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New Social Compact

Addressing gender inequalities in research through institutional change

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Gender equality and inclusion are key metrics by which performance is measured in industry today. Research is no exception. While there is no quick fix to eliminating gender disparities, the EU has identified the structural changes needed in policies and programmes to increase the participation of women in research and innovation and improve their career prospects.

If you are a woman in scientific research and keen on climbing the promotion ladder, chances are your path will be long. It will also require an equal measure of confidence, commitment and courage. While there are many challenges to building a successful research career – for many women it can prove to be a real obstacle course.

Promoting equality through institutional change

The importance of institutional transformation through instruments like Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) was highlighted recently by Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. ‘Horizon Europe, our €95.5 billion research and innovation programme, now has new eligibility criteria,’ she said. ‘To receive EU funding, public bodies, research organisations, and higher education institutions must have a Gender Equality Plan in place.’

Gender equality has been a key priority in the European Research Area for over a decade. To remove barriers, research funding and performing organisations, including universities, were invited to implement institutional change through GEPs, and support has been provided under the EU’s research and innovation funding programmes FP7 and Horizon 2020.  

GEPs are “drivers” for systemic institutional change, according to Dr Angela Wroblewski, a sociologist and senior researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna. This is why the European Commission’s monitoring of the implementation of the GEP requirement is key to supporting gender equality within the research sector.

As coordinator of the Horizon 2020 structural change project TARGET, her work takes an approach that goes beyond the formal adoption of a GEP. By initiating institutional change in seven gender equality innovating institutions in the Mediterranean basin, including universities and research funding organisations, the project introduced a reflexive policy (reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work) and tools for each stage of the GEP – from planning and implementation to monitoring and self-assessment.

‘When the project started in 2017, the countries where our institutions are located did not have established policies for gender equality in research and innovation,’ said Dr Wroblewski. ‘This has changed. Most importantly, our participating institutions managed to become visible as pioneers in the field of gender equality. I think this is a very important and interesting result because these pioneers may also influence the national discourse.’

The national context is important. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Any approach to institutional change needs to be tailored to fit the national context, as well as the nature, history, and mission of each organisation. 

‘The challenge is to find the best solution for each institution and to have a look at the national context,’ explained Dr Wroblewski. ‘Take the “leaky pipeline” phenomenon in which female researchers “leak” out from their career path. While it is very pronounced in Central European countries like Austria and Germany, the situation in Bulgaria and Romania, for instance, is different.’

In terms of the “leaky pipeline” phenomenon, an increase in the number of women among graduates does not automatically result in an increase in the share of women among researchers or top academic staff. Many women “disappear” in the transitions from PhD student to post-doctoral fellow and to assistant professor. Others face obstacles that either slows their progression or blocks it completely. This combines with the “glass ceiling” or “sticky floor” effects. 

‘This is a problem in most European countries,’ said Dr Wroblewski. 

Reflecting on the work carried out through TARGET, which ended in December 2021, she said: ‘It’s very impressive what the institutions managed to achieve even in difficult contexts. For instance, the Romanian Accreditation Agency ARACIS became the first Romanian institution to adopt a gender equality plan. And the University Hassan II Casablanca became the first university in Morocco to adopt a Charter for Equality.’ 

‘Based on the feedback from our partner institutions, we learned it is very important to have targeted gender equality plans and to have the support to develop such plans,’ she added. ‘It is not an easy task!’ 

GEPs to fill the gender gaps

Entrenched gender stereotypes and gender bias are a big part of the difficulties encountered, according to Jörg Müller, a sociologist and coordinator of the ACT project. 

‘I’m especially interested in how gender imbalances are made durable and continuously reproduced over time,’ he said. ‘There are many types of gender imbalances. Among the most persistent are the under-representation of women in the decision-making positions or at the highest level in academia.’

Why does it exist? While the answer is complex, the main reasons stand out. ‘The short answer is because we live in societies that have been and are still dominated by men,’ explained Müller. Gender inequality is built into the very structure of our societies. It is men who hold positions of power, decide over resources and provide the blueprint for what is valued and what is not.’

Since 2018, Müller has been investigating gender equality and institutional change. Through ACT, he has coordinated researchers from 17 institutions across the EU Member States in the creation of Communities of Practices – organic instruments of innovation in which groups of practitioners work together to solve concrete challenges. ACT supported the implementation of 8 Communities of Practice (within 144 organisations in Europe and Latin America) to promote gender equality through institutional change. 

‘This is an extraordinary achievement and shows the commitment of those involved towards a more inclusive research and innovation environment,’ said Müller. ‘The Communities of Practices in many cases did allow practitioners to overcome their isolation and connect with others working in the field of gender equality. As a result, especially in Poland, many organisations made huge advances.’ 

