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Interview with Marie-Anne Delahaut - Belgium

Updated: Mar 28


Marie-Anne Delahaut


Marie-Anne Delahaut is a driving force for women’s empowerment. Her impactful career began at The Destree Institute in 1989 where she served as Director of Research until 2020, making significant contributions to Information Society and gender equality. This institute had Non-Governmental Organization partner status with UNESCO and Special Consultative Status with United Nations Economic and Social Council since 2012.


In 2012, Marie-Anne founded the Millennia2025 Women and Innovation Foundation, where she currently serves as President and CEO. She was also CEO and founder of Millennia2015. With Special Consultative Status from ECOSOC since 2019, the foundation focuses on implementing decisions from the Millennia2025 foresight research process which started in 2007. These actions include gender equality, empowerment, and digital solidarity.


Marie-Anne's digital presence also develops at MAD-Skills.eu, where she serves as an entrepreneur, system administrator, and web creator, fostering online skill development. Additionally, she administers the LLC eWoïa, amplifying the value of skills through various ventures.


Some of her awards include the 2011 Outstanding Woman Award in Belgium, the Namur Woman of the Century Diploma in 2011, and recognition among Women Inspiring Europe by the European Institute for Gender Equality in 2012. She is also listed among the World's Top Female Futurists by Ross Dawson in 2015. Marie-Anne is recognized as a "Woman in Tech" by the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).


Marie-Anne's online impact can be seen through platforms like Millennia2025-Foundation.org, MAD-Skills.eu, and eWoia.org, reflecting her commitment to utilizing technology for positive change. Marie-Anne Delahaut's journey reveals the transformative power of technology when combined with a strong goal of equality and empowerment.


Issues Woman Face in Belgium:


  • Gender pay gap

  • Domestic responsibilities falling on women

  • Gender employment rates

  • Physical and Sexual violence


5/1000 girls in 2021 gave birth as teenagers and 27% experienced intimate partner violence. Belgium has a law which mandates political parties to nominate at least 33% women for the party, which has led to 38% women in the lower house in 2014. Abortion laws were liberalized in 1990 which advanced reproductive rights.


In 2021, a greater percentage of women than men completed tertiary education. The full time employment rate for women was 13% lower than for men and in 2021 the pay gap was about 94%. Women spend much more of their time caring for children and doing household activities than men. '


For higher level jobs and management, women are only represented at 34% and just 10% of company board members are women.


Sources:


Millennia2025 international foresight research process for women's empowerment and equality: https://www.millennia2025-foundation.org/processus_prospective_en.html



The evolving research about "Equality in the light of five SDGs: what progress?" https://www.millennia2025-foundation.org/2021-12-09_egalite_5-odd_m-a-delahaut_en.html


 

Interview with Marie-Anne Delahaut (21 February 2024)


This interview was organized and conducted by Johnathan Bajuk, Caroline Lacina, and Wyatt Rosse. Laci Johnson, Vanessa Ortiz, Preston Avant, Preston Swint, Riley Ridge, August Thut, Stephen Roberts, Sophia Rosselli, and Michael Frost contributed with their insightful questions. All of them were members of the Honors College and attended the “Cultural Contact Zones: Europe” class, which was offered by the John V. Roach Honors College in the Spring 2024 semester.


Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

What are the most prevalent stereotypes about women in Belgium?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

There are gender stereotypes that little girls are weaker than boys, and that they only play with dolls while boys play with cars. It's also suggested that girls aren't as skilled in mathematics. These stereotypes are perpetuated by things like the cost disparity between children's toys, where items marketed towards girls are often more expensive.


The French language also contributes to these stereotypes, with its grammatical structure favoring the masculine form. For instance, if there are 10 girls and one boy, the feminine form is disregarded in favor of the masculine. This has implications for the translation and adaptation of human rights declarations. For example, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen during the French Revolution in 1789 omitted women. This issue is visible in the different translations of 'human rights' in various languages, as displayed on a monument in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.


Laci Johnson

How do you perceive the status of women in Belgium compared to other Western European countries? Is there a specific issue that appears more significant in Belgium than in its neighboring countries?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

The issues are similar in Belgium, France, and surrounding countries. In Belgium, women earned the right to vote in 1948. Despite this relatively late development, there aren't many issues now, except that men are often easily accepted as leaders. Women and girls still have to assert themselves, demonstrating that they can successfully manage their family, job, and enterprise. A gap in salaries exists, but it's narrowing over time. This issue is under careful scrutiny.


Vanessa Ortiz

What, in your opinion, are some of the major challenges that women in Belgium encounter? How is Millennia2025 addressing these issues?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

Belgium, though small, is home to many international institutions, particularly in Brussels. This brings a diverse population to the area. However, there are significant challenges including poverty, education, and violence. Schools, for example, must often teach in multiple languages to accommodate students from various countries.


Poverty is a particularly pressing issue, disproportionately affecting women. Many women are single parents, balancing work and caregiving responsibilities, which exacerbates their financial struggles. In response, our foundation, Millennia2025, initiated a program called “Millennia2025 Solidarity Women”. The goal of this program is to help women escape poverty through innovation.


