Women in Lithuania are praised but not valued

Erin Gainer Grigaliūnė
Erin Gainer Grigaliūnė

Women in Lithuania currently do not hold a single cabinet post, their salaries are over 15% less than men’s, and the gender equality index is below the European Union average. That situation would resolve itself if all the talk about empowering women was replaced with concrete actions, says Erin Gainer-Grigaliūnė, the philanthropist founder and head of “the ella fund”, which works to empower girls and women¸ Reach for Change writes in a press release.

Gainer-Grigaliūnė observes that while our country can boast of having been led by a woman president for the last decade, in other areas women’s talents and potential are not being fully realized.

“There are few women in business and elected office. I see how Lithuanians praise their women for achievements in culture and academia. But when it comes to taking concrete action or naming a woman to a leadership role, the talk often remains just talk,” she says.

Every girl and woman, she notes, has to be given the chance to fully realize their potential.

“When I moved to Lithuania, I saw how many bright, educated, wonderful women there are here. You can certainly take pride in that, but you also have to take action,” the philanthropist says.

Progress needed for women in Lithuania

In fact, clear progress can be seen in Lithuania in the area of women’s empowerment, she stresses. There are more and more projects dedicated to inspiring women to pursue studies in areas like information technologies, mathematics and engineering.

In her words, every girl needs to see good role models. They could learn a lot at home, for example, about why financial independence for women is important and how responsibilities should be shared.

“In a lot of European countries, men tend more to dominate, and that sometimes overshadows women’s professional ambitions. And even if today they more often accept new responsibilities in the home, women, even when they work full time, still do more of the housework,” Gainer-Grigaliūnė says.

A good example at home and a different world outside the family

Empowering women in Lithuania

The topic of women’s empowerment surrounded Gainer-Grigaliūnė from early childhood, and as she herself says, she saw the best examples in her family.

“I grew up with four sisters. In our family and community, girls were always encouraged to pursue goals and their achievements were celebrated. But when I left home and travelled the world a bit, I saw that a lot of girls grow and mature in a setting that is not so positive,” she recalls.

The topic of women’s wellbeing was also close to Gainer-Grigaliūnė’s heart in her career, peaking when she became the CEO of a pharmaceutical company.

“The company I led was always focused on improving women’s health. When I made business decisions, I would stick to two principles: creating value for shareholders and helping women,” she notes.

Thus, when in 2016 the company was sold, the businesswoman decided to give more of her personal time to women’s empowerment issues – and that is how “the ella fund” came about.

“I spent two years in sub-Saharan Africa, where I saw with my own eyes the consequences of a different attitude to gender. For instance, if a family doesn’t have enough money to send all its children to school, the ones who don’t get an education are the girls,” Gainer-Grigaliūnė recounts.

The ella fund

Although “the ella fund” only began investing a few years ago, it can already boast of achievements.

“The fund works all over the world. In Europe we promote employment opportunities for women in the exact sciences and data science. We’ve helped hundreds of women in Tanzania get better healthcare for childbirth-related injuries. And in Asia we’ve given thousands of women access to water and sanitation,” the philanthropist details.

20,000 euros for the best business idea

Since coming to live in Lithuania two years ago, Gainer-Grigaliūnė has begun activities of her fund here as well. The fund is currently working together with Reach for Change, an organization that helps social change leaders grow and promotes social entrepreneurship focused on children’s welfare.

In the organization’s “Talentas Keisti” contest, where the main 20,000-euro prize for the best social entrepreneurship idea is sponsored by Tele2, Gainer-Grigaliūnė this year is adding a separate award. The fund she leads will give an additional 20,000 euros to the best idea to promote the empowerment of girls or the best idea by a woman entrepreneur.

“When I do something, I want real results – for girls to achieve all they can, for there to be no more missed opportunities in their lives. Areas I focus on include not just health and entrepreneurship, but also education. Projects and contests like this make it possible to bring these ideas to life even more. I hope the prize the fund is sponsoring will help improve girls’ lives in Lithuania,” Gainer-Grigaliūnė explained.

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