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‘Stop asking only women to make compromises’

U.K.’s former first lady urges support for women’s education and professions

Blair speaks during a table discussion at Ewha Womans University on Wednesday. (Ewha Womans University)
Blair speaks during a table discussion at Ewha Womans University on Wednesday. (Ewha Womans University)
Societies should provide more support for women’s education and careers, as they are directly linked to achieving stability in the community, said Cherie Blair, chancellor of the Asian University for Women.

“When women are educated, they contribute greatly to their community’s stability. For example, an educated woman is more likely to ensure her children receive vaccines and proper nutrition,” said Blair in an email interview with The Korea Herald. The founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair added that more stable communities can lead to a more efficient supply network, which in turn could lessen conflict.

Blair, however, added that women are still being pressured to make sacrifices in terms of education and work in many parts of the world, particularly in Asia. This is why most of her work is based in the region.

“More than a third of the world’s child brides live in South Asia. ... AUW students from Afghanistan and Pakistan come in having witnessed terrible cruelty, like an older sister beaten into a coma 10 days before her wedding, or a mother being harassed for not having any sons,” she said. “These years, right now, are a crucial window for establishing a generation of well-educated young adults who will be taking up the reins in decision-making and leadership in their countries.”

But Blair said that many countries represented at AUW have demonstrated a huge growth potential despite having far to go in gender equality, indicating the likelihood of even more progress upon achieving gender parity. “Bringing women more fully into the picture would help ensure that this growth continues in a sustainable fashion,” she said.

She emphasized that education can play a great role in economic development as demonstrated by the case of South Korea.

“It’s common knowledge that education has been a key driver in the extraordinary growth in this country (Korea) over the past few decades. I’m particularly impressed by the percentage of students who go on to university, since I believe higher education is when people form the skills needed for leadership and complex decision-making,” she said.

Allowing women to get education on demand is critical to achieving gender equality, which can lead to economic prosperity, Blair said. “That is why I talk about educating women as the most important thing we can do to improve world peace ― it’s where there is the most improvement to be had and it’s what brings the greatest dividends.”

In order to give women equal opportunities at work and in education, the society must “stop asking women to make all the compromises.”

Workplaces in particular must adapt structures that do not “implicitly penalize women or deviations from traditional male leadership style,” while enabling career continuation after having children. She also suggested a gender quota policy to encourage diversity.

“It won’t work unless we change our views. We’re entitled to do that,” she said.

By Yoon Min-sik