Dubai: From delivering inspirational messages to boost women’s participation in politics, to sharing anecdotes like changing clothes in a cockpit, former British Prime Minister Theresa May won the hearts of the audience at the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai on Monday.
May, who met His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on the sidelines of the Forum on Sunday, spent half-an-hour in conversation with the UAE’s Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh, in a session on Monday.
The UK’s second female Prime Minister, who has been in government service for 23 years as Maidenhead’s Member of Parliament, shared her views about how men, women and society in general can help improve female participation in politics across the world.
She told women never to think that “you don’t get something because you are woman.”
“I think it is very important that you don’t sort of think of yourself just as a woman in [a key] role.”
However, May said having women in key positions was important to inspire the younger generation to aspire to reach those levels.
“If women, young women particularly, don’t see women in government, don’t see women in politics and don’t see women in senior positions in business, they are less likely to think that that is the role they can aspire to. So, having those numbers is important,” she said, while discussing quota system to have gender parity.
May said it is important to have the right selection processes that ensure that women’s strengths are valued within that.
The main obstacle, according to her, is people thinking that “this is not for women.”
“That is why having women in roles is so important and to show that women are doing their roles. They are doing them well. They may do them differently from the men and but they may do every bit as well, sometimes better.”
May said it is important for people in politics to do something else first so that their varied experiences benefit the society.
Highlighting that women should not lose their heart when they get a few knock-backs, May, who was forced to resign from three-year-old premiership last year, shared her experience of losing her very first election.
“I didn’t win my first parliament election…But it gave me a good experience.”
“You have to keep going. If you really believe, you will get there.”
Agreeing that mentorship is important for women to be in leadership roles, May, who co-founded the mentoring and pressure group Women2Win in 2015, said: “In the past, all too often, women who have got into senior positions haven’t, haven’t tried to bring up the women on. I think it is important to share our experiences and encourage other women.”
She suggested that women, like men, should do more networking and use their contacts to help them through their careers. She also urged them to be themselves and have their values and give voice to the voiceless through public service.
Her anecdotes about her heel getting stuck on Downing Street and having to change her clothes while two pilots sat behind a sheet in a cockpit on board an air force aircraft enlightened the audience about the gender-specific difficulties that women in leadership roles may encounter.
Known as a feminist champion, May also touched upon some of the key strides that she had made in empowering women in her roles as the Minister for Women and Equalities and as Home Secretary. She said she would continue to work on domestic violence issues, to end modern slavery and promote mental health.
Writing a book about her political journey is also in her to-do-list for future, if not for the moment.
Five comments that got applause for Theresa May at GWFD 2020
- Don’t think that you don’t get something because you are a woman.
- On the whole, women are better listeners than men. These are generalities. There are men who can listen and women who don’t listen. But I think women are far better listeners.
- I would ask every woman in leadership to actively try and encourage other women to come through, and share their experiences.
- When I went into the House of Commons, there was still a huge emphasis on drinking together and getting together into groups and so forth and some of the women felt that they have to join that. But I didn’t…I did it my way, I was myself and hey I became the Prime Minister.
- [Anecdote] As the Home Secretary today I am sitting and discussing counter terrorism and as the Member of Parliament, tomorrow I will open a vegetable garden. It is important to keep that balance and the representation of the people. You are doing those important things but having that representation with people is important because, at the end of the day, politics is about people.