In many countries, women do not have a choice, they simply have to manage everything, says Pavla Gomba, UNICEF director in the Czech Republic

photo: courtesy of UNICEF, author: Laurent Rusanganwa

Pavla Gomba is the Executive Director of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in the Czech Republic. She graduated from the University of Economics in Prague, where she still lectures. He regularly publishes on development aid topics and has a lot of experience with crisis interventions abroad. In addition to the Forbes magazine’s award for the most influential women, Pavla Gomba was ranked among the European Young Leaders in 2014.

How do you think the role of women in society is currently perceived in terms of career vs. family? Can we somehow compare how it works in our country and in the rest of Europe, and therefore in other countries?

I think everyone in life needs a balance. People who spend all their time working and building careers often suffer from feelings of loneliness and emptiness. Conversely, women who sacrifice everything for children and families usually lack their own space and realization. Let us appreciate that we live in a society where we have more or less the freedom to choose our own relationship between professional and personal life, one that suits us. There are certainly a number of details that can be improved in our country, but women’s freedom in this regard is not significantly restricted by laws, for example.

But it is not the same everywhere across Europe. I recently gave a lecture for a club of businesswomen about the connections between the status of women and their financial freedom, measured by the ability to do business freely, work, enter into contracts, open accounts, manage property, inherit and so on. There was an Italian woman sitting there, sighing that in Italy a married woman must have the written consent of her husband if she wanted to open a bank account.

Of course, this cannot be compared to the situation in most countries of the world. For example, in 19 countries, married women are required by law to obey their husbands and obtain their permission if they want to apply for a job. In 24 countries around the world, women are not allowed to work the same as men at night. In many countries, women are not allowed to inherit or own land. All this limits their choice.

But it would be a mistake to think that women living in poor countries are only dedicated to children and families. No, they don’t have a choice, they have to manage everything: take care of the children, the house, the husband, mostly his parents and extended family, work in the fields, sell goods on the market, produce something, just help ensure living. Of course, there is nothing black and white here either. I have met the most emancipated and independent women, in the best sense of the word, in countries where one would not expect this: a Member of Parliament in Rwanda, the owner of a farm equipment factory in Sierra Leone, a police colonel in Bhutan. There is tremendous strength and inspiration in them.

photo: courtesy of UNICEF, author: Laurent Rusanganwa

As the director of UNICEF, you are certainly busy. How do you manage to plan time between work and family?

It doesn’t work. I would like to say yes, but the truth is that I can do this job, which involves a lot of traveling and attending events in the evenings and on weekends, mainly because I have a good and tolerant partner who understands it. I admire superwomen who chase everything – I had to choose.

What does personal style and fashion mean to you as a successful woman? Do you have a favorite designer or brand?

Working for humanitarian organizations is very specific. This means, among other things, that you wear less of what you personally like and like, and you think more about how the people you meet will perceive you as a whole. Even knowing that they can subconsciously judge your organization through what you are wearing.

My day is very variable and often unpredictable, so I have to be dressed so that – if necessary – I can help colleagues transfer boxes of goods, then meet with the Minister, have a discussion at the university, go to a meeting with bankers, and when coincidentally in the evening the television calls for the crisis in Yemen, it did not embarrass even the screen. That’s why I mainly wear comfortable, not very conspicuous and “universally dignified” things. At home, I also have a couple of flights in my closet. Maybe it’s their turn sometimes… It’s just a small price to pay to do the work I love that fills me.

But my friends include many artists and clothing designers. In Liběna Rochová’s studio, I always admire her creative works, which have their own unmistakable style. Among Czech designers, for example, I also like Petr Kalouda, Jaroslava Procházková, Mirek Bárta, Hana Zárubová and many others. When the time comes, I also like to see what’s new with Mark Jacobs or the current collection of Ferragamo shoes…

photo: courtesy of UNICEF, author: Lenka Hatasová

You often travel to different exotic countries. Can you compare certain fashion styles and design feelings in our country and in the world?

The need to enjoy is an absolute cultural universe. Of course, what is considered beautiful varies from country to country, and it changes over time. If we talk directly about fashion, we can say that economically less developed countries are generally more homogeneous, you will see less different styles in the streets, among other things because people simply solve other things or do not have the resources to do what they like. . So when you go to church for a birthday party in Ghana or to a Sunday on Sunday, women from different social backgrounds will be wearing very similar clothes. Or in Bhutan, where even traditional clothing is legalized, you will meet women in all traditional offices and kiras at all offices and on social occasions. The queen will have her hand-woven from silk, the woman from the village will have the cheapest one made of printed cotton, but for a layman there will not be such a big difference at first glance.

But even that is changing rapidly. With mobile internet and all-embracing social networks, traditional clothing styles are rapidly giving way to global ones. The last time I went to Bhutan, a local colleague begged me to bring her Birkenstock slippers because they are very fashionable but desperately unavailable.

photo: courtesy of UNICEF, author: Laurent Rusanganwa

What problems is the Czech branch of UNICEF currently focusing on?

