NO APOLOGIES. Being a contemporary woman in contemporary Riga.

8 March is a day when many Western communities try praising women professionals and discuss topics related to issues and challenges women still face every day (apart from men). On the contrary, many from the East (including post-Soviet countries) get away by handing out scissored flowers or organize chip'n'dale striptease to soothe and smoother any feminine appetite for gender appreciation.

Instead of mansplaining on 8 March, we gave a word to six women in Riga to comment on what life looks and feels like when passing before their eyes instead. To describe the way they want, they way it affects their professional and private life, the way it feels comfortable and still substantial.

capital r, capital riga, martins engelis, 2020

No matter how we wanted it to be, this reader's digest of interviews is not going to be your next clickbait. No doubt, when looking from a perspective of being a female in Latvia, things sometimes get out of hand and are far from perfect. Nevertheless, CAPITAL R accepted and compiled monologues that feel organic to the heroines of this article, and the heroines only.


Sadly, apart from the said coming up below, some other exist in Latvia, are said by men and are published in best-selling books (usually bought by other women). Such monologues are "relationship tips" who suggest that: "femininity is wrecked by conversations and thoughts about difficult topics, it is suggested for women to be light-minded and think about little things," or "women must be satisfied for what a man gives to them". Some are "psychotherapy tips" pointing out that "everyone can see that women want to get pregnant, but they just keep talking about social problems," or "how will you eventually make a woman to be a real mother and wife without beating?"

capital riga, capital r, blog, women

But let's not allow few dickheads to ruin what we have already achieved! Latvia is one of the top countries in EU where women own a slight, yet a majority among scientists and engineers. Latvian women lead EU in proportion of farm managers who are women in 2016. In Latvia, proportionally more women assume executive positions than in rest of Europe. Latvia today has the highest proportion of female top executives in Europe (the second best in the world).

As states Forbes, "the startup scene is also quite the matriarchy. The leading startup players at TechChill, TechHub Riga and the Latvian Startup association are all headed by women". Finally, The Women's Workplace Equality Index (WWIE) places Latvia in tenth position globally. "Latvia scores particularly well on  accessibility of institutions, getting a job, going to court and using property. Interestingly it outranks all the Nordic countries except Iceland".

But then, again, when hardware is doing fine, it's essential to look into software too. And this is where Latvia still has a long way ahead. Feminine role in society, domestic violence, emotional and sexual freedom, body rights and shaming... CAPITAL R hopes many things will see improvement by next year.

Politician, Curator at Riga Film museum and Riga International Film Festival
capital r, capital riga, martins engelis, feminism

"One thing that characterizes my own experience as a woman living in Riga is the endless sea of self-doubt. Am I good enough, am I competent enough, am I too loud, or am I too quiet? Am I too boring? I mean, if I was saying something important, nobody would interrupt me at meetings, right? And it's so much work to put these thoughts to rest and let myself be. After all, in the Olympics of incompetence, there are so many more people ahead of me in every field possible. But while I'm mentally busy with overcoming this, I end up self-censoring so much of my own thoughts and opinions that I say publicly.

However, I'm quite sure we're on the right track to improve things. The legislation is (almost) there, but changing minds is often far too difficult than changing laws. Somehow whenever we're talking about gender equality in the workplace and in representation, so many people assume that equality comes with loss of quality. Say, if we aim to have an equal representation among artists, film directors or whatnot, we will definitely lose quality.

But actually facts say something else. A great example is the Latvian centenary film programme. In total, 16 films were released. Eight were made by female directors, and the other eight - by male. All 16 film projects were carefully selected from a bunch of projects, and all films were successful.

Why is it that we can only achieve this nonchalant equality (without thinking about it too much) when we have extra funding, but on a regular basis life's more unfriendly towards female artists? Talents don't come in certain sexes and ethnicities only. However, the ability to develop them sometimes does."

Co-creator of RigaTechGirls, Co-founder of Infogram, Senior product manager at Prezi
capital r, capital riga, martins engelis, feminism, infogram, techgirls

"A year ago I would say something like “Why are women under-represented in STEM? Why don't women show interest in IT and sciences. We need to raise awareness and get them interested. We need to tell how empowering and impactful this industry is, we need to show role models, educate, inspire, talk about financial freedom. That's why Riga TechGirls, an NGO educating and inspiring girls & women about technology, is here”.

New year, new discoveries. During past year's Riga TechGirls and sister organization activities, I have observed tremendous interest from my sex in IT - there were 8 women applying per seat when we announced IT training for women and scholarships. When we announced a coding workshop in Liepāja, it got overbooked in just a few hours. In other words - the interest is the least thing to complain about. But unfortunately, it is not enough to fill the talent gap in the industry.

