Q: Mrs. Gvilava, what do you think about feminism? To what extent does it play a positive role by advocating women’s rights, and to what extent is its role negative since it erodes traditional social roles and institutions?
A: Feminism is a complex matter. It has specific features in each country, and its leaders are different too. But in general its nature is positive. It has not been nurtured artificially, but grew out of an old inequality of men and women. The inequality is precisely in terms of rights. And that inequality is widespread in the world.
That is probably what you meant when you mentioned traditional social roles. If so, they definitely need to be eroded. If a woman does not have an equal right to employment, to civic activity, even to voting – we must agree it is a case of blatant discrimination. And that, in my opinion, was what hurt and humiliated women who were forced to start fighting for their own dignity. They were not satisfied with being second-class citizens and all they could count on were they own resources.
Since then they’ve achieved a lot and the situation, of course, has changed. However, I believe that sometimes women take their demands to the absurd: even refusing any assistance from the “stronger sex.” And that’s where you are right: the natural social and cultural roles of men and women are ignored or distorted, which results in creation of a caricature image of both sexes. But that is more of an exception which confirms the underlying idea of feminism: justice to women.
It is important to have a society where rights of all citizens – men and women, children and the elderly – are respected. Women and men are two poles of one whole; they simply can’t exist separately from each other. I’d say more: a lot of what men achieve in their lives, they achieve for the sake of the women they love. And the other way around.
In general, the topic of relations between the “stronger” and the “weaker” sexes is a deep, controversial and exciting one. It is both philosophical and mundane. Feminism just touches it, but it certainly does not exhaust the entire complexity of the issue.
Q: You head the inter-regional association Women and Business, which provides assistance to female entrepreneurs. To what extent is that assistance necessary and how effective is it? Or does it breed the attitude of dependence? It is known that difficulties in business build up resiliency.
A: Oh, but Russian women who have dared to venture into business have become so resilient over the years that they now run the risk of seeming too masculine! Another thing is quite important, though: they are often capable of being more successful than men in business. Of course, it is not true for all types of business; there are areas where women don’t venture out of simple self-preservation instinct.
However, wherever there is a vacant niche for business (and there have been quite a lot of those niches in the early ‘90s, and some still remain vacant) women achieve incredible results. Primarily, this is because they possess a wonderful combination of intuition and practical sense. They can at the same time see grand prospects and small details. They are disciplined and not bound by large or small bad habits. And, most importantly, their responsibility to family and children both protects them and gives them motivation to advance.
I hope I’ve convinced you that Russian women are under no threat of turning into dependants. What we do is give them an opportunity at any difficult point to turn to someone who can help, advise, discuss common problems that interfere with our productive work and that are well-known to all of us. Such assistance is both needed and appreciated.
By the way, we are not at all opposed to men’s participation in our work, and we would be very appreciative of their goodwill. Today, men already eagerly help us in our events. That means they support our undertakings. And we gladly receive their assistance: the doors of the association are wide open for smart and active men. We believe such cooperation to be mutually beneficial.
Q: What does integration in the international women’s movement – participation in the World Association of Women Entrepreneurs (FCEM) – mean to Russian women?
The worst thing you can do is lock yourself up within your own established circle, inside a single group. That way, you limit your own development, and in time dissatisfaction sets in. I know that from my own experience. The more contacts and communication, the reacher your life, the more new ideas and great projects. That’s why our participation in FCEM is not only quite natural but also necessary. FCEM is a very respected and influential organization. It consists of successful women, which is quite a recommendation in itself. When they get together, can you imagine the energy, the zest for life, the intellect and beauty all concentrated in one conference room!
Obviously, our contacts are not limited to international gatherings. We are in constant communication by mail; we share experiences and even give each other a glimpse of our business secrets if necessary. International friendship is an extraordinary force, which also helps us implement charity projects.
Q: What do you think are the prospects for Russian women in business, management and politics? How should they proceed to maximize their success?
I am quite optimistic about their business prospects. Business women are steady on their feet and are unafraid of life and its trials. Plus, they love innovation and have an ability to see future trends.
