Founder of She Is An Expert project: “There are far more poor women in the world than poor men”

Nuria Fatykhova about expert inequality and the “second shift” of women's labour that the quarantine extended

Founder of She Is An Expert project: “There are far more poor women in the world than poor men”
Photo: courtesy of Nuria Fatykhova

“The women who were often forced to go to work during the quarantine told that they left their children with their husband, having previously prepared dinner, told what the children would do, and so on. Usually, the most paid positions in large companies are in the field of administration because they are difficult. But in the household, even if the husband helps a lot, responsible decisions are usually made by the woman, she prepares everything for the husband to fulfill. But this is not rewarded in any way," says Nuria Fatykhova, the founder of She Is An Expert project, coordinator of the Democracy programme of the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Russia. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, she spoke about the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for women, and “impostor syndrome”.

“Only men participate in most of the discussion panels about our common for men and women life”

The She Is An Expert project has existed for more than three years. What prompted you to create it? As far as I understand, the project was the first for Russia, but far from unique in the world.

I work at the foundation with green values and the principle of gender equality in discussing society's problems. Moreover, I was raised to know that the foundations of culture were laid by a woman in primitive times (my father Salim Fatykhov wrote the book 'The World History of Women' almost all my childhood and youth).

But when preparing for many conferences, it was very difficult for me to find women-experts. In Russia, only men participate in most of the discussion panels about our common for men and women life. Women-experts can be counted literally on the fingers of one hand — for example, Natalia Zubarevich, Ekaterina Shulman and a couple of other women. This is nothing compared to the pool of male experts.

I am convinced that it is impossible not to look at all things happening in society through a gender lens. If you want to understand a public issue, you simply have to include a gender analysis.

It doesn't matter what kind of project it is. At first glance, it may seem quite different — for example, oil production in Tatarstan. If we discuss the consequences of a project for society, we should involve different representatives of this society to make the project quality. If you do not take into account the social experience of women, you can not take into account very important things and then solve the mistakes.

When I organized conferences, I understood all this. I just didn't know where to find smart women. How to solve the problem? I decided to act, not just criticise the only men panel phenomenon. At some point, a German friend said that in Germany there was a project, which in Russian is called Spikerki (female speakers). I realised that this is genius and decided to create something similar, but specifically for Russia. This is how the Sh.e project was born (this is an abbreviated name). After we launched, by the way, very cool projects of approximately the same content began to appear in the world — in Ukraine, Poland, the UK, and even the project with a similar name about experts from the Mediterranean countries — She-experts.

We have a lot of financial analysts, lawyers, experts on sustainable development and hip-hop culture in Russia, and businesswomen in our database. There is even an Associate Professor of Chinese Philosophy at the Institute of Asian and African Countries at the MSU

“Almost every second woman suffers from impostor syndrome, which prevents her from declaring herself”

What does it mean to be an expert in your understanding?

It is usually considered that an expert is a person who has a scientific degree or a prestigious job, or has already been talked about a lot in the media and has gained some social weight. But I decided to look into the true meaning of the word “expert”. This word is translated from Latin as “to have experience”. My project is about a different type of expertise, not hierarchical. Only we know that we know what our experience is and whether we want to share it. In my understanding, a female expert is a woman who has experience in any discipline, and not necessarily in which they write dissertations and talk in academic circles. This may be a female expert in the production of furniture.

When I was doing the project, I realised that almost every second woman suffers from impostor syndrome, which prevents her from declaring herself, often to achieve the attention she deserves. So the project also has a therapeutic task — by clicking the “Become” button, you are self-calling. I urge everyone not to suffer from impostor syndrome but to become an “impostor” — to call yourself an expert yourself.

How often do experts refer to your project and what is the most popular topic?

At first, the priority for me was to increase the number of female experts, so that women were added to our database. We've wanted and want to make women who are smart, knowledgeable, and ready to share their experience visible in Russia. But now I rely on that our female experts are actively attracted. Last year, our experts were called not so often — a couple of times a month, and they were called mainly by foreign organizations and media. And this year, the request to women for expertise comes at least once a week. Mostly to sociologists, psychologists, economists, gender specialists — so far more on humanitarian topics.

Is the situation when there are not enough experts in the information field typical for the whole world?

There is a global project on gender monitoring that analyses the references of women in the media in more than 100 countries, but Russia is not one of them, unfortunately. I really want to join this research and see what is happening in Russia. I suspect that we have a very similar situation. The study is conducted every five years.

According to the results of the last one, held in 2015, it turned out that 81 per cent of the experts surveyed in global news were men. In other cases, women were often approached for other reasons than to get an expert expertise.