We adopted the proverbial approach of teaching a person to fish, rather than simply handing them a fish. We felt this was innovative, as no one else was doing this at the time. Our team collaborated with several women's organizations to provide support and instill confidence in women facing severe hardships.


For instance, I leveraged my passion for IT to teach unemployed women about potential careers as system administrators or webmasters. I showed them that they could work from home and earn a living. This would not only provide them with income, but also benefit their children by having internet at home.

However, we acknowledge that many women are so impoverished they lack basic amenities like electricity or water. To address this, we drafted a memorandum, which was presented at an international event and made available online. This document contained recommendations that were both innovative and political. Our goal was for these recommendations to be considered by political leaders, and gladly, they were.


Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Does social media contribute to improving the situation of women in Belgium? What is the impact of media in general?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

Indeed, smartphones are vital as they keep everyone connected. For instance, in my role as the president of a Women's Association, we use WhatsApp to link former presidents and leaders of women's organizations. We often receive alerts about emergencies or instances of violence against women, and we coordinate help accordingly.


We actively engage with the media and, in collaboration with the Millennia2025 foundation, have established the "WeObservatory for Women’s Health". In line with the World Health Organization, our teams have developed specific smartphone applications to assist women. For instance, pregnant women can input their conditions and the app will help locate a doctor or solution in any language.


Beyond this organization, we collaborate with several African countries to ensure women in remote areas also have access to these resources. We created an application and distributed pink smartphones, which men are less likely to take from their wives or sisters. This has proven helpful, providing advice even when a doctor is not immediately available.


However, it is crucial to exercise caution online and avoid sharing personal information. We also focus on educating people, including refugees, about these safety measures.


Preston Avant

Has the pay gap between men and women decreased since 2021 (94%)? If it has, what factors do you believe contributed to this improvement? If it hasn't, what steps do you think should be taken to address this issue?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

Indeed, the pay gap issue is real. While it is diminishing, there was a movement in November where women declared they wouldn't work any longer on the pay gap issue because they should be paid the same as men for the same job. This real motivation led some institutions to become obliged to disclose each member's salary. This transparency allows everyone to see if a man is being paid more for the same job. This discrepancy is decreasing, and we are actively combating it!


Preston Swint

If you had the authority to alter Belgium's laws, what would be your initial action to advocate for women's rights?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

No girl or woman will ever casually decide to have an abortion. Undertaking an abortion is a distressing experience often resulting from the actions of men, violence, and patriarchy.


A woman does not conceive a child alone. It's hard to believe that a violated girl or woman would willingly choose to carry the pregnancy to term. In Belgium, abortion has been legal since 1990, though it is still heavily regulated. If I had the power, I would advocate for free, unrestricted access to abortion services.


I want to underscore that no woman chooses abortion lightly. I'm aware that in some male-dominated societies, a rapist is even allowed to marry his victim. We must remember that an abortion can pose health and psychological risks to the woman. Therefore, it's crucial to provide timely assistance.


However, this is often not possible when women or girls are confined to their homes by violent spouses or parents. I would appreciate hearing your opinions on abortion, as this issue is of great importance to girls and women.


Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Are women in Belgium politically active? What are your thoughts on the quota system implemented in the political system?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

Women play a significant role in Belgium's politics. They hold positions such as the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Defense Minister, University Presidents, Chief of the Union of Enterprises, Chief of the Middle Class Union, and the President of the Chamber of Representatives.


The President of the Chamber of Representatives, often considered the second most powerful role in Belgium, is particularly important. While we have a king, his power is limited.


As for the quota, it may not always seem beneficial, but it often is. For elections, party lists must alternate between men and women candidates, with an equal total number of each gender. This approach has proven effective.

It's crucial to select leaders based on their qualities rather than their gender to balance representation. Hence, we have implemented quotas, and they have worked well.


Riley Ridge

How does the education system impact women's long-term careers? For instance, are women encouraged to pursue their ambitions, or are they advised to focus on homemaking?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

Girls should not be confined to homemaking duties, especially in refugee families where it can be challenging to encourage girls to attend school and learn skills beyond meal preparation.


We place a strong emphasis on STEM education. In 2008, during the first international conference of Millennia, European Commissioner Viviane Reding, who was in charge of the IT society, introduced the "IT for Girls" program. Companies were encouraged to invite girls to their workplaces to expose them to technology and its applications. This initiative motivated many girls to pursue studies in this field.


Even if it's challenging to convince families of lawyers and teachers to allow their children to choose different paths, it's crucial to learn technology. One of my personal friends, Vinton Cerf, one of the pioneers of the internet and the creator of the TCP IP protocol, now works at Google. He currently focuses on interplanetary internet systems. When I spoke to him recently, he highlighted that the key issues today lie in the internet, internet freedom, the dark web, and Artificial Intelligence. This is why it's crucial for girls to be motivated to learn about technology.