There are a lot of women among managers, including government officials. The mid-level managerial positions among state employees are almost entirely held be women. It is not their lack of talent that keeps them from getting higher. More likely the absence of excessive ambition and the habit of leaving top positions to men make them yield.
Quite frankly I don’t see that situation as threatening. Big politics and big business in this country are managed by men. That, of course, is a slightly boring sight, but what can one do: that’s the way Russian culture is. As the ancients used to say, accept it if you can’t change it. So far, we can’t alter the existing situation in a major way; therefore we should improve the areas men have voluntarily surrendered to us with our female skill and creativity. There’s enough work there as it is.
Q: You play an active part in creation of the Russian-Arab Business Council. What are its goals and how will it work?
I would like to note that the central role in the Council’s creation belongs to Vladimir Petrovich Yevtushenko. He is the Council’s Co-Chair from the Russian side. The foundation of the RABC has become possible only though his efforts. Of course, we should not forget that the idea of the Council belongs to Yevgeny Maximovich Primakov, and that he was the person who gave the project its first impetus.
The goal of the RABC is to promote renewal, strengthening and maintenance of trade and economic relations between Russia and all Arab countries. The Council is involved in every significant event that concerns Russian-Arab cooperation. We hold forums, round tables, and exhibitions; we invite Arab businessmen to Russia and help their Russian colleagues travel to Arab countries.
Right now, the Council is preparing the Forum of the Central Federal District in Lebanon and the Second RABC Session, which is to be held in Moscow on June 28-29. We are also organizing the “Days of Tatarstan” in Saudi Arabia.
Q: Russia (and previously – USSR) has had a friendly relationship with Arab countries. But until now the cooperation has been at the state level. How are you going to transfer it to the level of individual companies?
That will be done through the RABC. I can even say that our cooperation has already been brought to the level of individual businesses. The Arab side needs information about the Russian market and companies. That is why the Council is creating a database of Russian enterprises and Russian laws on investments and their security, tenders and prospects.
Our companies also need information on how to access Arab markets, about their regional and national specifics, about rules for registering enterprises and so on. Leading representatives of the Russian business community – members of the RABC Coordination Council – are already working with major Arab companies, for instance, with Saudi Oger, Saudi Aramko, SABIC Ma’adin, and Dallah Al Baraka.
Q: You have a lone-standing acquaintance with Yevgeny Maximovich Primakov. How does your organization cooperate with his?
I have endless respect for him, and first of all, for his personality. People of that magnitude, intellect and intuition are quite rare. They are, so to speak, custom-made by God. I think it is because of that that our cooperation is very productive. We can do a lot with a professional like Mr. Primakov, who knows not just the Arab region but the rest of the world as well. First of all, we can do a lot for this country. At this time, our main task is to attract major investors.
The RABC works under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry which is already a big bonus. In addition, Mr. Primakov himself values people with initiative and energy. Those are two conditions that produce half of our success.
Q: What principles do you personally use in management and business? What can you forgive and what is it that you won’t forgive under any circumstances?
Nothing personal, as Americans say. That is my main principle in business relations. In other words, I attempt to be objective.
Of course, it is hard to overlook one’s own emotions and personal impressions, but I try to do so. I am not uncompromising and there is a lot I can forgive. You know: don’t judge and you won’t be judged. However, treason, dishonesty and avarice disgust me. As a wise person said, sometimes a lie brings success, but it always ends its life with a suicide.
Well, sometimes I have to pretend that I don’t see anything, I don’t hear anything, and I don’t feel anything. Fortunately, that happens rarely.
Q: How do you and how should other business women balance work and family?
How to balance them? Are there any recipes? Every person has his or her own destiny. A business woman is often not different from a housewife – either can be endlessly happy or extremely unhappy. Everything depends on your character, attitude, and circumstances.
Life is like a swing, and it is important not to get dizzy, not to fall, to stay put and not lose yourself – in happiness same as in sorrow.
So far, I’ve been able to live that way. The main thing is to believe in oneself and help others as much as you can.