CAT Alumni Idea Forum – ECPG Review

This Report was developed by Esma Gumberidze for the Centre for Training and Consultancy (CTC).

I attended the European Conference on Politics and Gender (ECPG) 2019 at the University of Amsterdam from 4-6 of July. It consisted of a multitude of panels with around 800 attendees and presenters. Each panel had 4 to 5 paper presentations and summaries from discussants. They gave technical and content-related feedback, which helped the presenters improve and restructure their works. The audience could ask questions at the end of each panel. 

Besides, the conference hosted a diversity of thematic panels, which enabled me to choose the ones I considered the most relevant to my activist reality and sphere of interests. Sensitivity and awareness of women rights issues and barriers faced by women is necessary not only for women’s rights activists but also for professionals acting in broader contexts of human rights, law, policy and politics. One of the most critical aspects of the conference to me was the recognition of the Eastern European and Balkan gender researchers as one of the least heard ones. During the overview, researchers were explicitly advised to read, cite, and refer to researchers from Eastern European as well as researchers of colour more often. They are one of the least heard ones in the scientific community.

The type and contents of the presented papers were diverse and varied from doctoral dissertations to ideas for projects not yet implemented. I will highlight some of them and reflect upon some questions I heard and the presentations I attended.

  1. This paper was related to families in Bangladesh, taking out loans to buy food and essential items. They are compelled to survive with their small salaries, which are just enough to pay back the loan and interest. As a result, families and women are unable to improve their social conditions.  This situation reminded me of the realities in Georgia, where loan advertisements advise consumers to take out loans for New Years, summer holidays, and to go sightseeing abroad. According to research, people in Georgia often borrow money even to buy food.
  2. Another paper was about the gender aspect of extraction and mining in Mozambique, where mining is highly securitized. Therefore any criticism of the process is perceived as treason to the state. Women are often initially consulted regarding the establishment of a mine in a given place. However, when it comes to relocation, only men are invited. The paper discussed how men are considered to be more rational. In contrast, the idea of attachment to a place where a family lives is deemed to be feminine because it is related to emotions rather than pragmatism. This notion contributes to the exclusion of women from decision making about relocation. That paper also discussed how the extraction, digging into the land could be associated with rape. Which, again, is an activity attributed to men. In the end, the paper suggested that if we associate mining with the rape, it then is also emotions based. It is just a different emotion. Thus, the argument that women are too emotional about leaving their place of living due to the need for mining, while men can make purely rational decisions, is not valid.
  3. This paper   (discussed how donor help and aid often determine which gender-related topics are to be prioritized in the low and middle-income countries receiving assistance. Sometimes the project themes do not correspond to the interests and needs of the local populations. The paper suggested that donors decide on their funding priorities based on what could encourage profit-making in the future. In a way, donors are helping investors, and are trying to make specific countries/geographic locations more attractive to businesses. As an example, the presenting researcher shared that most donors prefer funding women’s entrepreneurship initiatives. They have different motives behind conducting the economic empowerment of women, from improving profit generation to doing it entirely out of good faith. Whatever the reason might be, I think it helps women escape domestic violence. As I have mentioned in my earlier blogs, when women start generating income and livelihood independently, they do not have to depend on their abusers anymore. The researcher also suggested that reproductive health is more prioritized than gender-based violence, even though women in the local movements sometimes think differently.  This difference can be explained by the fact that reproductive health services and goods can be profit-making in future, as opposed to the gender based violence victim shelters that would always need maintenance funding.

The same paper also discussed, how after some international NGOs exited certain countries, they remained without women’s rights movement, while before those organizations would enter the country, there had been some. Regarding this, I might remember the story of an older man, who didn’t want his neighbours’ children to play football in his yard. So he offered them a payment to play. Then he gradually decreased the amount. As a result, children got disappointed, angry and stopped playing at all, which was his ultimate goal. This situation illustrates the paradox of how people are ready to work sometimes for free and to volunteer. However, after they start getting paid for what they have been doing previously on a voluntary basis, they get used to being paid and quit work, once they are stopped paying. All of the above demonstrates the importance of smart exit strategies for the donors, the essence of making sure the organizations they have been previously supporting are sustainable and capable of attracting alternative funding and support themselves.

