Interview by Megan Foo
Emma Saloranta has worked in the areas of gender equality, child rights and human rights in several countries, including Finland, USA, Kenya, Brazil and most recently India. She is passionate about women’s and girls’ empowerment, and is particularly interested in examining how women and girls define empowerment and gender equality differently around the world, and learning how to expand their opportunities and choices, and promote inclusion and participation, in ways that respect women’s and girls’ own voice and agency. Emma was previously based in Bangalore, South India, working for a local NGO focusing on the effective use of information and communication technologies in promoting equity, social change and gender equality. Emma is currently in New York City, where she works as a gender consultant at UNICEF’s Gender Unit. She holds a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from The New School in New York and a BA in Social Services from her native country, Finland.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Emma Saloranta: I am a native of Finland, born and raised in a small southern town called Orimattila about 1 hour from the capital of Helsinki. At the age of 17 I spent a year in Brazil as an exchange student, which I believe to be the original reason for my longing to travel and my passion towards working in issues related to people’s wellbeing and equality.
In Finland, I completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Services, and as a part of the degree carried out a three-month long internship in Kenya, where I worked mainly with street children and HIV/AIDS counseling. After graduating, I worked as a social worker in family and child protective services, before moving to New York in 2009 for a Master’s Degree in International Affairs at The New School University. I graduated with my MA in 2011, after which I have worked as a gender consultant at UNICEF in New York, and as a researcher focusing on the intersection of technology and gender for an NGO called IT for Change in Bangalore, India. I currently reside in Brooklyn, and work as the Communications Director for Girls’ Globe and as a consultant at UNICEF’s Gender Team.
Women LEAD: You are the Director of Communications at Girls’ Globe, a network of passionate bloggers and organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls, and through it, change the world. Can you tell us more about Girls’ Globe?
Emma Saloranta: Girls’ Globe is an international non-profit organization and a network of passionate, dedicated bloggers and organizations spanning five continents who want to raise awareness about issues related to gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment, and promote positive change. We currently have 41 bloggers: 25 women from around the world, and 16 organizations. We raise awareness about girls’ and women’s issues, gender equality and empowerment through our blog, social media, events and partnerships, with the aim to encourage positive change, increase people’s awareness about these topics, and inspire individuals to take action in their own lives.
Women LEAD: You are also a Gender Consultant at UNICEF. Can you tell us more about your work with UNICEF?
Emma Saloranta: I started at UNICEF first as an intern when I was still in Graduate school, and then continued as a consultant in their Gender Team at the Headquarters in New York. UNICEF’s HQ-based gender team is very small, and therefore there is plenty of work for everyone. At HQ, the work includes providing support, guidance and tools to Country and Regional Offices to ensure that they can carry out gender-sensitive programmes and gender mainstreaming; organizing events for example around International Day of the Girl Child and the Commission on the Status of Women; carrying out research on a variety of topics related to girls’ rights and situation, such as child marriage, girls’ education, girls’ and women’s rights and relevant International Human Rights Treaties such as CEDAW and CRC; and so forth.
Women LEAD: Why is women’s empowerment important to you?
Emma Saloranta: Because I have a deep passion and commitment towards social justice and equality – and I believe women and girls represent the single largest group that continues to face daily discrimination, mistreatment, violence and unnecessary risks. They represent half of the world’s population, and yet in so many countries continue to be seen and treated as second-class citizens. No country can afford to continue to ignore the immense potential and power that lies within every single woman and girl, and I truly believe that a gender-equal world is not only better for women and girls, but better for everyone. If there is a silver bullet to development and to increased well-being, I believe it to be women’s and girls’ empowerment – empowering a girl is like throwing a small pebble into a lake. The act on it’s own may seem small, but the ripples it causes can have an immense reach and make an impact on such a broader level.
In addition to all of that, there is simply no justification for gender-based discrimination. Promoting women’s and girls’ rights and gender equality is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and the only thing to do. There’s no more time to waste, and there are no more excuses.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
Emma Saloranta: It may sound cheesy, but the women who have inspired me the most are the women closest to me – my mother, my grandmothers and my two younger sisters. I am responding to these questions on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day – and I just spent the day with my mom, my maternal grandmother, my two sisters, and my 4 week-old baby niece – and watching these women around me, representing four generations, I could not help but feel overwhelming joy and gratitude for the role models I have always had around me. I grew up believing that I could do everything and anything, and that no dream was out of my reach – and that is how I have lived my life. My younger sisters continue to amaze me every single day with their wit, strength, inner and outer beauty and their sincerity, my grandmothers have always been a source of inspiration to me, and my brand new baby niece has turned my world around. I hope all girls in the world could have the chance to grow up surrounded by strong, inspirational women who make them understand and believe that nothing is impossible for them, and nothing is out of their reach.
Women LEAD: What needs to change to eliminate gender-based discrimination, specifically violence against women?
Emma Saloranta: I think that gender discrimination, and particularly gender-based violence, is often underpinned by deep rooted notions of women and girls as second-class citizens who are less human, less deserving, and less worthy. Violence against women is about power – and about making women and girls powerless. In many countries, laws still need to change to send the message that violence against women is never, under no circumstances, acceptable – and then those laws need to be implemented and monitored. Men and boys need to be brought into the discussion, and raised to understand that women and girls are of equal value and worth than men, and need to be treated with the same respect and dignity. We need to bring gender-based discrimination and violence against women into the light – stop hiding it, and stop sending the message to girls and women that it is somehow their fault or that they have something to be ashamed of. This is something that we all – every single one of us – have to participate in. Silence is compliance, and nobody is immune or unaffected by this. According to statistics, every one of us has either been a victim of violence against women; committed acts of violence against women; or knows a woman or a girl who has been a victim of violence. This is a pandemic of epidemic proportions, and we absolutely have to stop it now.
Women LEAD: Are there websites or books that are inspiring you right now about gender equality, women’s empowerment, and education?
Emma Saloranta: The list is endless! First, I recommend everyone to visit Girls’ Globe (www.girlsglobe.org) for inspirational and informative posts about women’s and girl’s rights and gender equality, written by women from around the world. We also give many ways to participate, so please let us hear from you!
The Girl Effect is also a great website and resource for learning about the power and potential of girls around the world.
Girls Not Brides is an amazing network and resource on the topic of child marriage.
Campaign for Female Education is an organization that promotes girls’ education and provides support for girls to go to school in several sub-Saharan African countries.
Check out the Featured Organizations section on Girls’ Globe for several inspirational and great organizations working to promote gender equality and girls’ and women’s empowerment!
In terms of books, I highly recommend the following titles:
Half the Sky, by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan
I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
The Road of Lost Innocence, by Somaly Mam
I am Nujood, age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali
The Diary of Anaïs Nin, by Anaïs Nin
Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf
Feminism is for Everybody, by bell hooks