This is one of the benefits of having a uniform framework to evaluate the organisational efforts. ‘This is crucial in relation to the latest advances put forward by the European Commission, namely making Gender Equality Plans an eligibility criterion to access Horizon Europe funding. This is a huge step forward.’

A next step could be the creation of a European award scheme through the CASPER project. ‘If a European award and certification system for gender equality is implemented, there will be a uniform framework to evaluate institutional efforts in terms of gender equality plans by organisations across Europe,’ explained Müller. 

To increase public awareness of the importance of addressing gender equality in academic and research organisations, the European Commission is launching the “EU Award for (Academic) Gender Equality Champions” this year. Meant as a booster and to complement the requirement for higher education and research organisations applying to Horizon Europe to have in place a GEP, it will be awarded to up to four academic or research organisations.

The need to support gender equality plans

Despite some national differences, there is a common thread woven throughout all European countries: the design of successful GEPs requires both short-term and long-term commitment. This is the main goal of the SPEAR project, launched in 2019 by the University of Southern Denmark. It assists European research organisations to design their own Gender Equality Plans. By doing so, it also initiated the necessary institutional change.

‘My biggest – and happiest – takeaway from the first three years of SPEAR is how creative and effective our partners have been in applying the existing resources and knowledge to their specific contexts – and how far it is possible to go when we have access to competent guidance and time and support for qualified joint reflections,’ said Eva Sophia Myers, SPEAR coordinator.

In her role as leader of the Gender Equality Team at University of Southern Denmark, Myers knows all too well the challenges relating to gender equality, especially in the realm of scientific research. She underlines two types of challenges. The first set of challenges result from deeply embedded traditions, norms, practices, structures, systems and procedures. The second rests on competition, elitism, power and privileges.

‘Both manifest in the “real world” and in each of our minds and cognitive systems – and the two mutually enhance each other,’ she explained. ‘This means all of us favour certain directions and our everyday behaviours and decisions are largely influenced by these biases, norms and stereotypes.’

Breaking free of stereotypes hinges on our willingness to “open up” to new understandings and different perspectives. According to Myers, however, resistance is inevitable. She explained: ‘Academia is highly competitive and often the competition is about a limited pool of resources. All this gives rise to fierce power struggles and dynamics. Successful structural change brought about by gender equality approaches will inevitably challenge the status quo – including those in power positions… So, if members of academia are truly advocates of meritocracy, then working actively for inclusivity and gender equality is the only way forward!’

Rising through the ranks herself – from student assistant, research assistant, project coordinator, research administrator to inhouse organisational consultant to head of faculty administration and now head of her university’s gender equality team, Myers is an advocate of the structural change approach. ‘I find this approach to gender equality in academia to be very closely aligned with the beautiful and lofty values and ideals of academia,’ she said. 

‘And in my experience, a deep integration of approaches that further inclusivity into daily practices in the universities, qualifies the efforts of university managers, PhD supervisors, teachers and researchers.’

Gender equality

The European Commission is committed to promoting gender equality in research and innovation and is taking concrete steps to address these challenges through Horizon Europe, in line with the Communication A New ERA for Research and Innovation and the new Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. Additionally, efforts to address the underrepresentation of women in certain fields of study (such as STEM) and in decision-making positions at universities are outlined in the recent European Strategy for Universities.  

Horizon Europe has set gender equality as a crosscutting principle and aims to eliminate gender inequality and intersecting socio-economic inequalities throughout research and innovation systems, including by addressing unconscious bias and systemic structural barriers.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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New Social Compact

The Untapped Potential of Women’s Contributions to Peace building

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Women’s contributions to peace building have long been undervalued and overlooked, despite their immense potential to contribute to more effective and sustainable peace processes. This is an issue of critical importance, as conflicts around the world continue to have devastating impacts on individuals, communities, and entire nations. Women have unique perspectives and experiences that can help to foster understanding, build trust, and promote reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict. Moreover, research has shown that peace agreements that involve women are more likely to be successful and enduring. Therefore, it is essential that we recognize and harness the untapped potential of women’s contributions to peace building efforts. This article will explore the underrepresentation of women in peace building, the benefits of their participation, and the potential for increasing their involvement in these efforts. Ultimately, it will argue that increasing women’s participation in peace building is not only a matter of justice and equality, but also essential for achieving more effective and sustainable peace outcomes.

