What is the Gender Summit?
The Gender Summit is a two day conference held on different continents every year, with the aim of making gender equality the norm in research. The Gender Summit 17th edition was the first one hosted by the Netherlands, and the next one will be in June 2020 in Kenya. The Minister of Education,Culture and Science, Ingrid Van Engelshoven, gave an opening speech first day of the Summit. Find more information about the GS17 here.
Our Bodies Our Voice at the Gender Summit Opening Night
Stichting Our Bodies Our Voice was invited by the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH), as a panelist about cultural change in academia, to the Gender Summit’s opening night. The panel discussion took place after the powerful play “#Metooacademia: The Learning Curve”, showcasing the gradual abuse of a phd student by her supervisor. Alongside the panelists Nu Sandy, culture innovation consultant at Imperial College London, and Paulina Snijders, vice president of the executive board of Tillburg University, I highlighted OBOV’s vision of cultural change in academia about sexual violence:
- We see our workshops as carving out a space to discuss and challenge the norms upheld by the rape culture.
- Our workshops provide participants with tools to help support survivors (active listening skills & help seeking information), intervene in potentially dangerous situations (bystander intervention) and reflecting on our societal culture (discussions around boundaries, consent & communications; on men allyship).
- On an institutional level, adequate resources must be allocated for the reporting and prevention of sexual violence, as well as support for survivors.
- On an individual level, we believe all staff and students must be equipped with skills of empathy, critical introspection and open communication to engage in cultural change.
What are practical steps we can take to improve EDI in our institutions?
I attended both days of the summit, listening to many panel discussions around gender equality. Various topics were discussed, such as bias in AI, diversity in academia, redefining excellence. A red thread throughout the conference was the question: what are practical steps we can take to improve EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) in our institutions?
Naomi Ellemers, a social and organizational psychologist, and Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University, answered : there is no silver bullet answer to this question. I very much agreed with and appreciated her reasoning:
- We always need to remain vigilant about systems of oppression because cultural change does not happen overnight. The function of culture is to retain continuity across generations, so it is by definition very hard to change it.
- We cannot change culture without changing structure, priorities, agenda and strategies. We need to integrate change, diversity and inclusion in our core values; in all of our core activities We need to set targets and responsibilities for leaders in universities around EDI.
My biggest takeaway from the Gender Summit
Cultural change involves the institutional level committing to structural change, but also for students and staff to commit to critical introspection on their behaviour and beliefs, and an emphasis on empathy and open communication. If we want to challenge the status quo, it will require an institution to spearhead this change, alongside the support for change and resistance to the status quo by its constituents (executive, academic and support staff, researchers, students & study/student associations).
When discussing sexual violence, we need the university to lead the way in challenging rape culture, protecting survivors and committing to sexual violence prevention. We also need students and staff to welcome these discussions around rape culture, to be willing to introspect on their beliefs and behaviours, and use empathy rather than skepticism when listening to others’ experiences of violence.