Most aid currently goes to the poorest countries and areas affected by natural or war disasters, where children need help the most. As one of the few organizations, we work throughout Yemen and Syria, where millions of children suffer from war and malnutrition. Our staff is currently helping to provide drinking water, shelter and protection to children and families who have lost their homes following the eruption of a volcano near the town of Goma in the DRC. We are also expanding our programs in northern Ethiopia, especially in the conflict area of ​​Tigray, where there is a risk of famine and acute severe malnutrition at risk of 33,000 children. Last month, we organized a crisis fund to help India hit by the second wave of the pandemic, where children suffer not only from a lack of medical care, but also from the loss of their loved ones. In the first two weeks, we managed to raise 1,141,262 crowns. For this amount, we were able to provide 67 high-capacity oxygen devices that provide vital oxygen in a concentrated amount to patients in severe conditions.

When it makes sense, we also help us, for example during lockdowns and forced online teaching, we have joined forces as partners with the Computers for Children project. We are also very interested in how Czech children live and what bothers them, which is why this year we are planning a large Young Voices survey focused on Czech children aged 9–17.

What global problems do you think the world is currently burning the most?

The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us how interconnected the world is today. Every big event, even if it happens on the other side of the world, will sooner or later affect us. If people in the world’s poorest countries do not have drinking water and the opportunity to maintain hygiene, diseases can spread from these countries to developed countries. If we do not tackle the climate crisis, sooner or later we will have to deal with much greater problems – weather fluctuations, poor harvests, droughts and locust invasions are already depriving millions of people in equatorial Africa and Yemen of their livelihoods. War conflicts are also a big problem – people in war zones do not leave their homes because they want to go for the better. He leaves because they have to protect the lives of themselves and their children. The number of children affected by war is growing rapidly, mainly due to the long duration of the conflict, but also the increasingly deliberate targeting of the civilian population, schools and hospitals. Every sixth child on Earth now lives in an area of ​​war or armed conflict.

photo: courtesy of UNICEF, author: Laurent Rusanganwa

Where do you think society has moved in the last 10 years from a global perspective and where has the world pandemic moved us as humanity? For example, can we learn from the future, or take something positive from this tragedy?

When I asked exactly this some time ago, a colleague from Rwanda, who lost two brothers during the 1994 genocide and was an involuntary witness to killings and indescribable atrocities, replied that the basic lesson from human history was that humanity was unteachable. There is something about it. Fortunately, I didn’t go through what he did, so I believe that we are spiraling and slowly, but we are moving towards a better and kinder world. And that I’m a small part of it too. Thanks to my work, I have the opportunity to return to the same communities in different parts of the world several years later and see how the situation is improving. Clean households in Aguacate, Belize, drinking water wells in Makeni, Sierra Leone, schools and kindergartens in Malawi, health care for pregnant women in Myanmar, business projects for women in Rwanda, all that I have witnessed give me hope regarding the future.

Although the image does not appear so often in the media, we know from the available data that the situation in the world has been improving in recent years, thanks in part to the work of UNICEF. For example, in the last 25 years, child mortality has been halved, the world birth rate has fallen significantly and steadily, the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved in the last 20 years, and more and more girls in the poorest countries can go to school. Educating children is a priority for UNICEF. In 2020 alone, we managed to secure access to education for 48 million children worldwide.

photo: courtesy of UNICEF, author: Lenka Hatasová

How did you and UNICEF deal with the epidemic and lockdown yourself? What was the hardest thing for you?

During the pandemic, our Czech branch focused a lot on helping in the Czech Republic. We usually organized what we usually receive reports from colleagues abroad. For example, during the first wave last spring, we supplied hygiene packages and disinfectants to the most affected districts in Bohemia and Moravia. We have only been in contact with colleagues from other branches online for almost two years. I am very glad that my family and our work team have avoided covid so far. Personally, it was probably the most difficult situation for me, when my mother was seriously ill and I could not even visit her in the intensive care unit during the lockdown and at least please her a little, hold her hand. But I know that many people have had to and must deal with even more serious situations.

What UNICEF projects and challenges await in the future?

UNICEF’s mission remains unchanged after 75 years: we will continue to save children’s lives where children need them most. But we are launching a number of interesting projects, which I am personally looking forward to: for example, currently we are looking for children from archive photographs taken with the help of UNICEF in post-war Czechoslovakia, we will soon announce the Child of the Czech Republic poll, we are preparing the 19th annual auction of dolls by leading Czech designers and celebrities, which will take place on November 30 at the Czech Museum of Music. There are a lot of projects, it is definitely worth watching the Czech UNICEF on the web and social networks, because most of them can be personally involved as a volunteer, donor or supporter.

photo: courtesy of UNICEF, author: Lenka Hatasová

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