In May 2020, the Central European University has approved its first gender equality plan. Now the full document is fully available at this link.
Read the interview to Andrea Krizsan, research fellow at CEU’s Center for Policy Studies and Ana Belen Amil, gender equality officer at CEU, about the GEP approval: https://www.superaproject.eu/ceu_gep/
Ester Cois and Luigi Raffo, University of Cagliari. Interview by Paola Carboni
In the meetings of June 29th and 30th, 2020 the Academic Senate and the Board of the University of Cagliari approved the Gender Equality Plan designed in the framework of SUPERA. Now the GEP is available as an open access book at this link. Here’s the main highlights of the process that led to such an important milestone.
The process of design of the UNICA gender equality plan started with a baseline assessment of gender equality within the institution, in early 2019. Can you give us some details of the situation at the time of the assessment?
Since the beginning of the process aimed at involving the University of Cagliari as a whole in the development of its Gender Equality Plan, the UNICA core team has been able to contact all the types of stakeholders at the various levels of the organisation: from the top positions of the administrative structure, up to the teaching and research staff, the technical staff and the wide community of students. Every kind of interaction with the different categories of employees and students at UNICA has provided an opportunity to register many forms of resistance, with respect to the issue of improving gender equality within the organisation, but in general their frequency and tenor have been lower than we initially expected, probably due, above all, to the institutional support formally offered by the University’s governing bodies, on which the SUPERA project has always been able to count, starting from the endorsement expressed by the Rector in all the phases of the work carried on so far. It is therefore important to distinguish between the institutional level and the individual and occasional level: while in the first case there have been no explicit or implicit obstacles to the efficient development of the work conducted by the UNICA Core Team, some resistances have been instead expressed at the level of the single individuals involved in various forms in these early stages of the project.
Specifically, there have been three main relevant touch-points with regard to resistances: the documentary analysis related to the current rules and policies on gender equality in the University of Cagliari (when the administrative and executive officers did not express any form of resistance, rather being fully collaborative and effective in transmitting the requested documents); the collection of quali-quantitative administrative data related to the four thematic key-areas of the baseline assessment (when the staff of the various Departments contacted didn’t expressed as well any kind of resistance, neither explicit nor implicit, showing an excellent collaboration and an enthusiastic attitude to make themselves useful for the completion of the required task); the completion of the qualitative questionnaire on gender equality by the teaching and administrative-technical staff and by the students’ body, which was the only event in which several types of resistances emerged, on the individual level, although we can consider the response rate to the Survey quite satisfactory: respectively 29% of the teaching and administrative staff and 9% of the students.
We do not have enough information to infer that the asymmetry between females and males in the completion of the questionnaire among the students’ body (72% vs 28%) can necessarily identify a gender bias with respect to the interest in this matter. In the same way, it is not possible to surely assume that the distrust towards the anonymity guaranteed by the tool may have played a role in retaining a part of the population contacted to complete the survey (especially in the teaching and technical-administrative staff). From this point of view, we were in fact prepared to distinguish a gender-related resistance to other types of resistance, which in this case could simply be due to the fear of being identified after expressing opinions or declaring personal experiences on sensitive issues. In any case, detecting the resistances has been a useful starting point to understand where and how to focus the actions and strategies necessary to develop an approach as participatory as possible in the co-creation of the GEP, on different levels: in the first instance, starting with the involvement of the Hub as a support, advice and expertise channel within the various areas of UNICA as an institution; secondly, it has been important to correctly identify all types of resistances with respect to the issues related to gender equality, because failing in recognizing these critical nodes could have also blocked the subsequent implementation of the GEP throughout UNICA as an organisation.
So, beside its main goal, the baseline assessment was an interesting moment to understand if and how our institution was able to collect important gender related data, cross information from different database that usually don’t talk to each other. It was not a straightforward procedure, but we obtained the data and now we know how to automate such process.
The GEP design has not been a top-down process, but rather a participative one. Which parts of the university community were involved? Was this a positive experience from your point of view?
