To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021, we asked female delegates working for the Montreal Protocol why it is so important to have more women in positions of influence?
Reflecting back on a year of unprecedented challenges, also highlighted in this year’s theme for Women’s Day - #ChooseToChallenge - we were curious to know what challenges they had faced in their careers and how they responded to those challenges.
What follows are the inspiring messages of trailblazer women underscoring the vital role women play in protecting the ozone layer.
Haijun Chen, Director, Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, China
With their innate traits of inclusivity, thoughtfulness, patience and sense of responsibility, women make unique contributions to effective decision making and communication. Many positions related to the protection of the ozone layer in China, including those for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, particularly the National Ozone Unit (NOU) and Programme Management Office (PMO), are held by women who have demonstrated great dedication to project implementation, compliance management, policy development and negotiations.
I have seen many examples of women playing critical roles in project implementation. A case in point is that women project officers from the PMO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as the implementing agency helping enterprises replace hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) with hydrocarbon technology to reduce both labour intensity and chemical concentration in workshops when they noticed the potential damage workers (mostly female) might suffer in the solvent sector.
While gender balance has been paid much attention to in the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, it is still of great necessity to further increase the proportion of women engaged and have more women in positions of influence. Women's leadership in decision-making should be fully developed and I believe it would play a more important role in the future.
Stereotypes about gender might be a big challenge for professional women in their career development. Some traditional thinking, such as women being born weak, emotional and indecisive, is still deeply rooted in some people’s minds. At the same time, women are expected and inclined to take on more responsibilities in the family especially in child-raising. This will result in the difficulty for women to give the same weight to their careers and families. For me, one of the ways to overcome these challenges is to ensure I am efficient, persistent, firm and a good team player. Thanks to my family’s understanding and all the valuable experience shared by my amazing colleagues, I could focus on what is important “right at this moment”.
It is very important to provide more equitable opportunities for women to play to their strengths and full abilities. For example, in my country, we have taken actions in facilitating women’s participation in ozone layer protection. In designing and implementing project activities, we focus on the proportion of women involved and the improvement of women's competitiveness by organizing skills training and capacity-building sessions. Gender mainstreaming is gradually penetrating the different fields and I’m confident that more concrete actions will be taken from all society to further this cause.
Laura Estela Berón, Ozone Programme Office Coordinator, Secretariat of Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Technological Innovation, of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Argentina
When I started working for the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, I had already experienced several international negotiations in other multilateral environmental agreements. However, after 19 years working for the Montreal Protocol, I can say that these have been the most challenging years of my professional career.
Working for the Montreal Protocol has been a unique opportunity for all of us who have had the chance to work in this global arena for a treaty that is widely considered the most successful multilateral environmental agreement signed to date. As a member, I can confirm that this success was possible thanks to the so-called “Ozone Family“, in which female members are an important part. The Montreal Protocol gives women the opportunity to participate and meaningfully contribute in decision-making processes at all levels and take on leadership roles. Women’s role and contribution to negotiations and policy-making at national and international level has been very important in the work of the Montreal Protocol. For instance, that is very well reflected in our region since a huge percentage of National Ozone Unit leaders are women (e.g. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Paraguay).
Negotiations are not only difficult because they may have a big impact on a country´s economy, but also on the welfare of the society and future generations. That is why every negotiation has been very challenging. Being the only environmental Protocol that is globally ratified means that we have to accommodate the needs/concerns of every single country in the world. Believe me, that has been a huge task!! Making policies and guidelines suitable to address situations from the biggest country to the tiniest island in the world, obliged us (the parties) to reach difficult consensus that could fit them all. Regardless to say, that language has also been a barrier for face-to-face negotiations for people of my region.
Women play a different role in society. We are accustomed to deal with much more things simultaneously than men. As a result, we are more adaptable and have a broader view of problems and possible solutions. We are more creative and naturally tend to be more open minded. We can also anticipate problems more easily than men, and last, but not least, we are good administrators! This further explains why both women and men are indispensable in representative bodies. Women in charge of a National Ozone Unit had even further challenges in the field implementation back home. The Montreal Protocol requires compliance and complying with control measures is always a huge new task which awaits us at home. Here is where multitasking becomes very important.
Working for the Montreal Protocol obliges us to work very closely with different sectors: industrial, agricultural, and medical, among others. Negotiating with all production sectors, trying to address their concerns and needs, and knowing that all conversions will be very hard for them, is very challenging too. It also obliges us to keep ourselves updated with technological innovations. And last, but not least, articulating to numerous stakeholders such as various Ministries, Customs and importers, security forces, consultants, and refrigeration professionals and technicians, etc.
My last thought on our day is that any woman can succeed in her objectives and goals as well as any man, but it requires hard work dedication, education, training and knowledge to get the experience and skills needed, and these are the basis of that success.