The underrepresentation of women in peace building efforts

Despite the growing recognition of the importance of women’s participation in peace building efforts, they remain significantly underrepresented in these processes. According to the United Nations, only 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators, and 6% of signatories to peace agreements from 1992-2018 were women. Moreover, women are often excluded from formal peace negotiations altogether, with only 4% of signatories to peace agreements in 2015-2019 being women. This lack of representation is particularly concerning given the unique perspectives and experiences that women can bring to peace building efforts.

One of the key barriers to women’s participation in peace building is the persistent gender inequalities that exist in many societies. Women often have limited access to education and economic opportunities, as well as unequal representation in political and decision-making processes. This can make it difficult for women to gain the skills and experience necessary to participate effectively in peace building efforts. In addition, cultural and societal norms often restrict women’s mobility and restrict their ability to participate in public life, including in peace building.

Another key challenge is the prevalence of gender-based violence, which is often a feature of conflict and can prevent women from participating in peace building efforts. Women who are perceived as challenging traditional gender roles or participating in political activities may face harassment, intimidation, and even physical violence. This can make it difficult for women to engage in peace building activities and can discourage them from speaking out about their experiences and perspectives.

Thus, underrepresentation of women in peace building efforts is a significant concern that must be addressed if we are to achieve more effective and sustainable peace outcomes. Efforts to increase women’s participation must address the systemic barriers and challenges that prevent their involvement and must work to ensure that women’s perspectives and experiences are recognized and valued in peace building processes.

The benefits of women’s participation in peace building

The benefits of women’s participation in peace building efforts are numerous and have been demonstrated in various contexts. Research has shown that women’s involvement in peace processes can lead to more comprehensive and sustainable outcomes. This is due in part to the unique perspectives and experiences that women bring to peace building efforts.

Studies have shown that when women are involved in peace negotiations, the resulting agreements are more likely to include provisions that address the needs and concerns of women and other marginalized groups. This can help to promote greater equity and inclusivity in the aftermath of conflict. In addition, women’s involvement in peace building can help to build trust and promote reconciliation, as women are often seen as neutral parties who can bridge divides between different groups.

There are numerous examples of successful peace building efforts that involved women. For example, in Liberia, women played a crucial role in bringing an end to the country’s civil war in 2003. The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, led by women from all walks of life, organized protests and sit-ins that brought international attention to the conflict and helped to pressure the warring parties to negotiate a peace agreement. Women were also involved in the negotiations themselves and were instrumental in ensuring that the final agreement included provisions that addressed the needs of women and girls, such as support for survivors of sexual violence and the establishment of a gender-sensitive police force.

Similarly, in Colombia, women played a key role in negotiations to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict. Women’s groups were involved in the negotiations from the outset and successfully advocated for the inclusion of provisions on gender-based violence and women’s rights in the final agreement. Women have continued to play an important role in the implementation of the agreement, working to ensure that it is implemented in a way that benefits all Colombians.

The potential for women’s contributions to peace building

Despite the evidence of the positive impact of women’s participation in peace building, women are still underrepresented in these efforts. This represents a significant untapped potential for the promotion of peace and security in conflict-affected regions around the world.

One reason for this underrepresentation is the persistent gender inequalities that women face in many societies. These inequalities can limit women’s access to education and economic opportunities, as well as prevent them from participating in decision-making processes. Women are also often excluded from traditional power structures, such as peace negotiations and military operations, which can perpetuate their marginalization in peace building efforts.

However, increasing women’s participation in peace building efforts could lead to better outcomes. Women bring unique perspectives and experiences to these efforts that can help to address the root causes of conflict and promote sustainable peace. For example, women are often responsible for the care and well-being of their families and communities, which can give them insight into the needs and priorities of different groups affected by conflict. Women are also more likely to advocate for issues such as human rights, social justice, and inclusivity in peace negotiations, which can help to build more equitable and sustainable peace agreements.

Moreover, research has shown that when women are involved in peace processes, they are more likely to be committed to the implementation of the resulting agreements. This can help to ensure that peace building efforts are sustained over the long term and that the benefits of peace are shared by all members of society.

Overcoming barriers to women’s participation in peace building

Overcoming the barriers to women’s participation in peace building requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses both the structural and societal factors that perpetuate gender inequalities. Here are some potential solutions to increase women’s participation in peace building efforts:

  1. Increase women’s access to education and training: Education and training can help to build women’s skills and confidence, as well as provide them with the knowledge and tools needed to participate in peace building efforts.
  2. Create opportunities for women’s leadership: Creating opportunities for women to lead and participate in decision-making processes can help to promote their inclusion in peace building efforts. This can include quotas for women’s representation in peace negotiations and other peace building initiatives.
  3. Address cultural and societal norms: Addressing cultural and societal norms that limit women’s participation in peace building efforts is essential. This can involve raising awareness about the value of women’s contributions to peace building and promoting gender equality more broadly.
  4. Engage men and boys in gender equality: Engaging men and boys in gender equality efforts is critical for promoting women’s participation in peace building. This can involve education campaigns that challenge gender stereotypes and promote gender equality.