The SUPERA core team of UNICA has a quite large size: fifteen people with different background and responsibility. This aspect gave us the opportunity for starting the process internally, but we obtained important inputs from several working groups on specific topics, in the form of four fab labs: two of them involved administrative staff to discuss the issues related to work-life balance, the third involved Ph.D. students to discuss about career progression, and the last one was with assistant professors and dealt with sexual harassment. We preferred fab labs to online platforms as tools to guarantee inclusiveness and maximize the participation of representatives of the whole research and academic community in the decision-making process. We also organised several meetings with the SUPERA Hub, a structure foreseen by the project which, in our case, is composed by 12 people with roles at the top of UNICA organigram. The people we involved represent the complete community of UNICA, though for the next activities we want to enlarge the participation of students, that we involved so far only during the preliminary survey and through their Senate/Board representatives.
Gender-disaggregated data collection and management have the first place among the GEP actions. Can you provide us some examples of what can be achieved if data about staff, students and research products are collected using this method?
The disaggregation of data by gender is a first step to detect, both in terms of snapshot of the current situation and in terms of trends to be monitored for the near future, the persistent asymmetries with respect to career mechanisms in the university, or even with respect to the perception of the perspectives opened by their degree courses by male and female students. Mechanisms that cannot be explained by aggregate numbers.
For example, with regard to the enhancement of the skills acquired in their degree course and the perceived encouragement to undertake a future congruent profession, slight but significant differences persist between male and female students, given that less than 30% of the former declared having perceived a differentiated treatment in this sense compared to 40% of the girls.
What is the purpose of the mentoring activities and why are they important in a GEP?
Mentoring activities by senior colleagues are useful to ensure that junior academics’ personal goals are consistent with the institution’s expectations. Many studies have shown that female researchers are less productive than their male counterparts. For example, for Italy, we suggest to read the article by Marianna Filandri and Silvia Pasqua “Being good isn’t good enough: gender discrimination in Italian academia” (2019).
Quoting their words, “gender differences in publication output could explain the lower percentage of women among associate and full professors in Italian universities. If this were the case, there would be no gender discrimination and policies should be promoted to sustain women’s research activity. A second possible explanation of the gender gap in Italian academia could be women’s reluctance to apply for promotion. Previous literature has shown that women are less self-confident than men and therefore are less likely to apply for high-responsibility jobs and career advancement, and, specifically for academia. Again, if this were the case, we could not claim that gender discrimination exists and policies to sustain female researchers through mentoring should be promoted”. Therefore, the planning within our GEP aimed at supporting female researchers’ careers through mentoring activities, through the identification of peers within all structures, appears as a valid tool to reduce the asymmetry of opportunities that bind women more in reaching top positions.
Family-friendly policies always have a central role in gender-equality policies in the workplace. Which is the situation in UNICA and which further improvements can be achieved with the actions contained in the GEP?
UNICA complies with Italian legislation on compulsory maternity leave and optional leave for biological and adoptive parents (Paternity leave, parental leave, rest for breastfeeding, child sick leave). Detailed information on any type of leave is available at the university website in transparency handbooks, which clarify that after a first period of parental leave (30 days for Admin staff and 45 days for Faculty members) there is a cut in salary, which drops to 30% of the full amount. As confirmed by interviews with the Personnel office and by administrative data at hand, parental leave is not used by Faculty members. In the period under our first review for the baseline assessment report, only 3 women have ever opted for parental leave, and in the same period 29 women (about 7.8% of the total) were absent due to compulsory maternity leave. Among technical and administrative staff there is a higher use of parental leave: about 4% of men and 13% of women used it, and in the same period 27 women (5% of the total) were absent due to compulsory maternity leave.
Since 2015, UNICA is committed to pursuing family-friendly policies, whose direct beneficiaries are students and personnel. We can mention, for example, the Baby-Card (Tessera Baby) and Pink Room (Stanza Rosa) projects that aim to promote study and work-life balance. There is evidence of a gradual but steady process of institutional learning within the domain of family-friendly policies. The ultimate goal of promoting gender equality, both in terms of quality of services offered and quantity of potential beneficiaries involved, can be achieved only through the constant monitoring of the ways in which these practices are implemented. The collection of administrative data about the number of potential beneficiaries, the actual use of the services and the dissemination of transparent information about the services to prospective and current students are essential for estimating the effect of the policy and suggesting further improvements.
