How far have we come?

To mark International Women’s Day 2020 on 8th March, we speak to Vibeke Thomsen, Director of SheCanHeCan.
Monaco Life: The theme for IWD 2020 is #EachforEqual, recognising all of the actions we can take as individuals to challenge stereotypes, fight prejudice and celebrate women’s achievements. How do you encourage individuals to actively engage in equality for all?
Vibeke Thomsen: It’s a very relevant theme as it calls on all of us to be actors of change. We tend to believe that change happens at UN, EU or national level or through a handful of people, but we often fail to acknowledge that each of us can create change, fight prejudice and challenge stereotypes.
At SheCanHeCan, we work with the local community, by conducting workshops in schools and for companies on inclusion and equality, challenging stereotypes, encouraging difficult conversations, questioning power and privilege. We try to provide a space where those topics can be discussed openly.
We also engage with a younger public through our Parent-Child Book Clubs, reading inclusive books which promote diversity and celebrate the achievements of women and girls throughout herstory. Simply by questioning the usual stories we read, we can make a difference.
Finally, we launched last year our Equality Pledge which aims to engage individuals to pledge to make equality a reality.
Can you give us an update on the ‘Equality Pledge’?
In 2020, we will follow three individuals in Monaco who have each taken a pledge and see how they implement it in their daily lives and how they make a difference at a local and wider level. It is three individuals from various backgrounds and occupations and we will follow their journey, witnessing their successes and also hearing about their disappointments in making their pledge work.  Follow our social media for updates in the spring as we launch this initiative!
We also encourage all readers to view the video and visit our page where they can  take a pledge.

In your opinion, where does progress still need to be made?
I am often told that we have achieved equality, that there’s not much to be done in places like Monaco. Unfortunately, it’s far from the truth. For example, seeing Polanski receive a Cesar prize last week demonstrates that there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s outrageous for all of us, not just for survivors, that we still have to hear arguments such as “we need to separate the artist from his actions”. Interestingly, this only works when talking about artists – we never hear that a baker who ics a paedophile makes great bread!
The vast majority of sexual assault or rape cases don’t get prosecuted. For example, there’s been no sentencing in Monaco in 2019 for rape. When such rape cases happen, it’s hard to speak up if one knows that the perpetrator won’t be prosecuted and sentenced.
The media also has a crucial role to play in how it covers and reports on sexual assaults, how it writes about perpetrators, survivors and the assault itself.
We need to challenge the current thinking that women or girls are somehow responsible of the assault or that men might be accused falsely. A man has more risks of being raped himself than of being falsely accused of rape. We need to believe women. It doesn’t matter what she wore, it doesn’t matter how much she drank, it doesn’t matter how many sexual partners she had previously. We simply need to believe women and girls and it shouldn’t take dozens of women speaking up to convict one man.
More generally, we need to see progress on two other points: (i) engage more men and boys and prove that gender equality will benefit us all, not just women and (ii) gather better data and get better at measuring the impact of actions and initiatives.
The year 2020 is an important one for gender equality. It is the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most advanced blueprint for achieving gender equality in the world. It also marks 10 years since the establishment of UN Women, and the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. What do all of these milestones mean to you?
Those milestones are important. Events such as the Generation Equality Forum will be held this spring to mark the anniversary of Beijing. Since #MeToo, there’s also been a much-needed focus on gender equality, women’s rights and prosecution of sexual crimes. Those milestones also contribute in keeping gender equality under the spotlight and I welcome this.
However, more change must be achieved. We are still facing many of the same issues as 25 years ago: abortions are still restricted for many women across the world, there’s still a gender pay gap, women are underrepresented in positions of power, perpetrators of sexual assault still go often unpunished, FGM and child marriage still occur, women still die of domestic violence, girls face limitations in their access to education, women still do the majority of the unpaid care work, and much more. Those issues need to be addressed, they are not up for debate or hesitation.
As Melinda Gates writes in her Annual Letter: “The data is unequivocal: no matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl.” Hopefully, if we are not afraid to take the right actions now, it won’t be the case in 25 years from now.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned against complacency on women’s rights at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration. According to Ms. Bachelet, the risks of setbacks to women’s rights are real, and growing. “Women’s rights are threatened and attacked on many fronts”, she warned, adding that over this period there has been “a backlash and the resurgence of gender inequality narratives based on age-old discrimination”. Do you agree?
Yes, I fully agree with her. As Simone Veil said: “Never forget that it will only take a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be questioned again. Those rights are never gained, so you must remain vigilant throughout your life”. Unfortunately, that quote rings through today and will probably continue to do so.
I am often told to be grateful for what’s been achieved in terms of gender equality. But achieving equal rights shouldn’t be seen as a milestone, it’s just normal.
According to the World Economic Forum, the gender gap won’t close until 2186. Does this sound as startling to you as it does to me?
It’s startling but not surprising. As seen with Polanski, it’s hard to shake the old institutions, who continue, often successfully, to cling to power. We need to work with all individuals so that everyone realises that more gender equality will benefit all of us.
Progress is still too slow, as mentioned in the report, but I am an optimist at heart and think that through the hard and coordinated work of activists, civil society, governments, and parliaments, that concrete measures and actions will be taken so that it doesn’t take as long as predicted.
How can people get involved in IWD?
Many ways: first, don’t buy flowers for women on that day! It’s a day to celebrate the achievements and progress in terms of women’s rights and reflect on what still needs to be done. It’s a chance to educate oneself about gender equality, women’s rights, herstory, equality and inclusion and why it matters.
Readers can also get involved by visiting our website (, book a workshop for their company or school.
Finally, I also encourage readers to take this opportunity to learn more about our latest initiative: The Red Box Project Monaco. It aims to bring free and organic period products to schools and public entities in Monaco and to break the stigma and taboos around periods. I invite readers to get in touch with us to learn more about how they can bring the Red Box to their work place.