There have been several successful initiatives that have addressed the barriers to women’s participation in peace building. For example, the United Nations Security Council has adopted several resolutions that call for the increased participation of women in peace building efforts. The Global Acceleration Instrument for Women, Peace and Security is a new initiative aimed at accelerating progress towards the full and meaningful participation of women in all aspects of peace and security processes.

Moreover, grassroots initiatives, such as women’s peace networks and local community organizations, have been successful in promoting women’s participation in peace building. For instance, the Women’s Peace Initiative in South Sudan has been successful in promoting women’s participation in the peace process and advancing the inclusion of women’s rights in the country’s constitution.


In conclusion, I firmly believe that women’s contributions to peace building are essential and have been undervalued for too long. In this article, I have highlighted the underrepresentation of women in peace building efforts, discussed the benefits of their participation, and explored the untapped potential for women’s contributions to peace building.

The statistics and evidence are clear – women’s participation in peace building leads to better outcomes, including more inclusive and sustainable peace. Unfortunately, women face many barriers to their participation, including structural and societal factors that perpetuate gender inequalities. However, there are solutions, and successful initiatives have shown that progress is possible.

I urge readers to take action to increase women’s participation in peace building efforts. This can include supporting women’s leadership, promoting gender equality, and creating opportunities for women to participate in decision-making processes. We must work together to create a more just and equitable world, and recognizing and utilizing women’s contributions to peace building is a critical part of this endeavor.

In conclusion, let us not underestimate the power of women’s contributions to peace building. Their voices and perspectives are essential for building more inclusive and sustainable peace. We have the potential to create a better world, and it starts with recognizing and utilizing the untapped potential of women’s contributions to peace building.

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New Social Compact

Aurat March 2023 & Agenda Setting

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In history, women are portrayed in default of men. The women in primitive societies were freer and more emancipated than those in advanced societies. Advanced societies continuously extend male domination through psychological, religious, biological, and economic conditions to justify women’s inferiority. From 1960 onwards, women have built the consciousness to combat and march against the social ferment. Aurat March in Pakistan is the manifestation of turning the tide to some extent. It has always been rendered as an immeasurable opportunity to raise the voices of women in society which otherwise would still languish. But the Aurat March is the half march that only elevates the challenges of the urbanized and privileged class. Technically Aurat March is the feminist struggle for few. The platform provides an open sphere to voice against the political and social rights of women in Pakistan but it must check some new windows to surface the cool breeze for all rather than a few.

The women in Gilgit Baltistan or Baluchistan face different kinds of challenges and circumstances in their daily lives. It is an injustice to place the Aurat March by considering the issues of Women in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. The issues of women in the periphery and other parts of countries are different. The platform to raise voices for historically marginalized human beings must navigate what is urgent needs and demands to address so that we can integrate all women across the country to flourish linearly. The concern about the relative deprivation of women’s progress should be at the agenda setting. It is time to turn this Aurat March into an inclusive force for all women in the country.

Moreover, any movement in history got momentum for a clear vision and demands but unfortunately, the Pakistani version of feminism lacks clarity and vision in this regard. In 2023 the global economy is the digital economy. Only 21% of women in Pakistan have access to the Internet while living in the 21st Century. Aurat March must highlight this issue as the most vulnerable disparity for women. This century is the century of the internet, connectivity, and digitization. If women want to emancipate and exercise their freedom with the awareness of their rights; it is time to integrate the right to the internet and access to the digital world for women as an urgent imperative.

Aging is real. When women lost reproductive function in our society she suddenly becomes irrelevant to the household. Her value and grace were lost with the age. The rural areas are full of the old woman who live a very tough life once they get old. Aurat March is a platform to surface voices, through this platform the awareness, and response system for the miseries and social woes of old women must be heightened. They must challenge the traditional acceptance of the norms for aged women. Aurat March can normalize that aging is a natural process and the acceptance of the aged community shouldn’t be a burden.

Populism is on the rise in Pakistan. Every populist from Donald Trump to Xi Jinping tried to subvert the frontline women’s struggle for their political causes. Historically a populist demagogue and backsliding of democracy halt women’s empowerment. Aurat March must disseminate awareness that how women’s woes exacerbate the democratic depression in any nation. The provision of women’s rights depends on institutional democracy. Aurat March should do justice to build the political consciousness of women through their different platforms for sustainable rights development in the 21st Century.