Sadly there are still sayings like "a girl programmer is like a Guinea pig. Neither from New Guinea, nor a pig." Also, most of the time, there are only male speakers at conferences. Despite that, the IT sector is hungry for women. At least in my bubble. They get underscored, there are programmes dedicated for this matter, a subculture revolving around them. The IT cannot afford to ignore women simply because there is a lack of employees.

When there are opportunities, the interest appears. We need to create more of these chances for women and do it together. State supported career shift programmes, post maternity-leave professional development support, courses, paid internships for IT juniors, women-friendly work culture, growth opportunities within companies, to name few.

To be honest, this is my chosen position and way of communication - talking about opportunities, not problems. One can always raise the discrimination topic, and my answer would turn out spicier, yet I am not sure if I have enough examples to make a solid statement. After all, the less haters, the more benefits to all stakeholders."

entrepreneur, owner of the vegan café Terapija
capital r, capital riga, martins engelis, feminism, terapija cafe

"I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur until recently when people started addressing me for business advice or inviting to come up with other ideas or events. But how? I’m just a girl from a miserable post-Soviet, mostly Russian speaking village opening a vegan café during (what I then thought) a gap year after finishing my masters in psychology. The only thing I had was some intuition for people and their choices, very loose financial calculations and two thousand euros from cleaning a swampy forest my beloved grandfather left to me.

This all accelerated, and in two weeks I opened a vegan café in times when veganism by majority was considered something weird, not suitable for Latvians, but for rather bored, rich kids to waste money. And I absolutely was not bored, did not become and never was rich and the biggest splurge was a jacket for my adopted dog. Turns out that, apart from a quite useless, but well designed masters thesis, „Terapija” has become my only successful experiment.

Most people like good vegan food. Even more people like vegan sweets, that’s why there is our second bakery „Mazā Terapija” now. I am not sure if there's any difference between men and women visitors and their numbers. Maybe there is a contrast in their monthly wage. But do men or women like different meals? From my experience - no. Are ones or the others more curious? Again, no.

Maybe I need to look from the perspective of an outsider group - omnivores that have met conditions when there are only 100 % vegan meals (weddings, birthday parties, corporate events etc.) From my experience, only men are those coming up to the table and bragging about their "crazy" meat perversities - biggest chicken leg they ate, tinned game they hunted down and made themselves, or devouring the bloodiest stake.

Whereas, those who have already made a decision to step in to "Terapija", have mostly got rid of their heavyweight prejudice already. I believe that people do change for the better, but usually not if they are being questioned or forced into that. Also almost all people think they are doing the right thing, think that they are right, and want to stay right. Meanwhile majority of people still do not know how animals feel, react and how they should be treated.

Bottomline Nr.1: doesn’t matter your sex or geographical place - being an entrepreneur is hard unless you are rich from the start. Bottomline Nr.2: I think men look for the same as women in a vegan cafe - tasty food."

Executive director of Foundation for an Open society DOTS, Director of Conversation festival LAMPA
capital r, capital riga, martins engelis, feminism, LAMPA

""I greet women with a kiss on the cheek, not with a handshake,” I heard this phrase from a man a couple of years ago at a work meeting, when he walked into the meeting room and shook hands with a male participant in the room, while avoiding shaking mine. I was standing there with an extended hand and a surprised look on my face. To mitigate the awkwardness of the moment, I jokingly asked whether he would shake my hand, and got a kiss on my cheek instead. I felt that the kiss was a clumsy effort for him to get out of an embarrassing moment. Maybe even more embarrassing that the lack of the handshake itself.

When asked to contribute to this blog on the occasion of International Women’s day, I thought about what topic would be interesting to explore. Somehow the question of shaking hands between men and women in a professional set-up came up again and again. So many women with whom I have raised this question have experienced meetings where a man enters the room, shakes hands with all the male participants, and gives a shy smile, briefly exchanges eye contact or says a verbal greeting to the women, at best. Unless a woman purposefully extends her hand, in Latvia the man most likely will not greet her with a handshake. Is a kiss a good alternative? Only if it would feel appropriate for the men to hug and kiss the other men in the room.

Why are handshakes between men and women so difficult? Maybe this is a cultural issue in this part of the world. Maybe people are guided by some older etiquette. I don’t know, it’s a subject for a deeper analysis.

