The XI GEHE Conference: Advancing gender mainstreaming in Academia, Research and Innovation needs to be postponed to September 2021 due to the global health emergency
By the Local Committee of the 11th GEHE Conference
The Spanish Ministries with competences in science, innovation and universities had announced the XI European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education in Madrid (16-18 September 2020). The Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) would host this Conference, also supported by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). The European Network on Gender Equality in Higher Education has been also assisting in this task. Other national stakeholders have been mobilized for the success of the Conference and its dissemination within the Spanish system of science, technology and innovation. For this purpose, a National Committee devoted to support this Conference has been established at the Spanish Observatory for Women, Science and Innovation.
However, after careful consideration of the situation and the uncertain prospects regarding travelling in the coming months, the Local Committee for this Conference has decided with great regret to postpone the 11th GEHE Conference to 15 – 17 September 2021.
All the organizing institutions are convinced that the 2021 edition of the GEHE Conference will enhance the discussion and exchange among gender experts and practitioners as well as will provide original insights on the topics suggested: sex/gender analysis into the research content, structural change, gender equality plans, scientific-technical vocations, among others, with two cross-cutting areas such as Gender and Intersectionality and Application to Polytechnic Universities, including special focus on STEM fields and Women in STEM, as well as on STEM-SSH interdisciplinarity.
The ultimate goal is to produce valuable knowledge that can help design better and more effective gender equality policies in Research and Innovation (R&I) systems as well as in Higher Education Institutions across Europe and beyond.
This edition has made an effort to include experts on gender, science and innovation from Southern Europe in the International Scientific Committee while maintaining the experience gained in former Conferences. This group of high-level experts is responsible for evaluating more than 200 submitted proposals for communications, posters, symposia and workshops. These numbers speak volumes on the great interest this edition has generated among the gender community from Europe and beyond.
If someone had told us last Christmas that our life was going to be so different three months later, we would just have simply not believed it. We would have never imagined the changes in our work and personal life due to the Covid-19 crisis, and we still do not know well what the future will look like, even if we all try to guess different scenarios in order to survive by planning (or just learning how not to plan). Who knows?
As our European sister projects, we aim at producing structural change through formulating and implementing sound Gender Equality Plans (GEPs). In SUPERA, we do that in 4 universities (Central European University, University of Cagliari; University of Coimbra; Complutense University of Madrid) and 2 research funding organisations (Spanish Ministry of Science and Autonomous Region of Sardegna), while the life in our institutions, as everywhere, has completely changed over the last two months.
Interestingly, in SUPERA we had started to think and talk earlier in our project about the need to adapt to broad contextual changes. Not as a routinely theoretical or conceptual exercise, but as an urgent need. Among the six implementing partners in our Consortium, since the beginning of our project in June 2018, we had already experienced changes of Rectors and rectoral teams in two universities (UC, UCM), and of the governments leading our two RFOs. In a third university, CEU, a decision of moving to another country was made. All these changes and their consequences were either not expected at all (or, at least, not as fast as they came) at the time we prepared the proposal, and neither when we started it. So, early in our project, apart from the intrinsic difficulties of gender structural change, we added to our landscape of concerns a need tobe ready to revisit certaindiagnoses about our institutions, and to adapt to changing targets and stakeholders among top leaders and decision makers. SUPERA partners started then to talk about resilience.
The term resilience comes from engineering and has been used for expressing the ability of materials in buildings and infrastructures to absorb assaults without complete failure. Borrowed from engineers first, nowadays it is widely used by psychologists for expressing an individual’s ability to adapt in the face of adverse conditions. But the perspective on which I would like to focus today is the one from organisational sciences, which considers the ability of a system to withstand changes in its environment and still functions.
In SUPERA, we started thinking about resilience because of the changes most of us were facing as early as in our first year of our project, which was really critical as we were in the first stages of our institutional change processes. But we found resilience was also an incredibly useful concept for dealing with the inevitable resistances we all find in our gender structural change endeavour. What can we do with those resistances? In principle we need to identify, recognise, study, even understand them; then, we must assess where and from whom they come from and whether they can be neutralised or counteracted, if we want to successfully overcome them. But very frequently, this is not going to be possible in a direct way: these resistances are not going to disappear, and as our Advisory Board member Jean-Michel Monnot showed us, it is not worth to spend time trying to convince the 10-20% people who will be immune to gender change, no matter what we do. Therefore, the ability to find and use workarounds through identifying windows of opportunity and through creative thinking and co-creation among ourselves and with our different stakeholders became crucial. An ability to adapt while still functioning because we can find diverse ways to (try to) hit our objectives. This is also resilience.