Role construction plays a huge role in Patriarchal societies. The manufacturing of different roles and associations of venerated feelings functions to develop the system of obedience, passiveness, and immanence. Aurat March should also educate women through their platform that “over association” with the role is proportional to submission to authority and renunciation of the true spirit of freedom. Patriarchal society creates different roles to subjugate women. The agenda-setting of Aurat March must consider building rational choices and rational roles for women in the 21st Century so that the exploitation and injustice to women as human beings must be curtailed.

Finally, Aurat March is at the inception of its evolution as a movement. With time, they must evolve from the narratives of white feminism to South Asian feministic realities. The provision of basic rights, opportunities, and political freedom for all women in all parts of countries irrespective of the geography, region, and provinces should be at the core of the movement in coming years.

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New Social Compact

Luxury Predecessors become the Necessity of Successors

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It appears that many people’s lives today are increasingly focused on the pursuit of luxury. There is no denying the allure of luxury, whether it be in the form of designer goods, expensive automobiles, or lavish travel. Less frequently discussed, though, is the fact that many people now view the pursuit of luxury as essential to their success rather than just a matter of personal taste.

We need to look at the historical context to comprehend why luxury has evolved into a necessity. Luxury used to be a privilege enjoyed only by the wealthy elite who could afford to splurge on pricey items and experiences. The rise of consumer culture in the 20th century has made it simpler for the middle class to access luxury. More and more people started aspiring to the lifestyle that luxury represented as businesses started marketing luxury goods to a wider audience.

This desire for luxury has evolved to be closely related to our ideas of success. Owning expensive goods is often seen as a sign of success and status. It’s a way for them to demonstrate to the world that they’ve succeeded and are deserving of respect. The pursuit of luxury has consequently evolved into a central theme in the cultural narrative surrounding success.

But why has luxury become such an important part of this narrative? Our society’s escalating competitiveness is one factor. Being unique in a world where everyone is vying for success and attention has become more crucial than ever. And displaying wealth and luxury in a prominent manner is one way to accomplish this. People can advance in their careers and social circles by showing off their wealth and status by purchasing expensive goods.

Luxury is often viewed as a way to reward oneself for effort and success, which is another reason why it has become necessary. In a society where achievement and productivity are prized above all else, the pursuit of luxury can give one a sense of satisfaction and validation. People can get the feeling that their efforts have paid off and that they are entitled to indulge in luxury goods and experiences by doing so.

A prime example of how the success of opulent predecessors can turn into a requirement for successors is the tale of King Bruce and the spider. He, who was in exile and feeling discouraged, saw a spider repeatedly trying to spin a web. The spider kept trying despite repeatedly failing and kept going until it eventually succeeded.

King Bruce was motivated to keep going in his own pursuit of success by the spider’s tenacity. He came to the conclusion that persistence and determination are just as important to success as talent and aptitude. Then, after successfully leading a rebellion against his adversaries, he was able to retake his throne and enjoy the opulent lifestyle that came with it.

In this way, predecessors’ luxuries turn into successors’ needs. They serve as role models for future generations, motivating them to pursue success by showing what is possible with effort and tenacity. Many successors might lack the inspiration and drive to pursue their own ambitious goals if these luxurious predecessors’ examples are not followed.

Similarly, the life of Bill Gates, one of the richest people in the world and a co-founder of Microsoft, illustrates how once-luxury predecessors eventually become necessities for successors. Despite coming from a low-income family, Gates was able to achieve great success through his own perseverance, hard work, and inspiration from other successful people.

The achievements of his well-off forebears, including entrepreneurs and inventors Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, served as inspiration for Gates. He understood that the secret to success wasn’t just talent or intelligence, but also the capacity to keep going in the face of obstacles and setbacks.

Furthermore, through his philanthropic endeavors, Gates has persisted in inspiring and motivating others. His commitment to enhancing people’s lives all over the world has resulted in billions of dollars being donated to charitable organizations. His accomplishments and generosity serve as a motivating example of the value of volunteering and using one’s resources to improve society.

In the end, anyone who aspires to greatness can find inspiration from a successful person who serves as a role model. Successors can demonstrate extravagance in their own lives and have a positive impact on their communities and the world by realizing and putting into practice the lessons learned from luxury predecessors. In fact, successors can learn about the qualities and traits that helped their wealthy predecessors succeed, like hard work, dedication, and perseverance, by looking at their lives and careers. They can learn how to overcome the difficulties and obstacles they might encounter on their own path to success.

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