By Staff Reporter
KUWAIT: Irina Gusacenko, a diplomat in the European Union Delegation in Kuwait, spoke in an interview about the strong relationship between the EU and Kuwait, issues related to women’s empowerment and various other topics. The following are excerpts from the interview:
You are the first female diplomat working for the European Union Delegation in Kuwait. Could you tell us more about yourself?
It’s a pleasure to be here and to talk to you today. From a personal point of view, I would like to say that I am proud of the two hats I currently wear: one as a diplomat at the EU Delegation in Kuwait and another as a working mother with a young daughter at home.
From a professional perspective, I have been a Czech diplomat for 13 years and have more than 10 years of international experience. I am delighted to be among the first EU diplomats to be based in this very welcoming country, bearing in mind that the EU Delegation to Kuwait is relatively new.
Prior to joining the EU’s diplomatic service, I served as Deputy Head of Mission at the Czech Embassy in Kuwait and spent five years as a diplomat at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Moscow during a prior posting. As for my educational background, I completed a PhD in European Studies at Charles University in Prague, one of the oldest universities in Europe, and I also hold a Master of Arts in EU External Relations and European Diplomacy from the College of Europe in Belgium, a postgraduate institute established by the founding fathers of the European Union.
How did you decide to become a diplomat?
I am the first diplomat in our family. My personal background contributed a lot to my decision. I was born in the former Soviet Union and lived through turbulent changes in the 90s, before my family immigrated to the Czech Republic at the end of that decade. The cultural and political environment in my new home gave me a new perspective and made me realize the importance of communication, with, and between, countries and people. This made me even more eager to reach out to other countries, to see things from different perspectives, and to understand other people’s viewpoints. This thirst for knowledge and adventure contributed to my decision to become a diplomat.
Furthermore, I have always been interested in international affairs and, in particular, European integration. One of the unique things about Europe Union is the ability to travel freely between its member states and to live and study anywhere in the EU. Europe also gave me the opportunity to really immerse myself in other cultures and made me feel like a truly global citizen. I experienced this first-hand as an “Erasmus” student (a famous EU mobility programme for students) in France with fellow students of 30 different nationalities, as well as in Belgium, with participants from more than 50 countries. My own seven-year-old daughter is growing up in a multi-cultural environment. She is already fluent in three languages and currently learning yet another one.
I truly believe that the European integration process is unique. It brings stability and prosperity. We tend to take the status quo for granted these days in Europe, but I saw the significant changes the former Soviet Union went through during the 90s, and this is why I believe it essential to preserve security and stability. In addition, I have first-hand experience of the direct positive impact on the lives of the people after the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004.
Last but not least: a big thank you goes to my family, my mum and my dad, for their constant support. I remember that my mum used to encourage me to choose my own path in life. She always told me that “nothing is impossible in life” and “knock on the door and it will open”. My dad likes to add: “treat people with respect and open your heart irrespectively of who they are and where they come from.” Those are the principles I follow in my life.
What does the European Union Delegation to Kuwait do and what issues do you work on?
The European Union has 145 Delegations and Offices around the world, representing EU interests to the host countries and building closer relationships between people. The EU Delegation to the State of Kuwait was inaugurated in 2019, as proof of our strengthening bilateral ties. We cover a large number of cooperation areas, ranging from political consultations, trade and investments, energy, research and innovation, to security and women’s empowerment, as well as culture, education, development and humanitarian cooperation. Our Delegation also represents the EU to the State of Qatar. The EU Delegation is different from other diplomatic missions as it also plays an important coordinating role with the Embassies of the EU Member States, particularly the 17 that are present in Kuwait.
What does a normal day for an EU diplomat looks like?
I see the role of a diplomat as a bridge builder, one who works to advance relationships between countries and people. A typical day for me involves a lot of communication in various formats and meetings with various stakeholders in Kuwait, like government and non-governmental organisations, youth groups, academics and the media, whilst exploring ways to strengthen ties and promote stronger political and economic relations between the EU and Kuwait. Analysing domestic developments is another key part of my job.
I am also the focal point on women’s empowerment and human rights issues, so I am privileged to work with many inspirational Kuwaiti women and leaders committed to ensuring full participation of women in all walks of life.
Given the fact that I am also a mother and a wife, I am constantly balancing my professional and private life. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not making our life easier these days, but it taught me to be grateful for what we have in life. And of course, I try to immerse myself in the local culture and enjoy all that Kuwait has to offer. I have become an expert in all children’s-related activities in Kuwait. I am particularly grateful to my Kuwaiti friends who introduced me to life in Kuwait, including the local culture, which I really enjoy.