It is clear then that we will need an extra dose of resilience for this Covid-19 crisis, as the changes in environment are huge and affect all. Universities are struggling to cope with a sudden, not expected and total conversion to remote education. In parallel, institutions are fighting to work in a remote work mode for which they are not technically or cognitively prepared yet. These struggles will probably push down Gender Equality to the bottom of the list of priorities in our institutions, as urgencies come first, even if we know important things should not be relegated. How are we going to recover the attention of our communities towards Gender Equality issues?
My point here is that, although we as SUPERA partners have had an extra opportunity to deal with a great deal of uncertainty and to practise resilience, all the colleagues working in gender structural change in academia and research know well about this exercise too. We all know how to deal with resistances, explore windows of opportunities, and use workarounds that, even frequently on a trial and error basis, finally find ways to start breaking gender gaps, biases and stereotypes and open ways for structural and sustainable change.
As well as some resistances to gender, the social distance needed to overcome the pandemic, and the deep changes this situation will produce, are going to remain for a long time, even after the crisis be gladly over. We are not going to be able to do too much about it, but to adapt and find alternatives ways to attract the attention to a clearly still necessary gender structural change in our institutions. Let me insist here that I am sure we are quite used to alternative thinking and innovative exploration. A further diagnosis of the implications from a gender perspective of the lock down and its social, economic, political and institutional consequences in academic life; the study of a new work life balance scenario, which requires new measures and puts old gender issues on the radar screen; and the possibilities of online exchanges and remote education, training & capacity development, are only a few to start with. Let’s go for it!
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the Supera Consortium remains concerned about the conditions of Patrick George Zaky, a 27-year-old Egyptian postgratuate student enrolled in the “GEMMA” Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Bologna, Italy, who is held in custody in Egypt.
On February 7 2020 Patrick Zaki was arrested by the Egyptian authorities, apparently in connection with his activism and research in the area of human rights and gender issues. The international network Scholars at Risk has reported that after five months of studies in Italy, Zaki returned to Egypt for a family visit. Upon his arrival at Cairo Airport Zaki was reportedly detained, interrogated by members of the Egyptian National Security Agency (NSA) and then taken to an undisclosed location, where he was allegedly subjected to torture, including beatings and electric shocks.
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights organization based in Cairo, Egyptian authorities are investigating a number of allegations against Zaki, but have not publicly disclosed the grounds warranting Zaki’s arrest. Zaki has been denied family visits, and has only had limited contact with legal counsel.
As of today, Zaki has been moved several times, and court hearings have been repeatedly put back due to the Coronavirus crisis.
The University of Bologna has issued a motion, calling for “Patrick Zaky’s safe and rapid return to Bologna, so that he can resume his studies. Until then, it is our duty to make sure that the Italian Government and the European Union continue to do their utmost to ensure Patrick’s return to our community.”
Responding to this motion, several international university networks have expressed their solidarity to Patrick Zaky.
The Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, in collaboration with the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and the support of the European Network on Gender Equality in Higher Education and other Spanish stakeholders, is pleased to invite you to the 11th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education that will be held in Madrid on 16-18 September 2020. The aim of the #XIGEHEConf is to promote a gender-sensitive culture in the academic and R&I systems, in light of the global challenges ahead of us.
The theme of the conference is “Advancing gender mainstreaming in Academia, Research and Innovation”. The International Scientific Committee welcomes high-level contributions in the following thematic areas:
• Gender approaches in fostering scientific-technical vocations, especially in STEM fields
• Integration of the gender dimension in university teaching (undergraduate, postgraduate and pre-doctoral training)
• Policies fostering the incorporation of the gender dimension into the content of research, knowledge transfer and innovation
• Policies fostering structural change for gender equality in the research, technology and innovation system
• Gender Equality Plans and strategies in research, technology and innovation institutions
With two cross-cutting dimensions for all the conference areas:
• Gender and Intersectionality
• Application to Polytechnic Universities, including special focus on STEM fields and Women in STEM, as well as on STEM-SSH interdisciplinarity
Proposals are expected to present research-based analysis, good practices, evaluation and impact of strategies and measures on the above mentioned areas. NEWS: the deadline of the Call for abstracts has been extended until March 3rd, 2020. Please consult the Abstracts Guidelines and visit the conference website for additional infos.