First Lady, Philippa Karsera-Christodoulides.
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Empowering equality: Vision leads to progress

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By First Lady, Philippa Karsera-Christodoulides  

“Empowering Equality: A vision for Inclusive Participation and Social Transformation.”; a pertinent theme that we should always engage and exchange perspectives on.

A first reference point is the word “vision”, because without vision, there is no transformation, no change, in whatever shape or form. And then stemming from vision is planning, strategising, persistence and resilience, which lead to progress.

A starting point for me is always personal responsibility towards our society and our world. Everyone is responsible for the way the society we live in looks and behaves. As citizens, mothers, teachers, artists, journalists, managers, employes, politicians. Besides, we are all voters. Beyond what governments do in terms of policies and enforcement of laws, the most pressing question in my eyes is, “What do you do for others?” and, what do we do for women?

Every one of our actions, words or thoughts bear consequence in our lives and more importantly in the lives of other people. Social media, for example, offers a platform, and our image and words hold the power to influence every single minute.

Let me draw some examples from my own path. First, as a big fan of the theory of strategy, which I studied back in 1998, I can confirm that any plan might fail because of “friction”, the unpredictable element that might show up and destroy any plan, no matter how well prepared it was.

It is good to have goals and put down means and ends. However, we must accept that we cannot control everything, and we have to be adaptable. Charles Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest or most intelligent of the species that survives, but the one that’s most adaptable to change.” Things can change dramatically, and women have this skill of adaptability by nature.

I remember back in 2001, my husband and I applied for our first posting as diplomats abroad to serve at the Permanent Representation in Brussels. At the last minute, other colleagues were selected. We were both disappointed. We had made plans and we were excited that we would work in Brussels acquiring the EU experience at an early stage in our career. At first sight, the change of plans seemed like a disaster.  A few months later, we ended up in London at the Cyprus High Commission. Many of the great things that followed in our professional and personal lives had their roots in that first posting. The people we met and who inspired us professionally, but also personal life circles, the work experience and the place where our family was born.

The first lesson learnt was whilst you are making plans, always be ready for unpredictable changes. They may be challenging, but they may also bring new opportunities. Strive for work experience and be grateful and adaptable. Remember, women are more adaptable; they show resilience and flexibility. Thus, we have an important role to play.

Secondly, I became the person I am today, because I was blessed to work with professionals who were more skilled than me in terms of knowledge, education and work experience. Bright people with good character. Most of the time, I am surrounded by strong, opinionated women. Look for them, they are out there.

In my career, I was blessed to serve as a junior and then senior diplomat in three postings – in London, Athens and Brussels – and I had worked, as most of my colleagues, in many other positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Palace. I chaired groups during the first Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the EU back in 2012 and six years later, I became the SHERPA of the President of Cyprus in the European Council for 3.5 years. I had to negotiate matters of core national interests in very demanding environments with strong countries, significant players, big names and experienced negotiators. Following these, in 2021 I became the acting Secretary General of the newly established EU Secretariat at Cyprus MFA, a post that I had to leave in February 2022 when my husband resigned from his ministerial post.

Not always easy

Throughout all these years, as a young female diplomat married to another diplomat, who later on became a member of the government, things have not always been easy.

Third lesson learnt, be yourself no matter what. As long as you work hard, you have a vision. Do not tolerate injustice either for others or yourself. Being the daughter or the wife of somebody, of course, impacts you, but it should not define you and your future.

Fourthly, women should be able to choose whether they want to be in demanding professions or not, or in any profession, business, politics, arts or anything they set their minds to. No potential role is obligatory. Women should feel that it is OK to take breaks, to enjoy motherhood, to avoid burnout and to study later in life, to be “just the wife”.

Women are educated, smart, capable, experienced and bring to the table a unique set of characteristics. We are practical, results-oriented, committed, effective, sensitive, but sensible, with empathy and a great sense of what is just, reasonable and fair.

Women also have a moral compass, an instinct that guides them.

What women should not relinquish while progressing in their professional path, and this is my fifth point, is all these precious elements of their female nature.

The Women Leaders’ Forum is so timely. Cyprus is undergoing important changes through the implementation, for the first time, of such a detailed and targeted programme by the government of Nikos Christodoulides to promote gender equality and make Cyprus a fairer place for everybody.

We need more women in all decision-making bodies, politics, arts, culture, sports, business, everywhere, because this will be extremely beneficial for Cyprus. And I am really happy, because the largest ever participation of women in the country’s history has been achieved. Today in the composition of the Council of Ministers, women make up 39%. In the Boards of Directors of semi-government organisations, we have reached 40%, especially in the positions of presidents and vice presidents.

In the first year of Nikos’ governance, we have already seen the implementation of policies related to public schools, supporting young mothers and families, extending maternity leave and so much more. What needs to be done is now clear, to bring more women into high positions. We need more nurseries and baby care centres, better schools and public transportation, great elderly care centres, safe playgrounds and green towns, equal pay, more annual leave for mothers and flexible working methods. Families need tangible support.

A year ago, Nikos was elected president and then I realised that something much bigger existed than my personal career; that I was struggling for so many years to reconcile with my role as a mother with priority given to motherhood, which needed at least for a while my full dedication and personal commitment.

More inclusive

I am grateful for what I have and feel a sense of responsibility towards people who have trusted my husband in the leadership of this beautiful country. And I am proud that day by day, through the implementation of his vision, Cyprus is becoming a fairer and more inclusive place for all.

Every day, I realise that I can find happiness in supporting my husband to bring about some real progress in Cypriot society and everyday life, and to work towards reunification and peace.

I am also trying to transform the Presidential Palace, the Presidency’s premises and surroundings into sustainable, green places, for which we will all be proud and schools from all over Cyprus will be thrilled to visit and learn about Cyprus’ history and culture.

There are so many projects in the pipeline and the singular purpose is to make these years as beneficial as possible for Cyprus. Before the clock strikes midnight and everything comes to an end, we need to work today and not postpone for tomorrow.

The “right balance” between all these might never be found for us women but, it is OK. As long as we keep striving for personal improvement, always be kind and compassionate. Trying to inspire via our commitment, fairness and hard work. Helping other women, “leading by example” so that one day, we will be able to reply to the question, “What have you done for others?” and be happy that we have done our utmost.

 

Excerpts from a speech, “Empowering Equality: A vision for Inclusive Participation and Social Transformation” by First Lady, Philippa Karsera-Christodoulides at the Women Leaders’ Forum