Lucina Di Meco is a gender expert and women’s rights advocate. She currently serves as the Senior Director of Girls’ Education & Gender Equality at Room to Read, an international nonprofit promoting gender equality through education. Lucina is also the author of #ShePersisted. Women, Politics & Power in The New Media World. Her work was featured on Time Magazine, The Washington Post and Politico, among others.
Lucina, what motivated you to pursue a career as a gender equality expert?
It started by chance, early in my career, as the office of the United Nations Development Program in Mexico – where I was working at the time – encouraged staff to receive training on gender mainstreaming and covered the costs of their studies in this field. It was the beginning of a journey that totally transformed me both personally and professionally, as I became deeply aware of the gender inequalities that undermine our societies and discovered a new language to talk about them. I’ve been working to address these inequalities ever since, and plan to continue doing so for as long as I can.
What does the overall progress of global gender equality in the last 2 decades look like to you?
We have made important strides in many areas, from girls’ education to women’s employment and political representation. We have however faced strong backlash in many countries, that put into question many of our most essential achievements, for example around women’s sexual and reproductive rights. In this process, we have also become more aware of the importance of intersectionality and looking at gender in non-binary terms. It’s been a journey – sometimes exciting and other times disappointing – but always important and transformative.
As a gender equality expert and women’s rights advocate, what do you consider as your biggest achievement(s) so far?
Professionally, I believe I have contributed to the development of programs, policies and research pieces that have a strong gender justice focus. In my nearly four years at Room to Read, for example, I have been thrilled to see our education work become ever more gender transformative, while, as an organization, we are also making a more deliberate commitment to gender equality and diversity and inclusion in our policies and practices. As a researcher, I have brought to light the prevalence of gendered disinformation against women in politics, and its negative impact not only on women, but on democratic institutions. At a more personal level, I’m raising a feminist son, who can speak about gender equality more intelligibly than many adults – and that’s so much fun.
How do you measure success (in this field)?
I think of success as the progress we make towards creating more gender equal societies, where people can realize their full potential, regardless of their sex or gender identity. Some types of progress are easy to quantify – for example, the number of girls who are completing secondary school – while others, like changes in social norms, are a little trickier, but equally important.
What were the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in empowering women/promoting women’s rights?
In order to truly advance women’s rights, I believe that society must shift its thinking in a couple of important ways. Firstly, we still need to truly understand that women’s rights are at their core human rights, like Hillary Clinton said in Beijing twenty-five years ago. They are not a “nice to have” or a “niche” issue, but a moral, legal, economic and social imperative. Secondly, it’s important to understand that gender equality doesn’t benefit women only – it improves everyone’s lives and is a precondition for societies and economies to thrive. Finally, we need to have more honest and caring conversation on the way gender identity is shaped and informed by our race, class, religion, sexual orientation, and many more circumstances. These conversations are often uncomfortable, but essential.
what would you advise the younger generation for creating a more equal and sustainable world?
Like the feminists in the 1960s and 1970s, I deeply believe that the personal is political. We won’t achieve gender equality in the workplace, for example, until we reach it at home. To anyone who wants to address gender bias in our society, I would recommend they begin by looking at themselves and their closest relationships with courage and compassion. Also, I’m also an optimist, and truly believe that the fact that “we’ve had centuries of gender unequal social norms” is a truly lame excuse for inaction.
It’s because we’ve lived with gender injustice for so long that we can no longer afford to delays. The time for achieving gender equality is now, and I’m thrilled to see already a new generation of powerful activists that are not afraid to speak truth to power on issues of gender, climate, and more.