Susana Elisa Pavlou

Interview with Susana Elisa Pavlou

Susana Elisa Pavlou holds a BA in Political Science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an MSc in International Politics with an area concentration in the Middle East from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University. Susana is currently Director at the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS). She is also a Member of the Advisory Committee for the Prevention and Combating of Family Violence, National Expert for the European Network of Experts in Gender Equality, and Expert at the EWL Observatory on Violence against Women. She is serving a third term as Board Member of the European Women’s Lobby and is a member of the Executive Committee.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a political scientist, feminist activist and mother of two young children! I am Cypriot born of a Maronite Cypriot father and Argentinean mother. I studied in the U.K. and the U.S, and spent extensive time in Spain where I feel very much at home. I returned to Cyprus in 2001 and have worked at MIGS for 10 years.

What are two things most people do not know about you?

The two things that I would still rather most people did not know about me!

Who are your role models, and why?

My mother first and foremost for having incredible courage and resilience to prevail in the toughest of times in her life, and always with warmth and humour. She also instilled in me a sense of independence and an enduring belief in myself and my abilities. There are many other women in my life with incredible qualities that I admire and that help to keep me focused on doing the things that I feel most passionate about.

When and how did you happen to join MIGS?

Incredibly, it was a friend all the way in New York who forwarded me an email she had received at the New School for Social Research, announcing the establishment of MIGS with a message saying: “Did you know about this?” Which in fact I didn’t! This was in 2002 and I was so intrigued that I contacted a board member who got me in touch with the founder and Director of MIGS, Myria Vassiliadou. After volunteering for the organization on and off for some years, Myria called me with an employment opportunity at MIGS. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for me and I have now been at MIGS for ten years and have watched the organization grow into a well-established NGO with a wealth of experience and expertise on a range of gender issues. I am very privileged to have been a part of that and to get paid for doing work that I love and for which I feel so passionate!

Does the multicultural makeup of Cyprus affect the treatment of women in our society at all?  

Sometimes we forget that Cyprus has always, over the centuries, been a multicultural society. So multiculturalism, in fact, is not a new phenomenon in Cyprus. However, it is true that migration trends have changed in the last two decades, particularly with the influx of economic migrants from outside the EU as well as of asylum seekers and refugees. This has created new inequalities – at the crossroads of class, gender and race. However, it is patriarchy and structural inequality that reinforce and perpetuate such inequalities.

How does Cyprus compare to other European and Mediterranean countries when it comes to prejudice?

Women actually face very similar issues across Europe and the region – violence against women, the gender pay gap, high poverty rates, under-representation in all levels of decision-making, threats to reproductive rights such as abortion rights etc. It is true that on many issues, Cyprus is still lagging behind – on women’s political representation for example – but inequalities exist everywhere although these may take different forms depending on the national context. For this reason, it is so important for women’s organizations and NGOs to cooperate and join forces on a regional and European level to coordinate their actions, network, and share experience and good practice.  For example, MIGS is an active member of the European Women’s Lobby which is the largest coalition of women’s organizations in Europe. I have served on the Board of the EWL for six years, two as a member of the Executive. This mass mobilization of women’s organizations in Europe working on issues that affect women across borders has had a tremendous impact in terms of both awareness raising as well as on policy-making on a national and European level. I have to add that it is also an incredible personal experience.

What steps do you think are necessary to create an environment that promotes equality and diversity?

Civil society in Cyprus is traditionally weak and suffers from lack of funding and expertise. This is partly due to the Cyprus problem of ethnic conflict dominating the national agenda and creating an environment not conducive to human rights activism. In this environment, women’s main channels to organize and promote women’s issues were through political parties and trade unions. Although these structures provided women with opportunities to become active in public life and promote issues of gender equality, they also limited the scope of the women’s movement more generally. More recently, however, civic society is growing and more human rights NGOs are taking an active part in public debates and advocating for a range of human rights issues including migration, sexual and reproductive rights, trafficking in human beings, among others. This is a very encouraging development, but the rise in human rights activism also needs to be supported by the matching political will to utilize the expertise, knowledge, and experience emerging from civil society into the policy making process.

In what ways does MIGS strive to help Cypriots gain awareness about inequality?

MIGS is the only organization in Cyprus that focuses exclusively on gender equality and women’s rights. In an environment that has not been traditionally conducive to human rights activism, pushing the women’s rights agenda has been a particular challenge. MIGS uses evidence-based interventions in order to raise awareness on all levels – in education, policy making, among front line professionals, NGOs and women’s organizations, as well as the media. Our activities range from education and training (one example is the presentation and discussion of the report “Violence Against Women in the Context of Political Transformations and Economic Crisis in the Euro-Mediterranean Region”), awareness raising campaigns (such as “One Billion Rising for Justice: Rise, Release, Dance!”), and lobbying and advocacy depending on the target group and the issue at hand. We always combine research with other activities to ensure that interventions are evidence-based and specifically designed to have maximum impact. We have worked in this way on issues such as violence against women and girls, trafficking in women, women’s equal participation in political decision-making, among others. I think that on many levels our strategies have been successful but challenges continue to exist and we aim to always be one step ahead of current developments on a range of issues in order to ensure that the gender perspective is always taken into account.

Tell us about the upcoming and ongoing projects of MIGS.

MIGS is currently working on a range of projects, predominantly projects funded by the European Union grants programmes. One of our main projects at the moment is looking at trafficking in women for labour exploitation with a focus on domestic work. This is a highly unexplored issue in Cyprus but also in Europe and we are currently carrying out qualitative research with stakeholders and domestic workers. We expect results to be out mid-2015. MIGS is also continuing the work it began in 2006 in preventing gender-based violence amongst adolescents through direct interventions in secondary schools, which has been a highly rewarding experience for both young people and MIGS staff involved. A new and emerging issue in terms of gender based violence among adolescents is the use of new communication technologies including social media, which we have integrated in our work.

MIGS is also working with organizations across Europe on the issue of Female Genital Mutilation, which was spearheaded by Amnesty International Ireland and has now grown into a European wide network to combat FGM.

Finally, dependent on funding, we are hoping to continue our work in promoting equality between women and men in political decision-making, focusing on building civil society capacity to effectively mobilize around this issue.

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