For example, women were referred as a passive victim of some circumstances. That is, they were related to stereotypes, and not that a woman is also a source of knowledge.

Why do you think women are assigned such a role?

One of the answers is the patriarchal structure we live in. In order for a woman to fit into this hierarchy, she needs to compete with other women. In the process of this embedding, she loses, because she loses this community, but the man does not lose his community. Men, being in this hierarchy, support each other well. It is time for women to start working on women's solidarity, to support and promote each other. For this to happen, we must continue to criticise the social hierarchy we live in. So, we should act — to create projects that can give women self-confidence and a sense of solidarity.

Photo: she-expert.org
It is time for women to start working on women's solidarity, to support and promote each other. For this to happen, we must continue to criticise the social hierarchy we live in.

“The pandemic has highlighted the problem of inequality in domestic work”

Have the pandemic and its accompanying restrictive measures exacerbated the problem of gender inequality?

When the pandemic occurred, the problem of inequality in the field of domestic work, which has long existed in Russia, was highlighted. This question has not received serious socio-political analysis in the major media, nor has it been heard from the lips of politicians.

When kindergartens and schools closed, women continued to work-some remotely, but many had to go to work in parallel. For example, salesmen, pharmacists, and nurses. And it was a very difficult period for women.

It turned out that it is the woman who administers the household in Russia. The women who were often forced to go to work during the quarantine told that they left their children with their husband, having previously prepared dinner, told what the children would do, and so on.

Usually, the most paid positions in large companies are in the field of administration because they are difficult. But in the household, even if the husband helps a lot, responsible decisions are usually made by the woman, she prepares everything for the husband to fulfill. But this is not rewarded in any way.

And in the context of the pandemic, the situation has become more difficult: children remain at home. This highlighted the problem that women's “second shift” is heavy, they are overloaded, and something needs to be done about it. I have friends in Germany who have children, and they suffer just as much as Russian women. She and her husband both work, but the kid who doesn't go to kindergarten always calls his mother if something happens to him. Many of my friends, who live in completely different countries, said that during the quarantine period they had hysterics — they were so tired and overloaded. There were various humorous images on the Internet — for example, a mother-teacher who should conduct online lessons, laid three bound children on the carpet with handkerchiefs in their mouths and performs her remote work.

Why is this happening? Is it easier for men to do this, or can't women themselves remove this responsibility?

Women can't get rid of this responsibility because it's about public approval or disapproval. We live in a culture where women started working relatively recently. This is a very short time. We change, and the way of life changes much more slowly than our desires. In the cultural matrix, through texts, classical literature, and cinema, it is “sewn up” that a woman is highly valued when it comes to domestic work. But what does “valued” mean? No one pays her for it… You and I will soon have robots in every home, but the family model “the man must feed and the woman must look after the household” still dominates.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
Usually, the most paid positions in large companies are in the field of administration because they are difficult. But in the household, even if the husband helps a lot, responsible decisions are usually made by the woman

“When we talk about poverty, first of all we must understand that it is women's poverty”

So, in your opinion, someone should give his wife a salary for running the household?

There is a big discussion that the “second shift”, domestic work should be paid, but how is a big question. How can we show symbolically or monetarily that this is work that must be paid for? One option is that taxes for women should be lower. The second story is the basic unconditional income, when each citizen receives a certain amount from the state, which should cover the basic needs for good food, a roof over their heads, and medical care.

We have many families where women earn less than men or where women work part-time and are dependent on men, so they try to work it out in the household. If their “second shift” was paid, they would feel more independent of men, then the very logic of family relations would be reconstructed. I'm sure there would be less psychological and physical abuse. Many men suffer from depression because they can't feed their families. The “husband-breadwinner” logic would also be rebuilt.

Another factor — psychoemotional support in our society is often shifted to the woman. Because it is the woman who takes care of her parents, the elderly.

Statistics show that almost 99% of care-related professions are performed by women. I mean nurses, nurses, and so on. This should not be changed, but rather be valued more and think about economic mechanisms, how to reward a woman for this, so that she does not feel so exhausted, while continuing to be poor.

When we talk about poverty, first of all we must understand that it is women's poverty. There are far more poor women in the world than poor men.

Will there be changes in our lifetime, or these problems are too deep and long to be solved?

I'm an optimist. When I started the project and has faced criticism and hatering, it seemed to me that the wall was insurmountable. No one will take seriously the project of gender equality in the field of knowledge and expertise. And the project is really developing more slowly than we would like because of the sexist environment and old habits — to invite men in suits to talk. But also through this project, we train society to see our smart women-experts. Through such projects, we are changing the environment and changing the situation, although in small steps. I can't say whether the situation will change in two years or 20 years, but it is definitely already changing.

By Kristina Ivanova