This website uses cookies to ensure a better browsing experience; in addition to technical cookies, third-party cookies are also used. To learn more and become familiar with the cookies used, please visit the Cookies page.
By continuing to browse this site, you automatically consent to the use of cookies


Khalida Brohi. With ‘Sughar’ we give women wings and the chance to free themselves

Culture / -

Khalida Brohi is 26 and is the founder and executive director of Sughar – Women with Wings, a nonprofit enterprise in Pakistan that offers opportunities to Pakistani women from the rural and tribal areas, opportunities to learn new skills and acquire leadership abilities in an environment of growth and development.

She participated in “Starting from girls: they are the source to trigger a change!” the meeting organized by Save the Children as part of Women’s Weeks to guarantee a better future for adolescent girls. The cycle of events called “The other half of the Planet - Women's Weeks" is being held from June 29 to July 9 at Expo Milan 2015: a conversation on the great challenges in food and female empowerment.
Could you explain to us what Sughar is and what is gives to the young girls?
Sughar is a non-profit social enterprise organization based in Pakistan. Sughar actually means “skilled and confident woman” in the local language. Women normally do not hear these words here, instead they get told they are lazy, not a good wife etc. However, when we tell them they have good skills, then their confidence soars. We just need to give them opportunities to become leaders one day in their country. We understand that women do not need empowerment, they need opportunities to empower themselves. We think that they have potential but they need to unleash this potential through training, with expertise that can be provided to make them great leaders in their communities.
What does Sughar do?
We go into a village and train 30 women in one big training center. There we carry out six months of business skills training that includes education on their rights, and practical information on how to use embroidery to create a fashion product and earn money from it. After six months we give them grants to launch a small business in the village, mostly in the area of fashion, as we have trained them how to make purses, shoes, and other things that can be sold on the international market. We give them the grant on the condition that they hire seven women to work in their business, thus creating more employment in the village.
How long have you been working with Sughar?
Since 2009, when the first idea occurred. It was for a small project which was successful. Then in 2011 we launched the main training center project.
Do you have any special memories from your time spent working with the girls so far?
Yes. I remember one facilitator in particular. We had selected three facilitators in the village and train them to then teach the other girls. They are trained for six months and then these girls come to Karachi to carry out the training and we give them some money. This one girl came and told us that she had to fight all her life to go to school but her family could not afford for her to continue her education past primary school age. However, once she came to be trained as a facilitator, she not only started teaching in the village but with the money she received was able to attend one of the best colleges. Everyone found out about her and now she’s called “the teacher”.
Do you believe the alliance among women can be important in the fight against malnutrition?
Yes, I think so. My mother was very ill when she was pregnant with me. She was 13 when she had my older brother, and 14 when she had me. She was a very skinny girl who always had health problems. Now she has eight children and suffers from a number of kidney problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure and I feel that if she had received better nutrition as a child, she wouldn’t have these health issues now. We have so many programs these days for women. We just also need to teach women what are the right foods for them and their children…it’s a simple task, and it can change things for entire generations.
What were the initial challenges that you faced?
Whenever we talk about women, we must not diminish the role of men. When we first started working with the women in the villages, the men were completely against us and wouldn’t let their wives come. We had to work on this, involving the men to change their mindset, while at the same time we were changing women’s, so that they both were aware of what was going on. Whenever we talk about a woman who is in parliament, likely there is a man behind her who has been helping her, like my father who was a big support for me.
Had your father seen your potential when you were young?
I’m one of eight children and I have an older brother. One of my favorite memories is from when I was little and my father put me on his shoulders and went out in the village to show everyone how much he loved me. Everyone was concerned that he was showing preference over his son, deemed as the most important and able to take care of him in his old age. But he told them all that they had no idea what his daughter was going to do, and he said that he knew from that moment what I would become and what I would do one day!

Orietta Varnelli. We need a cultural change if we want to achieve gender equality

Culture / -

Orietta Varnelli

The President of ActionAid Italia, Orietta Varnelli, has taken part in the Women’s Weeks in order to place emphasis on female empowerment and women’s rights. Looking towards the September event in New York, with the adoption of new Sustainable Development Goals.

In 1995 in Beijing, the first United Nations Commission on women’s status was held. 20 years later, one of the Sustainable Development Goals to be discussed in September in New York (the fifth) concerns Gender Equality and Empowering Women. What successes have you achieved so far?
This year of 2015 is an outstandingly important year, because a whole series of crucial international events is happening. As far as women’s rights go, things have changed radically from a legislative point of view since 1995. The principles of gender equality and equal opportunity have been established in many countries. But there are still massive stereotypes, cultural resistances which impede the concrete everyday application of the principles laid down by law. So, the path is still long, but Expo Milano 2015 is a fundamental bridge between Beijing and New York… a place for discussing the challenges we still face.
What should you aim at in order to be fully satisfied by what is established in September in terms of gender equality?
The themes of agriculture and the right to food, the themes of Expo Milano 2015, are crucial for ActionAid, but they are also closely linked to female empowerment. This is a sector where women play an extremely active role, but their rights are often denied. The efforts and achievements made by women in this field are not rewarded by a corresponding control of the land and its resources. Agriculture is a sector where equal rights have not been applied, and this exposes women more acutely to poverty. The message which is being transmitted here, through WE-Women for Expo, must also be taken up and continued in the September negotiations.
Can an alliance like WE-Women for Expo, which tries to invest in, and aim towards, female governance possibilities all over the world, be useful?
Alliances are always useful. An alliance between women, which has rarely been fully tried, could certainly help to overcome the problems which still remain, not only during the six months of Expo Milano 2015 but also thinking about the Dubai Expo in 2020 which – very likely – will face us with new and different problems to resolve. Women’s rights are an absolute necessity, and the hope is that all the results which all too often are achieved only on paper will become concrete realities. We have to make sure they do not remain only as good intentions.
WE-Women for Expo would appear to have all the right credentials for becoming one of the Milan Expo’s most important legacies. What do you think?
The project is already a legacy, it has already reached towards the future and already achieved concrete results. Women who hold important roles in society in many countries have met up and established the basis for a permanent work table. But men must also sit at this table, because if we really want to bring about the necessary cultural changes – and this is the biggest obstacle, and the most difficult to overcome – their contribution is indispensable. We need complementarity between genders.