One thing I know for sure. To me, a handshake is an act of “seeing” and recognizing the other person’s presence. A simple act of welcome and politeness, which can be extended to everyone, irrespective of age or gender. Wouldn’t such an attitude make it easier for everyone to greet one another?"

municipal politician, partner at Gateway&Partners, co-founder of The Red Jackets movement to praise best of Latvian export
capital r, capital riga, martins engelis, feminism, Jauna Vienotiba

"What are the things that make a human being happy? For me, they are two - being with my family, and a professional chance to add value with my work. How to merge these two worlds and keep them in balance? I still haven't found a way to do it.

Only when my daughter was born, I began to realize that the purpose of life is to live together with your darlings and see your children grow, and to follow the lives of your friends and loved ones. Before that, me and my husband, we were "self-sufficient" - worked, relaxed, travelled, idled. Although, when children enter a family, your daily dynamics change. Suddenly there is someone else with their needs, necessities, love.

And then there's the other side of my life - the professional one. I draw my energy from daily communication with people, ability to begin or move processes, opportunities to learn new knowledge, ways of thinking and doing. The whole thing also makes me happy. Sadly, at least in politics in Riga, afternoons and evenings are important parts of the day when internal proceedings and receptions, or external meetings with residents take place.

The former mayor Nils Ušakovs liked summoning extraordinary meetings even if there was no need for it. Once, after a short notice, it took place at 5 PM! So I took my daughter with me to prove what life feels like to those 1000 parents who still don't have kindergartens subsidized by the municipality. So, often I need to make choices in favour to family or professional life.

I have the conviction that one can merge these two worlds successfully only when there's your other half ready to cover the family part. I am lucky to have my partner who understands my needs, or does not show a wry face when I say I'll be home at 10 PM. Although I understand not every woman can be so lucky, and I am also aware such patience is never endless and I will need to concede too.

Eventually, I cannot have time for everything. I have not been to any theatre for a while, as well as to concerts, exhibitions, and parties. But I don't complain, I will have enough of that. After all, there is no better feeling to be with your children, make laugh and take a bath. Besides, the time I will directly spend with my children will be unfairly short. Later they will already ask me to close the door of their room or leave them alone.

My closet is not put in order, my clothes don't get often ironed, my house is not always tidy. I have not visited cosmetologist, manicurist or masseur in a long time. Also books get read seldom lately, same with my drawing hobby. But maybe its just OK for people to have this once in a while in order to spend more time with something that truly brings happiness? Like children? The more we will accept that, maybe the more there will be more young mothers in politics.

film and theatre director
capital r, capital riga, martins engelis, feminism, sieviesu stendaps

"My professional life mostly contains of a constant internal conflict between things taught me as a girl in childhood and the way I want to be in order to reach my goals. Because it is taught for girls not to be angry, not to raise your voice, make sure everybody feels comfortable, look tidy and be graceful. And to apologize, always apologize for everything even when it is not your fault, and then feel bad about it and apologize to herself for disappointing oneself. But you promised not to apologize to anyone!

At the filming location, the rules are different. Yes, it is still important for me that my team and actors feel comfortable and satisfied. But one can seldom get by without raising your voice, otherwise no one hears you in that razzle-dazzle. It does not mean to shout, because, if a woman shouts on the filming location, she's hysterical, and no one will be willing to work with her again. Men instead can shout, because they stand for their artistic vision. Women holler because they don't know how to control their emotions. Lastly, apologizing on the filming location means to lower your hierarchical position and make an impression that a woman is not sure what she does.

Similarly I "overthrow" myself when both performing at the Female stand-up and writing jokes on scripts; because a woman does not need to be funny. She only needs to know how to laugh about men jokes even when they are not laughable. Besides, "even genetically, women aren't as funny as men!" Indeed, it is difficult to feel witty your whole life if you are not surrounded by other women who laugh about your jokes, thus at least creating an illusion that you are good at it.

Therefore, I guess, the life of a contemporary woman is a constant winnowing.
Separating perceptions that are inculcated in you since childhood about what you need to be like. But it really is not being afraid of being angry (despite the fact it causes wrinkling!), raising your voice and, once and for all, stop apologizing. I am sorry if this sounded too rough and arrogant, I am truly sorry!"


  1. Great article!
    Just to comment on the handshake part - according to etiquette, woman should be the one initiating a handshake. Whether or not we agree upon this tradition, women should feel powerful enough to offer the handshake first :)

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! That is true about the etiquette! The only difference here is - when a man breaks one, no one blames or points at him, when it's the woman, that's her own fault :) There are times for etiquette to be updated, too, for handshakes to be mutual not gender-defined. After all, this is XXI century, we can do better :)


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