During the designing of our GEP, we have explored the individual experiences of work-life balance policies and tools set out by the University for its staff and students. Nearly 70% of staff respondents share household chores and childcare duties with their partner. Among them, the large majority (nearly 70%) said there was a largely unbalanced division of those duties, a result that is in line with a well-known picture of gender asymmetry in the division of household work in Italy, where men’s contributions are among the lowest in Europe. Clearly, there are exceptions to the rule, and changes are evident among younger, better educated generations. Women’s greater family duties and responsibilities explain why female staff say they have turned down more often than their male colleagues an appointment or other professional growth opportunities (22% and 10% respectively).
Among students, 16% of respondents to our preliminary survey said they shared household or family chores with their partner (351 students, of whom 76% females and 24% males). Gender division of household work seems more balanced among these students, perhaps due to their belonging to younger population cohorts, compared with those of staff respondents, responding to social pressure to have greater symmetry in gender and family roles. Less than one out of four students stated they perceived a marked imbalance in the distribution of household chores, with a prevalence of female students (27%) compared to male students (18%). A similar finding also applies to caring for children and other family members, both with regard to the limited percentage of those saying they experience an asymmetry in their distribution on the basis of gender (17% of respondents), and to the gap in this regard between female students (20%) and male students (7%).
One of the main objectives of our GEP is obviously to contribute reducing the initial gaps as much as possible, and to enrich existing strategies to favor work-family reconciliation. Just to mention one of the actions envisaged in this direction, we included in the GEP a support to people returning to work after a leave, aimed at maintaining the career path, through the definition of an internal regulation that establishes dedicated reductions in the workload and specific evaluation criteria (in the case of personnel subject to evaluation) for workers who return to work after the birth or adoption of a child or after a period of illness.
Among the actions of the GEP, training has its place and relevance. Which are the goals of this training that will address decision makers, researchers and students?
The objectives in this area aim at mainstreaming Gender Equality at the institutional level: the inclusion of Gender Equality issues in the organisation structure and in the strategic planning and mission of the University, the implementation of gender-specific measures and practices, and the revision of existing procedures in which Gender Equality issues should be considered. From this point of view, our GEP has identified the need of offering training to the staff in leadership positions, including the training for the mentors. But also training and guidance activities addressed to academic staff and students to deconstruct gender bias and promote a gender inclusive work and study environment; or regular training sessions for research staff to add a gender perspective in their work in any disciplinary field.
Which is the role of gender-sensitive communication in a cultural change for gender equality?
Managing the communication of a research institution is a multi-faceted challenge. Universities are, at the same time, learning environments, places where scientific research takes place and workplaces for large communities of human beings. Teaching, research, outreach, public engagement, fundraising, promoting enrolments, establishing partnerships are only some of the tasks a university must manage according to its mission and values. Nevertheless, universities must act as places where knowledge can be developed and shared at the highest levels, ensuring academic freedom and visibility to all the actors involved, including the less represented within the framework of inclusion, for example because of their gender. In this sense, universities play a fundamental role in communication the importance of the principles of equity, inclusion and enhancement of differences in their messages and organisational behavior. See also the Guidelines for gender-sensitive communication in research and academia, developed within SUPERA.
Can you give us some examples of how an integration of gender contents in research can be performed? And in teaching?
Understanding that any research oriented to people needs or behaviour has a gender dimension is not easy and it is not easy to explain it to people, like researchers, that are rightly proud of their intellectual freedom. The same happens for professors about the freedom of building the syllabus of their courses. Examples can change their point of view, and there are plenty of them, for example in the unsuspected field of Artificial Intelligence. The presence of its results in daily life is pervasive, so there are many examples easy to understand. Since this field is largely dominated by male researchers, even limited changes can have a large impact and can lead to large improvements. With regard to teaching, we decided to work at voluntary level, creating discussion groups for professors interested to give space to gender related dimension in their syllabus, for example with regard to the proportion of female authors mentioned in their bibliographic references.
When can we expect to appreciate the first outcomes of the GEP actions? Which is the timeframe of the initiatives?
Our GEP is composed of 32 actions to be completed before the end of 2024. However, it is foreseen that a large number of these actions will give results already before. In particular several informative events (like courses for PhD students) will be already active from the next year.