Laura Juliana Arciniegas Rojas, Head of Environmental Affairs Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Colombia
There is an array of remarkable female leaders around the world that have exemplified with no doubt the sense of duty, commitment, devotion and compassion that a woman can bring to the execution of any job, big or small. What is a position of influence? One where one can drive change for the better of society as a whole. It is often thought that female influence and leadership come from women in positions of power where they are the ultimate decision makers. Whilst that is unquestionably true, it is also true that change is driven from the bottom up. As such, the ultimate position of influence of women should have a broader, wider recognition and, above all respect, for the role women play in society. Not only as leaders and professionals, but also as mothers, teachers, care givers; multitasking more so than men, providing care and raising children. In a more challenging world, where children are sometimes taught to see hindrance in one gender or another, women perpetuate an ever-growing sense of possibility driven not by gender, but rather by hard work, decency and compassion.
I have probably been afforded more opportunities than many others - both men and women - in terms of an advantageous situation in terms of education, life experience or economic well-being. Nevertheless, having had those opportunities does not come without its own set of challenges. Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is making your contribution, your work, your actions and your life worthy, not of recognition, but rather valuable towards something bigger than yourself.
I have been entrusted to lead, in situations where others, perhaps more experienced or seasoned people than me, pose great pressure towards the many issues the teams I have had to lead believe we have to fight for, not just for my country but for the sake of the sustainability of the global context. The challenge there has been not letting these teams down and empowering such leadership on that trust that was bestowed upon me, regardless of players that are probably more powerful and in a more advantageous position than mine. In addition, feeling sometimes small compared to the task at hand, despite the many advantages I perhaps have been afforded as an individual. I have overcome such a feeling knowing that what I do has to not only live up to those opportunities that I have been afforded, but also given me a deep sense of understanding and humbleness, that I as much as everyone, matter - that I can make a difference, and that I, in a position of leadership, have not only the responsibility but the honour to carry forward the hard work that others have taken on. Not for their benefit but rather to deliver on a bigger cause that ultimately enables a better life for all of us here and those that are to follow.
Margaret Aanyu, Environment Assessment Manager and Ozone-Desk Officer, National Environment Management Authority, Uganda
I feel it is important to have more women in positions of influence because they add value to decisions which have to be made regarding any pertinent issues. Hence, the big decisions being made in different fora in present times and those which will be made in the future, need to be taken from a balanced perspective, with involvement of women placed in strategic positions of leadership and influence. Global events (be it social, cultural, economic) are evolving at a rate which demands multi-faceted approaches to managing trends and challenges that those events present to human beings and the planet in general. It is well known that women have a big role to play in policy-making and decision-making processes across all sectors because they possess unique attributes which are sometimes taken for granted. Some of the notable attributes that women possess that are instrumental/useful when women are placed in positions of influence, include: their ability to multi-task, empathize and seek finer detail and compromise in challenging situations. Tapping into these attributes can be beneficial to different policy-making and decision-making process that affect human life and planet earth, among others.
With regard to my career I have had and still have opportunity to gain from trainings and acquisition of different skills and knowledge. Equipped with such, I have tended to choose to take up the challenges I have faced and navigate sometimes into the unknown, such as the phase in my life when I began handling matters concerning the Montreal Protocol, and taking additional responsibilities. Sometimes along the way I did not get the cooperation I desired when working with other people who may not perceive matters the same way I do. As a result, sometimes there would be unwanted delays in realising set outputs in specific timeframes. I have also realised over time that one may not apply all the knowledge and skills gained because of not being placed where it is required or can be applied. However, I still look forward to the future though to apply the knowledge and skills I have not yet been able to utilise. Overall, I am grateful for all the support systems that have equipped me to handle challenges I have faced over the years.
Tumau Herownna Neru, Principal Ozone Officer, Ozone Section - Meteorology Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Samoa
Though we come from different races, ethnicity, nationality, religion etc., WE, Women, can all relate to one common fact: we are the bearers of life and thus come with natural compassion, and a loving and caring instinct. Quite often I have seen this maternal nature reflected in the determination, commitment and dedication of women in the Montreal Protocol family working towards initiatives to preserve the ozone layer. Women’s intuitive protective instinct and passion for a better environment gives them a certain drive to provide input with an encompassing approach to not only consider the immediate impacts of environmental challenges but also their long-term impacts on future generations.
Working as an advocate of the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer, I have witnessed with admiration women as great networkers and communicators with patience and perseverance to listen attentively to discussions before making interventions. Having more women in leadership and influential positions could provide the much-needed change for the betterment of humankind.
The Montreal Protocol work is quite diverse, ranging from policy-making decisions to ground level technical implementation of activities. One of the challenges I encountered in my first years as Ozone Officer was working with Customs and the Refrigeration and air-conditioning industry which are both male dominant fields. Throughout the years, awareness and capacity building activities enabled good collaboration with these entities and even more so build my confidence as a woman to promote ozone protection. With endurance and determination nothing is impossible!
Finally, for all the young women out there looking for an opportunity to contribute to a better world, the Montreal Protocol would be one of the most rewarding careers you could ever have.