Women for peace: Harriet Lamb, England

To mark International Women's Day 2016, for which the official theme is #PledgeForParity, we are profiling some of our female peacebuilders around the world and asking them: What can gender parity mean for peace?

You can read all of their featured stories here.

Harriet, England

Harriet Lamb is CEO of International Alert (pictured on the left).

Please describe your background and what inspired you to take on the role of Alert’s CEO.

It sounds corny but is true: I have spent my life trying to work for greater social justice globally. I have campaigned for a national minimum wage in the UK (now law); worked with refugees in the UK; and campaigned on those British policies and practices that keep people overseas in poverty, such as against arms sales to repressive regimes, or to cancel African debts.

For the past 16 years, I have helped build Fairtrade in the UK and globally into a phenomenal grassroots movement. And then in November last year, I got the cherry on the cake – leading International Alert!

What do you think are the challenges and opportunities for gender equality today?

Obviously it is very different in every society. In the UK, it is still so difficult for women who are struggling in low paid jobs or who cannot afford childcare. It’s also tough for women to get to the top. Only 12.5% of Boards running British companies are women.

And while more than two-thirds of the UK’s voluntary sector workforce are women, among our top 50 charities, just 3 out of 10 have female CEOs.

So while so much has been won, there is still a mountain to climb. Since I had my second child, I had always worked part-time until coming to International Alert: first 3 days, then 4, then 4.5 days … I believe giving women the chance to work part-time in all jobs is one part of the solution.

Do you think giving equal business opportunities to men and women can help foster peace?

Absolutely. For example, in the Great Lakes in Africa, International Alert is enabling women from different communities in DRC and Rwanda to trade across the border, and engage in dialogue. This not only empowers them and raises their social status, but also helps them bond together and foster peace in this divided region.

During my time working in Fairtrade, I also always loved the work that TWIN Trading did in DRC with women coffee farmers. Previously, families would risk their lives taking their coffee across the border to get better prices. Now they are selling their coffee more directly for a fair price.

Do you have any tips for women striving for leadership roles in the charity sector?

Don’t be afraid to ask to work part-time, whatever the job. Do be confident in your ability to deliver – women will always find the practical solutions to a problem. My favourite old Chinese saying (told to me by the ebullient former Chair of Fairtrade, Molly Harris) is: "The man who says it cannot be done should get out of the way of the woman who is already doing it."

Which women inspire you and why?

There are so many!

At the conference in London on Syria in February, I was blown away by all the Syrian women leaders speaking for peace in their country – including Reem, Chair of the Syrian Platform for Peace, which International Alert supports. On a recent visit to Lebanon, I was inspired by women like Aida, who are working on our peace education and dialogue projects in Syria and the region.

Against all the odds, these women are so tough and funny and determined, staying positive and looking for peace.

I also just met Teresita Quintos Deles (pictured above right) who is negotiating a peace deal with the Muslim separatist movement on behalf of the Philippines' president. She was so practical and yet optimistic, despite everything.

And like everyone, I am always inspired by Aung Sang Sui Chui and her relentless, peaceful perseverance: the still, small voice of peace personified.

How will you be celebrating Women’s Day?

I am very excited to be joining other women, including the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen, in a march at The Hague in the Netherlands, to highlight the plight of the Nigerian women and girls captured by Boko Haram, and the support needed for them after they return home.

Photo © Judy Gulane/International Alert