as the director of the Division for the Advancement of Women.
In a phone interview with The Daily Yomiuri, Hannan cited both the advances made in the last 10 years and the obstacles that remain.
"When we had the 10-year review of the 1995 Beijing world conference last year, it came out that there's been quite a lot of advances all around the world. You have many policies on gender equality, good strategies, action plans and legislation. What has remained unchanged is stereotypes about women--what women should do and should not do," she said.
At the U.N. commission on the status of women, Hannan and her colleagues work on policy, helping countries to develop new policies and recommendations on gender equality and women's empowerment. The advances prove that their work has been quite successful, but Hannan says the commission has not been able to change mind-sets and attitudes to the same extent.
"I think that's one of our major challenges in the next decade because that's holding women back in many cases."
Eliminating stereotypes and changing longstanding ways of thinking is no easy task. Hannan has started trying to spread information about what has been gleaned from the review of their 10 years of work.
"We're trying to spread the information so that at the national level, countries can start working on that. It's something that needs to be done across the board, in education, at workplaces, and through the media. It's something that nongovernmental organizations can also work on," she said.
Another thing she focuses on is the role of men. "We'd like to do more work on trying to find out how we can get men to be engaged in this issue, to let them know that it's important not only to women, but to the whole of the society."
Hannan has worked not only in the West but also in Africa for more than 10 years, and in Asia.
Asked what she thought of Asian women, she said: "One of the things that struck me when working with women in Asia was that they were very well-educated. I think that's an area where there has been quite a lot of advances."
However, she again stressed the ever-present obstacle of established mind-sets. "A question that could be raised is that how much difference has that made in [Asian] women's participation in decision-making. Have women been able to use that education to the same benefit as men? Do they get the same opportunity to be leaders and managers and actually play key roles in different areas of society in decision-making?"
In fact, women's participation in decision-making is the crucial topic at present at the United Nations. At the latest meeting of the commission on the status of women, which is held annually, it was the main topic of the discussion among member states representatives.
"There is still some way to go. It's one thing to get the education, but you have to be given an opportunity to use that education," Hannan said.
Relating gender equality to sport, she emphasized the need to give more attention to the topic. "It's a question of women's access to sports, to be able to practice sports on an equitable basis, whether they are doing it as amateurs or professionals. Women's sport doesn't get the support it needs either in terms of structures or in financing."
Hannan pointed out there are differences between women's sports and men's sports in rewards and incentives, even in schools and communities. There is a commission in the United Nations that is studying the topic, as Hannan repeatedly said, "We feel it's just not given enough attention."
She continued: "It's thought of as a second-class area and not considered as exciting as other topics. But it's an area of life. Recreation and sports are important."
Waiting for her first visit to Japan to hold lectures, she is looking forward to finding out what Japanese women are really like.
"We'll have a chance for dialogue [after the lecture], a question-and-answer session. That's a very important way to know what is the concern of people, of women in Japan. I'm looking forward to that, to be able to respond if I have answers and at least take back the questions people have raised if I don't have answers."
Although her work at the United Nations involves policies and legislation of countries all over the world, she has not forgotten how important it is to speak with and listen to people outside the halls of power. "I would hope that we would get some new ideas through this conference, in particular some practical strategies of how we should move forward."
Career of working for women
Born in 1947 in Sweden, Hannan obtained a doctorate in social and economic geography from the University of Lund in the country, and has worked extensively on gender equality.
She was the senior policy adviser on Gender Equality in the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency from 1992 to 1998. While working for her home country, she also worked as the chair of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's working party on gender equality between 1995 and 1997.
More recently, Hannan was the principal officer for gender mainstreaming in the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues at the United Nations' headquarters in New York. She assumed her present post as the director of the Division for the Advancement of Women in December 2001.
Her work experience covers policy development for gender equality and competence development for gender mainstreaming, including many areas such as health, natural resource management, governance, and poverty eradication.
Hannan will give a lecture at the opening ceremony of the 2006 World Conference on Women and Sport in Kumamoto, on May 11 from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., about how men and women can overcome the fixed sharing of roles.
(Mar. 25, 2006)