Gender mainstreaming at Gender Summit 7

2015-11-19 13:22

The Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research was present when over 300 visitors from all over the world met for Gender Summit 7. Participating with two presentations, the Secretariat addressed issues of both gender bias in research allocation and the complexity of adding a qualitative dimension to gender equality work.

The Gender Summit conferences are held worldwide, aiming to remove gender bias from science knowledge making and to advance gender equality in science structures and practices. The theme for Gender Summit 7, in Berlin, November 2015, was ‘Mastering gender in research performance, contexts, and outcomes’.

A new vision for RFOs

Fredrik Bondestam, research coordinator at the Secretariat, spoke on research funding and gender, based on the findings of a research review recently conducted by the Secretariat.

The report shows that the distribution of research funding tends to lead to fewer and smaller grants for women. There are no clear answers as to why, but Bondestam suggested that RFOs (Research Funding Organizations) are reinforcing unequal, gendered conditions for research due to a lack of knowledge on, and insufficient ambitions to improve, gender equality in academia.

Another key point made by Bondestam was that a proportional distribution of female and male applicants and recipients of research funding is not the same as gender equality in research funding.

‘How can we have gender bias in research funding processes and still claim to have a gender equal outcome? Can it be that RFOs are deliberately or unconsciously trying not to understand the effects of their own statistical version of proportionality?’ Bondestam asked.

Bondestam called for a shift to the concept of eliminating gender inequalities through using feminist perspectives on academia. He suggested a new vision for RFOs:

  1. Go from gender balance to gender inequalities
  2. Use critical knowledge on academia through promoting feminist theories and perspectives
  3. Set up criteria on scientific quality starting out from knowledge on gender (in)equalities
  4. Move from a simplistic ‘men/women-dichotomy’ to intersectional inequalities

‘You can’t just add women and stir’

The question of a simplistic use of binary gendered categories as a means to achieve gender equality was further explored by Lillemor Dahlgren.

Dahlgren leads Gender Mainstreaming in Governmental Agencies, a government initiative supported by the Secretariat. The program includes 41 governmental agencies representing a wide range of sectors in the Swedish society. The purpose is to strengthen the agencies’ gender equality work where the Secretariat offers a support structure to the agencies, including a critical perspective on gender mainstreaming and gender equality.

Dahlgren focused mainly on the challenges related to the understanding of gender mainstreaming. Dahlgren relayed that one of the main difficulties when working with the agencies is to implement a problem based operation method. The agencies often get stuck surveying, gathering data and mapping the problems, rather than finding the core processes leading to action and change.

‘It is common that organizations try to sidestep the actual problem and head straight for the action. But by sidestepping the problem, the actions are set up as goals in themselves. At its best, we get results regarding non-discrimination or gendered statistics, but very little regarding the contribution to structural change. Do we focus on the symptoms or do we actually take part in curing the disease?’ Dahlgren asked.

Quoting feminist theorist Charlotte Bunch, Dahlgren continued saying that ‘You can’t just add women and stir’ – meaning that the root of the problem should be the focus for gender mainstreaming.

‘We need to target the structures and norms reinforcing gender inequality, rather than solely looking to equal representation to solve the complexities regarding how power and other resources are misallocated – both in academia and the rest of society’ Dahlgren concluded.

Author Ulrika Helldén
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