You mentioned women’s empowerment. Why is gender equality such an important issue in the EU?
Thank you for this question. As a female diplomat, women’s empowerment is close to my heart. As for the EU, gender equality is a core value of the EU and a fundamental right. Equality between men and women is enshrined in our treaties since 1957. It is an important part of who we are and what we stand for as a group of nations.
Ever since its inception, the EU has continued to tackle gender-based discrimination and we are proud that the EU is a global leader in gender equality today and one of the safest and fairest places for women in the world. Women make up to 40.4% of the members of the European Parliament for the 2019-2024 legislature, and the average representation of women in the parliaments of the Member States is 32.7%. Furthermore, 14 of the top 20 countries on gender equality worldwide are EU Member States. All of the above is owed to robust legislation, efforts to mainstream gender priorities into different policy areas, and laws to address particular inequalities.
And yet there is still much work to be done: . For instance, the majority of women in the EU still carry a disproportionate burden of unpaid care responsibilities within their families, which hinders their participation in the labour market. They continue to be under-represented in decision-making positions in politics and business and, on average, women still earn 14 % less than men do across the EU.
How does the EU promote women’s empowerment within the Union?
The EU is a global front-runner in promoting gender equality both within our Union and beyond. The European Union is working to address two of the greatest challenges women face in the workforce – lower participation in the job market and the gender pay gap. Currently the employment rate for women in the EU is 67%, while that of men is 78%. To help close this gap, the EU adopted the Work-Life Balance Directive, which aims to improve families’ access to family leave and flexible work arrangements. It seeks to better support a work-life balance for parents and care-givers, and to encourage a more equitable split of parental leave between men and women, who often carry the biggest burden of childcare. Building on this, the EU has set a new goal for Europe – aiming to cut the gender employment gap in half by the end of the decade.
To address pay inequalities, the EU is proposing a European Directive for Pay Transparency. It is built on two simple principles – equal pay for equal work and transparency to ensure employers treat women fairly. Finally, the European Union is also putting women at the heart of the recovery from the pandemic. Stronger engagement on gender equality is key to a sustainable global recovery and to building fairer, more inclusive, more prosperous societies. Indeed, estimates show that advancing gender equality could add about EUR 11 to 21 billion trillion to global GDP by 2025.
The EU is seen as a champion and protector of women’s rights globally. How does the EU promote women’s empowerment abroad?
The EU promotes gender equality through development cooperation programmes throughout the world as well as in our EU trade policy. The EU is also a major player in international fora on gender equality. The EU recently launched its Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Relations 2020-2025 (GAP III), which is looking for greater and faster progress towards gender equality by promoting a transformative approach and mainstreaming gender perspectives in all policies. The EU is also encouraging change in social attitudes, by actively engaging men and boys and by putting a focus on young people as drivers of change.
What is the EU doing to support women empowerment in Kuwait?
In spite of the fact that the EU Delegation was established only two years ago and despite COVID-19 related constraints, we have been actively working with our local partners on promoting women’s empowerment. Just to provide a few examples – we set up the informal EU-Kuwait Human Rights dialogue, a platform which enables annual frank exchanges on topics of mutual interest in the field of human rights, including women’s and girls’ rights. Women’s empowerment was identified as a priority topic and a possible area for EU-Kuwait cooperation during the first and the second round of informal Human Rights Dialogue that took place in February 2020 and then in July 2021.
In July 2020, ahead of the Kuwaiti parliamentary elections, the EU Delegation joined efforts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Secretariat of the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, and the Women’s Research and Studies Center at Kuwait University to jointly organize a Workshop on Strengthening Women’s Political Participation in Kuwait.
In 2021, the EU Delegation co-organized a high-level event on Women Economic Empowerment on 29 November, in the context of the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence and in coordination with the General Secretariat of the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, UN Women and the Women’s Research and Studies Center at Kuwait University, among others. The title of the event was “Driving Women’s Empowerment Forward: Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) and the Role of Business to Accelerate Equality in the Workplace”.
The event aimed to showcase Kuwait’s developments in the area of women empowerment and SDG5 and to exchange best practices in Kuwait, the European Union and abroad in the area of women’s economic empowerment, particularly as private sector companies develop their post- pandemic and recovery plans, which are increasingly more purpose-driven.
Women still face challenges on their way to assume leadership roles, including in political offices. I believe that best practices from the EU and EU Member States could perhaps serve as an additional inspiration for further strategic changes in Kuwait when it comes to women’s empowerment. Women’s empowerment and gender equality are essential elements for societies to thrive and we look forward to working with our Kuwaiti partners to build on the progress which has already been achieved in this regard.