Lithuania’s first lady in hot water over comments on women in education

Diana Nausėdienė, the wife of Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda, has attracted criticism after delivering a speech on women’s empowerment. Commentators have called her comments ill-advised, while the president’s office has said Nausėdienė’s words were misconstrued.

Speaking at an event on women’s leadership last Tuesday, Nausėdienė argued that increasing the share of women in any given field did not automatically lead to better outcomes, giving education as an example.

“If we have a system whose problems we don’t analyse, don’t seek out real solutions, […] and a woman joins this system, can she change the future? Let me give you a concrete example, our education system. There’s an oft-quoted stereotype that if we raise the number of women in any field, indicators will automatically improve.

“Women make up 79 percent in the education system, but if we look at our education indicators, we’ll see that those that should be going up are actually declining. […] The education system does not impart knowledge on our youths, doesn’t teach them to apply it. Meanwhile bullying is going up,” she said.

Commentators have accused Nausėdienė of blaming women for the ills in Lithuania’s education system, saying she had completely missed to root of the problem.

“There is plenty of research on benefits of diversity within organisations, it’s not difficult to find, if only Mrs Nausėdienė’s advisers worked on this issue,” Jūratė Juškaitė, of the NGO Human Rights Centre, commented to LRT.lt.

Donatas Paulauskas, an author and gender equality activist, said Nausėdienė was not prepared to speak about women’s empowerment in an informed way.

“That’s why the comments were so controversial and ambiguous, open to different interpretations,” he told LRT.lt.

In a statement sent to LRT.lt, Nausėdienė’s team insisted that the first lady was not blaming women for problems in Lithuania’s education system.

“Diana Nausėdienė wanted to stress that in order to promote women’s leadership, it wasn’t enough to increase the number of women in a given professional field,” the statement said. “It’s equally important to empower women at the same time.”

Meanwhile President Gitanas Nausėda took it more personally, lashing out at his wife’s critics and accusing them of misrepresenting her words.

“A third-grade student would understand what she meant, but hunters of narratives have turned it upside down into an anti-statement about disrespect for women’s work,” Nausėda posted on Facebook, calling his wife a supporter of women’s empowerment “with all her essence”.

LRT.LT

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