August Thut

What advice would you give to aspiring women who want to make a significant impact in this field?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

I've encountered many women and girls in various countries and contexts. Here's my advice to them: "Learn, resist, work, dare, innovate, create, and undertake. Acquire different languages and skills, and identify your talents. Be respectful and proud of yourself. Draw inspiration from female role models. Learn from your failures, as they provide lessons that strengthen you for the future. Identify your skill domains, develop them, and empower yourself. Recognize the courage and creativity of women in your country or region, especially those battling war, disease, or climate catastrophes. Develop plans to assist them and save lives. Strive to change the world and improve daily life. Envision new futures and build upon your ideas. And lastly, love, stay safe, and be happy."


August Thut

As a leader in women's empowerment, which personal experiences or inspirations have shaped your commitment to promoting gender equality? And how do these experiences impact your current roles as President and CEO of the Millennia2025 Women and Innovation Foundation?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

In brief, my journey with IT started with a basic computer with a dark screen, where communication was a feat. You might be familiar with the sound of IT connections. During that time, it was intriguing and exciting to communicate, which led to my fascination with technology. I started from the basics, learning about Windows and the first programs, domain name systems, and more. I consider myself a pioneer of internet technologies, at least in Wallonia.


I created our websites around the time Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, organized a significant meeting in Geneva about information technologies and the World Summit on Information Society. This was one of the first times, if not the first, that civil society was invited to participate, though not to speak. At this event, there was no internet governance in place, marking the genesis of internet governance.


At this event, I encountered many women from all walks of life, which greatly expanded my network. I observed a stark contrast between women from different African countries presenting their small achievements and Japanese IT members and technicians displaying their compact servers and tools. This disparity inspired me to apply what I learned from the Destree Institute, specifically their foresight methodology, to women. This marked the first and only time such research has been conducted for women worldwide.


Stephen Roberts

What are the most common misconceptions about your work and women's empowerment?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

I've mentioned this before, but it's about patriarchy and misogyny. This is a real issue, not only in our country but even in places like Paris, where everything appears to be perfect. Feminism is needed as a human right, because there are still men who view women with contempt, consider them less intelligent, and believe they exist primarily to serve men. This is a misconception that we must challenge.


Sophia Rosselli

What do you consider your most significant accomplishment during your impactful tenure at The Destree Institute?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

I worked as an editor, bridging the gap between the author and the reader and publishing books. I have authored a book titled "Together for Equality." Another one of my works is about the "Foresight of the Internet." In 2005, when the internet was still in its early phases, we created a DVD book about the internet's prospects. This book included interviews with notable internet figures.


At that time, we were transitioning from a reliance on CDs and USB keys to cloud storage. It raised questions about the future of our digital memories. What will happen to our personal cloud storage in a few years when our children want to access it? Will it still be available?


During the Iraq War, the United States severed internet connections for an entire country with a simple click. Corporations can easily freeze people's accounts. These events highlight the importance of considering the future of data on the cloud.


Cloud storage is akin to a bank account where the director can see all your data. We all need to exercise caution and think about where our personal data will be in 10 or 20 years.


Preston Swint

What inspired you to transition from Destree to establishing your own company advocating for women's rights?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

The recognition we received from UN, UNESCO, and UN Women, as well as from our network, was so significant that it compelled us to act. We had to establish a foundation despite having no funds, as all our work is voluntary.


Creating the foundation was a crucial step. Our extensive network, which at the time comprised 10,000 people in 130 countries for Millennia, was invaluable. All network members knew that we couldn't offer them money. However, some of them expressed that the opportunity to voice their problems and challenges was a gift in itself.


I recall women from Afghanistan sending descriptions of their situations with the request, "please don't tell my name." The accounts were horrifying, but we had to maintain respect for the members of our network.


Michael Frost

As a recipient of numerous awards and recognitions for your contributions to women's empowerment, what do these accolades personally mean to you? How do they inspire you to continue your work?


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

The awards were all a surprise, and while I was happy to receive them, I believe it's important for those who give the awards to know that they will be acknowledged. That's why I mention them on my CV, to show appreciation for their recognition of our work. Of course, I've shared every honorific award with my network and teams. They're important because they raise awareness of our work, and even though there's no monetary value, they're indeed helpful. But, each recognition was always a surprise.


Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you again for joining us today. I greatly appreciate your ideas and initiatives.


Johnathan Bajuk

I appreciate your decision to spend time with us, sharing insights about your work in Belgium and your efforts to empower women through your foundation and technology. I sincerely thank you for your time today.


Caroline Lacina:

Thank you for speaking with us today. Your participation in Millennia2025 is truly inspirational. It can be difficult for some people to advocate for women's equality, but you've stepped up to the challenge.


Wyatt Rose:

I agree with everything stated, and I appreciate your hard work both prior to and during the interview. Thank you so much.


Marie-Anne Delahaut:

Thank you to all of you. At the end of this document, I've mentioned the projects we are currently working on, particularly in the areas of technology and a balance between artificial and human intelligence. If you're interested, your contributions would be welcome. I'm very pleased and grateful. Thank you, Dr. Sola, and let's keep in touch.

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