In the last face-to-face event many of us attended before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation hosted a workshop on “Fostering institutional change through Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) and the way forward towards Horizon Europe” on 4thMarch in Brussels. The workshop was attended by a range of participants involved in structural change projects across the EU, including project coordinators, evaluators and team members, with the aim of strengthening gender equality provisions in the future EU funding programme Horizon Europe, building on a series of co-creation and outcomes of consultation with stakeholders. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge our Italian colleagues who were unable to join in person, and connected from home, in a way that we would all come to know as normal in the months that followed. This article highlights some of the main discussions and recommendations. A full workshop report will also be published by the European Commission later this year, along with an in-depth analytical review of structural change for gender equality in research and innovation.
Opening the workshop, Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission highlighted that all public institutions will be required to design and implement a gender equality plan in order to be eligible for funding under the Horizon Europe Framework Programme. Mina Stareva, Head of Sector Gender, E5-Democracy & European values, DG Research and Innovation outlined the key pillars of Horizon Europe and how provisions for gender equality have been strengthened at the level of implementation and targeted support, and invited participants to be “bold, frank, direct and ambitious” in their contributions. Invited speaker Marcela Linkova, Coordinator of the GENDERACTION project, noted that this is a very exciting time for people working on structural change, particularly for countries that are less advanced in gender equality in research and innovation.
Following in-depth discussions of key questions, recommendations were developed in three areas. In terms of implementing gender equality plans and good practices, recommendations included: embed a focus on the process in structural change projects – participation, ownership and reflexivity; spread responsibility for GEP implementation across the whole institution in order to increase accountability for successes and failures; and develop support structures for core teams in the form of time and resources, as well as make such work visible within the overall academic culture. Recommendations to further gender equality plans included: develop synergies between the Research and Innovation Framework Programme and Structural Funds; engage civil society more substantively in structural change in research and innovation, in particular in relation to SDG 5; and consider how to strategically engage the private sector in funding aspects of GEP implementation. Finally, the participants discussed how to support gender equality plans, such as: establish a Competency Centre on Gender with an integrated Helpdesk and capacity development component; and set up a Gender Equality Taskforce to facilitate regular contact between relevant actors and stakeholders.
Three over-arching take-away messages were drawn from the workshop discussions. First, the need to focus on process, not outcomes. Second, the importance of a reflexive approach. Third, the value of participation in building consensus and ownership for gender equality across an institution. Fourth, the need to explicitly acknowledge the highly political and politicised nature of structural change.
In conclusion, participants agreed that ongoing mutual learning and critical reflection – both within research and innovation and more broadly in other fields – are the key to ensuring that structural change for gender equality in Horizon Europe is transformative and sustainable.
By Central European University Communications Office
A key priority for CEU is to be an exemplary institution not only with respect to the academic quality of its gender research and teaching, but also in terms of its practices.
In accordance with this aim, the CEU Senate approved the university’s first Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in May, establishing a framework for promoting gender equality in employment, study and research relations. The GEP covers the three-year period from 2019-2022 and builds on the findings of CEU’s first comprehensive gender equality institutional assessment report.
In recognition of the priorities identified by the report, the GEP covers gender equality in hiring, recruitment and promotion; leadership and decision making; and research content and curricula. It also addresses work-life balance, sexism and stereotypes; and sexual harassment. Crucially the GEP establishes the institutionalization of gender equality within CEU.
Andrea Krizsan, research fellow at CEU’s Center for Policy Studies and Ana Belen Amil, gender equality officer at CEU spoke to us about the significance of the report’s key findings, areas that the new GEP has targeted for improvement, and intervention and actions to make CEU a more gender-equal environment.
What was the background for this initiative?
Andrea Krizsan: The Plan was developed with the support of the SUPERA project (funded by the European Commission), along with substantial contributions from a wide range of people from the CEU community (administrators, academic staff, students and leadership). Consequently, the Plan is a step forward in the institutional development of CEU, as opposed to being an externally driven initiative.
Ana Belen Amil: What research shows, and practice confirms, is that there are two key factors regarding the successful implementation of a GEP: community involvement and support from leadership. The pursuit of gender equality is not a top-down, centralized task in the hands of one or two experts, but rather is a process that requires the commitment and active participation of all stakeholders involved. At CEU we are very fortunate to have both components. The highest ranks of the university have provided clear support and allowed this project to move forward. And we have a community which is generally interested and committed to participating and contributing toward the creation of a more gender-equal work, study, and research environment at CEU. We look forward to continuing this effort within the framework of the newly adopted Gender Equality Plan and Workplan.
