By Katherine Williams and David Jones
(Traditional Chinese Proverb)
This summer, fifty years after Lieutenant John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, Lieutenant Liu Yang became the first Chinese woman in space. Her mission as a pilot on the Shenzhou 9 craft is the latest step in China’s plans to have a fully operational space station by 2020.
As a national statement of intent, of literally universal ambition, it could hardly be more powerful.
As a global statement of female empowerment, it’s equally resonant.
2012 has been a landmark year for the cause of gender parity, with technological innovation driving progress across continents and time zones. In many parts of Africa, cultural restrictions have given female entrepreneurs little or no chance to develop business ideas. It’s not unusual for African businesswomen to be forbidden by their husbands to travel long distances, limiting their customer base to their immediate surrounding area. But technological breakthroughs are increasing opportunities without causing damaging culture clashes. In July, the number of internet users in Africa passed the one billion mark. For the first time, the continent’s businesswomen can offer a service across distances and borders. The social and economic standing of Africa’s women is long overdue for a boost, and it may well be getting one.
The social and economic standing of British women is not in doubt, and this has been repeatedly underlined in 2012. International Women’s Day has been observed for almost exactly a century, and each year the date of March 8th sees a global celebration of political, social and economic accomplishments. This year Britain was host to almost a third of the global celebrations, with 457 separate events paying tribute to a country and a culture that continues to become more inclusive and meritocratic.
It could be argued that the most powerful assertion of gender parity this country has seen took place in London for seventeen glorious days between July 27th and August 12th. The 30th summer Olympics were a landmark for women in sport and in society. For the first time, women competed side by side with men in all event categories. Boxing and taekwondo, the final additions to the womens’ event roster, were memorably contested by young British challengers who became instant national sporting icons. The public reaction to Nicola Adams’s flyweight boxing gold medal, and Jade Jones’s taekwondo win made it clear that female participation in these events, for so long not tolerated, is now something to be celebrated. Women made up 48 per cent of Team GB, and for the first time the United States Olympic team had more women than men.
Perhaps the greatest progress came from nations with lesser reputations for fairness and tolerance. Saudi Arabia put forward two female competitors, sixteen year old Wojdan Shaherkani in judo and nineteen year old Sarah Attar in the women’s 800 metres. Attar drew attention for wearing running kit which covered her body entirely and clearly hampered her performance. But her presence was far more significant than her attire. Decisions are made by those who turn up. Minds are changed by those who take action. Sarah Attar turned up. She took action. She changed minds and she influenced decisions. This is how the world changes. Little by little, step by courageous step.
One common factor for women throughout the developing world is that language skills can empower them socially and economically. At Wolfestone we believe in empowering our clients, our partners, our friends, to communicate as effectively as possible across all physical and cultural borders.
Learn a second language, embrace a second culture. See what the world has to offer beyond the borders that have restricted earlier generations.
Women hold up half the sky, and in 2012 more and more women have been allowed to rise without restriction and reach for the sky. Future generations may remember this as the year when women competed on their own terms and won. When China, a country often associated with restriction of individual freedom, honoured a female astronaut on her merits and sent her soaring to the heavens.
We hope and believe that the 21st century will belong to those people and those nations who communicate most effectively, who value their citizens and encourage all of them to fulfil their potential, regardless of gender or ethnicity. That’s the way to a better future, in any language.
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