Ilaria Capua. Women’s ideas need to have their own voice and reach everyone, men and women alike

Innovation / -

ilaria capua intervista
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015

A virologist, defined as “a revolutionary mind”, the “strong lady” of Italian research, and rapporteur in many TED conferences, Ilaria Capua manages to reconcile her work in the laboratory, exploratory missions abroad, talk shows and her family. This is why she is the perfect example of the woman who, during the Women’s Weeks of Expo Milano 2015, can inspire other women to do things, to study, to take risks.

“Adventures, misfortunes and thoughts of a globetrotting researcher”: the subtitle of her book/story/diary "Viruses don’t wait" skillfully summarizes the course, character and spirit of the scientist, who is well-known for her research on the flu viruses and in particular on bird flu. Ilaria Capua is also renowned beyond the scientific community thanks to her political activity and her tireless commitment to telling people about her work in books, conferences and TED events. The strategy of vaccination against H5N1 formulated by her laboratory today forms part of the European legislation designed to control bird flu. At the same time, in 2006, she made the genetic sequence of that virus public, giving a significant impulse to open-source science, with the establishment of a worldwide campaign designed to favor free access to the data on the genetic sequences of the flu viruses. And for these reasons, she became one of the top 50 scientists of Scientific American in this period. 

You presented the meeting “Food security and risk: how to restore consumers’ trust.” You are a recognized authority in the field of food security. As a woman, was it more difficult for you to emerge in a position of excellence in your work compared with the career paths followed by your male colleagues? 
In these cases, it’s not always good to generalize. A lot depends on a person’s character and a lot depends on how life turns. It is almost as if, with this question, we were attempting to attribute the result of our work in terms of success to a single person. The individual is very significant, I’m sure of this. One of the things I always say is that you need to have a strong will and perseverance, in particular if you are a woman. If the truth be told, life is also influenced by external factors. You might meet a boss that puts you forward for promotion, or a boss that stands in your way… 

But you yourself stated that “women in Italy should be more determined. They allow people to put the brakes on them. They put the brakes on themselves. And it all ends up that in the field of science, women do jobs with a medium to low profile. The Nobel Prize, also in terms of power hierarchy is, by no coincidence a male prerogative”. 
If we look at the figures, women definitely find it more difficult to reach the higher positions. It’s partly a limit imposed by the system and we need to work on this, but on the other hand it's also partly due to the need for women to produce more determination, more energy. And especially if they are to see things in the medium and not the short term. If things are not going well, if your boss doesn’t like you, you can always change job. You need to be flexible and you must also want to move in different directions. 

Ok, flexibility and a strong will are two key elements in the world of work today. I’d like to suggest another one: the ability to communicate. Not only to appear, but to communicate with precision and skill the concepts we represent to an ever wider, more social audience. 
The ability to communicate is extremely important. In my career as a researcher, for the ideas I have carried forward, also in the field of science – the transparency of the data – succeeding in communicating it to both the scientific community and to the public to ensure that these ideas also benefit from a favorable wind, is essential. And this is something that limits many researchers, who are often closed within themselves and therefore find it hard to make their ideas reach the places they could be reaching. 

Is the atmosphere here in Expo Milano 2015 fertile, from this point of view? Is there an exchange of experiences? 
Oh yes, definitely. Here there are courses which also involve people with different skills and this in itself is positive, because we find ourselves alongside people who do something completely different but who can first of all add something to what you have said, and they become contacts which will also last after the event is over. I find it a very positive experience, and most of all a very varied one, thanks to all the people who come from different worlds and walks of life, in particular during these Women’s Weeks, ranging from Valore D which has its own story and message about taking business initiative to experiences and eye witness reports on civil rights and agriculture. 

One of the initiatives generated by WE-Women for Expo is the Women for Expo Alliance, a document-manifesto of women against malnutrition and food waste. Is the idea of an alliance between women something that can also be valid in the field of science? 
I don’t agree with all women’s or all men’s clubs. Wealth comes with diversity. So let’s understand one another. As long as there is an engine that pushes ideas like these, carrying them forward, a work group essentially composed of women is fine! But then the best results are obtained with the largest, more varied audience possible. 

What you mean is that it’s ok for women to discuss issues from the sphere of women, or that target women, as long as they are then examined and received by everyone, right? 
As long as they are cross-fertilized by people from all over the word, of different genders! 

This Universal Exposition is the first one in which women play a central role, thanks to WE-Women for Expo. Do you think that this experience can also be replicated in the next editions? 
I would like the women’s group which launched WE-Women for Expo, which has generated ideas touching on certain themes – relative today to feeding the Planet and tomorrow to those of the forthcoming editions of Expo, whatever they may be – to be recognized, so that women’s ideas have their own space in which to express themselves. I would be delighted to see a WE-Women for Expo 2.0 and then 3.0 in the next Universal Expositions where this idea could be given a voice. Sometimes women’s priorities are different from those of men. For instance, malnutrition and worldwide health are issues which are very close to women’s hearts. Women’s ideas must therefore have their own voice and it must be raised. Then the message it conveys must reach everyone.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

The ExpoNet Manifesto