What methods can be used to mainstream gender in decision-making processes?
Andrea Krizsan: Our assessment found both strengths and weaknesses in this field at CEU. The numbers showed that while the university’s senior leadership still has far to go, in terms of gender balance, the middle management level features many key decisionmakers who are women. A serious problem was identified in CEU’s main democratic body: the Senate. After some years of relative balance between women and men, the current Senate has very few women (only 21%), which necessitates a proactive intervention.
As a solution, the GEP suggests considering a gender-neutral quota for the different constituencies. Another issue that the report identifies is the vagueness of references to gender equality in CEU’s mission and strategic documents, symbolically extremely important particularly in a country that devotes attention to gender equality such as Austria. Mainstreaming and communicating the idea that CEU cares about gender equality is key and is one of the priorities under the GEP.
How can we make CEU more family-friendly?
Ana Belen Amil and Andrea Krizsan: Research shows that women do the lion’s share in providing care for children and relatives. Therefore making CEU a more family-friendly institution will have a direct positive impact on gender equality. Care responsibilities affect people across CEU’s three constituencies – students, staff and faculty – and each of them requires a different approach, since they are affected in different ways and are governed by different policies. Our analysis shows the need for a comprehensive policy for students with children, covering both parental leave and family benefits. CEU has undertaken many efforts on these topics, and we need to gather them in a coherent manner. Thanks to the amazing work of the CEU PhD Working Group’s Student Family Sub-Committee and its chair, PhD candidate Ruth Candlish, six months of maternity leave for students has just been approved by the Senate, and the Student Family Support Scheme is under revision. We expect a comprehensive policy to be presented at the first Academic Forum of AY2020/21.
Our assessment also revealed that during the previous 10 years, very few male employees took parental leave compared to female employees (at approximately a 1:4 ratio). This creates significant gender imbalance in the division of reproductive (unpaid) labor, career progression, and eventually retirement income. At a sociocultural level, it reinforces gender stereotypes. We are envisioning awareness-raising campaigns on this topic and thinking of possible measures to incentivize men to take parental leave as well.
Disadvantages deriving from disproportionate care duties also weigh more heavily on female academic staff in their career paths. Additional analysis is needed to clearly understand how care impacts promotion. Actions under the GEP work first towards having a clear assessment of this impact and second, will work towards ameliorating the impact of such disadvantages in promotion paths and ensuring that due attention is paid to balancing care-related disadvantage in timelines and criteria for reappointment and promotion.
Are you hopeful that the new job grading process will help ensure that gender imbalances are eliminated among employees and faculty?
Ana Belen Amil: Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that can guarantee the complete elimination of gender imbalances in the workforce. Since gender equality is a multifaceted problem, different interventions are needed to address it from multiple angles. Nevertheless, we cannot stress enough the importance of a transparent, systematic and meaningful job grading process in the assessment and advancement of gender equality, and equal opportunity in general. The lack of ranks and corresponding salary scales in the administrative sector at CEU – a sector that is predominantly female (68% female composition as of November 2018) has made it impossible to measure Equal Pay for Equal Work, let alone design interventions. It is also a major obstacle for the development of career advancement plans for employees. This has been a long-standing problem at CEU, and the new process of job grading, scheduled to start very soon with representatives from all job families, will be a major breakthrough for Gender Equality in our institution.
How can communication help in eradicating gender biases and stereotypes?
Ana Belen Amil: Gender-sensitive communication can do a lot for cultural change in institutions. Our assessment has shown that CEU is doing quite well in that respect, thanks to the conscious effort by our Communications Office. Of course, there is always room for improvement. An important step is the use of gender-sensitive language. English does not present as many challenges as Latin languages in this respect – where the culture of using the masculine plural to address groups of people regardless of their gender is hard to eradicate. Nevertheless, we must pay attention to the use of pronouns when referring to trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people and respect their choices in this regard. We should also pay attention to the activities we associate women and men with: are women mostly portrayed in administrative low-rank roles, or in reproductive, care-giving roles, while men are depicted as successful scientists and scholars? Are we using full names and honorifics when writing about men, and only first names when writing about women, or referring to them as somebody’s sister, mother or wife? How much space are we giving to people of different genders on our homepage? This is important not only in text, but also in the use of visuals: we should use photographs that represent the diversity of CEU’s community – which is in fact very rich — and avoid gender, race and class homogeneity. Since we are a higher education institution, the visibility of a diverse pool of role models for students is extremely important. We have the social responsibility of creating and portraying an academic environment where you don’t need to be an upper-middle class white man to feel welcome and reach your full potential.
What types of training does the GEP recommend for the community?
Ana Belen Amil: Training in gender equality-related topics for the CEU community is mostly lacking except for a couple of unsystematic efforts in the past, which is to some extent paradoxical given the cutting-edge gender expertise present at our university. In the Hungarian context, we are a very progressive institution. Now we are moving to Austria, a country that has quite strict legislation and practices in terms of gender equality, we need to make sure we don’t fall behind other higher education institutions in this regard. We took a conscious decision while designing the GEP to postpone majority of training initiatives to the upcoming two academic years. Training requires plenty of time and commitment from the community, and the transition to Vienna was exhausting all of our employees’ capacities.
Andrea Krizsan: An initiative that was in place and that has evolved during the last couple of years is introducing the concept of gender equality and equal opportunities – and related CEU policies – to all incoming CEU students. While numbers have improved (last year we had over 100 students attending these Zero Week sessions) there is more to do both in terms of coverage and in terms of depth and efficiency. Our analysis found continuing high levels of ignorance among students around CEU policies, despite attendance of the info sessions. The GEP aims to improve this, for example, by introducing new formats and different timing to these sessions.
Ana Belen Amil: Another priority under this GEP is to provide training against sexual harassment for the entire community, including bystander training – that is, training for those who witness a harassment incident on how to take an active role in deterring it. We also want to provide the Human Resources Office with training on gender-sensitive HR management. In the academic sphere, training topics will cover how to improve the gender dimension in curricula and research, and gender-sensitive pedagogical practices.
Higher education institutions have a duty to ensure that students have a safe environment in which to live and work. How can CEU’s sexual harassment reporting procedure be improved?
Ana Belen Amil and Andrea Krizsan: Improving the reporting procedures in CEU’s Harassment Policy is one of the top priorities we’ve already embarked on during this academic year. A working group consisting of staff, faculty and students worked throughout the year to develop amendments to the CEU Policy on Harassment with regards to issues identified during the initial assessment. Following several other universities’ best practices in this matter, we are proposing a new complaint procedure with two major innovations: the possibility for victims to report anonymously through an online platform, and setting up a network of ombudspersons that will take and manage complaints at an informal level. Of course, this will not be sufficient in itself: training and awareness-raising efforts are a key component of a solid and trustworthy harassment policy, and there is a lot to do at CEU in that respect as well. The amended policy is expected to be presented at the first Academic Forum in the next academic year (1 October 2020).
To measure the GEP’s success in collecting reliable data is vital. Is there a proven blueprint for collecting gender-sensitive data?
Ana Belen Amil: Gender-sensitive data collection is certainly vital for both diagnosing the state of gender equality in any institution and for monitoring progress in the implementation of the GEP. We encountered several problems in this respect during the assessment phase: some relevant data is currently not being collected at CEU, while some other data is collected by hand, so that its analysis turns out to be very laborious, and still other data are indeed collected but GDPR restrictions made access and analysis almost impossible. Despite this, significant progress has been made in this direction: a clearance system for accessing data for institutional research purposes has been put in place, and we are currently designing a Handbook of Gender-Sensitive Data Collection and Monitoring, with support from Anna Galacz at the Institutional Research Office. This handbook will list all data collection requirements by unit and assign responsibilities. It will include most of the statistical indicators currently in use by the European Commission in its well-known publication She Figures, but this is not the only “blueprint” that serves as inspiration. Other indicators have been developed by higher education institutions through several EU-funded “sister” projects. Our work is to collect all developed indicators that are relevant for CEU and adapt them to better respond to the specificities of our university’s structure, functioning, context and needs. For a more detailed summary of the GEP’s key findings and suggestions, see the “Executive Summary” uploaded to our SharePoint.
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