4.This paper argued that when it comes to the support for the far-right nationalist parties and movements in Europe, women are less likely to be their supporters than men. The paper explained this partly with the way women are raised (that they are supposed to be less aggressive and less radical). But the article also showed some evidence that women are less likely to risk when voting; risk the chance that a party, for which they vote, is not elected. This is why women tend to vote for more established parties. As one of the indicators used in the survey designed for the research, a researcher had the question- if a surveyed person had an adventurous and exciting life and she discovered that much fewer women said they had such experiences than men. To this, someone from the audience pointed out that married women with children in the Netherlands, which has a considerable reputation of promoting gender equality, are still working on average 16 more hours per week conducting household duties, than men. Thus they are tired and do not see adventures as a mean for entertainment. The paper also discussed the image of an active, apparently self-realized and empowered woman by the far right. A woman, who got out of her home and left the usually assigned family duties just out of emergency in the state, to demand the protection from “foreign and refugee rapists”.

5.This paper discussed, how feminists in 1980s (even though many consider feminists generally not being interested in separatist nationalist movements) supported the independence movement in Quebec in Canada, and why this support declined over time.

6.Yet another paper I found very interesting. It discussed how sometimes democratic processes halt gender equality in the Middle East. If we perceive democracy as a domination of the majority, often when there is a chance for democratic elections in the Middle Eastern countries, the population votes for more radical religious groups and parties that do not share the ideology of gender equality and try to combat it more actively, than a previous authoritarian regime would. Therefore a critical dilemma, gender equality vs democracy was presented. Here, I wish to share a story told to us at a conflict transformation and confidence-building workshop by a university professor. She remembered one of her students from Tunisia from a wealthy and somewhat secular family that did not support the Tunisian authoritarian regime. The girl was by the swimming pool in her house and talking to one of her father’s workers, who took care of the property. She told him how she supported the revolution and free elections even though she realized that the secular party that her family supported may not win.

She kept telling him that she wants a free democratic process, although she may not like the outcomes. She just wants the people’s will to win! The worker responded, “if my party wins the elections for which you are fighting and are so passionate about, you will not be able to stand and speak with me dressed like you are now”. The free elections were held, and the Islamist party won. That girl left Tunisia and moved to France. But what about other women, who unlike her, were not able to immigrate? A professor posed this rhetorical question at the end of her story.

7.This paper discussed the issue of the safe space idea at universities: protection from the hate speech vs academic freedom and freedom of expression. The discussion around it evolved, as someone from the audience asked a rhetorical question: “what if the far right will ever win and pay us with the same level of restrictions of the free speech that we are proposing for a good cause now?” The person with this question pointed out that it was possible to start discussions on gender equality in Western societies due to the existence of the freedom of speech.

8.This paper was concerned with equal pay for equal work-related issues in one of the Scandinavian countries. The concern was revolving around the theme of collective bargaining and how it affects equal pay for women. There is a notion, according to which the labour unions when negotiating the salaries are not gender-sensitive enough. However, there is always a question: how big would the pay gap be without the union interventions? It might be even more significant.

9.This paper discussed issues about equal pay idea in Germany. Namely, it described that German authorities do not see pay disparities as a problem. They believe that the women dominated labour sectors are not that labour and skills intensive, therefore those employed there do not need to be paid more. According to a newly introduced German law, an employee has the right to request his/her salary to be reviewed and tested for gender discrimination if he/she knows that six employees doing the work of similar value are paid differently. However, the difficulty in proving such pay discrimination is evident due to personal data protection and employee pay confidentiality rules. Namely that it is often a company policy to prohibit the employees from telling their co-workers, how much they are paid. And even if this prohibition did not exist, not asking others about their incomes and not responding to such questions is deeply embedded in the Western culture.

10.A research paper discussed similarities and differences between Turkey and Greece in terms of the labour market and its accessibility to women. The reason why the researcher decided to compare and contrast these two countries was because of their geographical location in the same region, southern Europe. The main findings of the study revealed that patriarchal stereotype was the main obstacle preventing higher women’s employment in Turkey. In the case of Greece, the economic crises had conditioned lower engagement of women in the labour market. Due to low salaries, women were unable to hire housemaids to assist with family duties and therefore had to take care of it themselves.

11.This paper discussed the “Me Too” effects and processes. What kind of feminism is really feminism? Whose feminism is real feminism?  The aftermath of the “Me too” movement and the Weinstein scandal revealed that many gender scientists and teaching professors were harassers. Some feminists tried to defend them because they either did not believe the accusations or thought that publicly naming and shaming the founders of gender equality thoughts and ideas would discredit the whole movement. But then how do we trust any accusation? How do we prevent false accusations? Hearing these concerns reminded me of the Georgian case back in 2018, when a scandal broke out. An NGO leader, a civic activist, was accused of harassing his employees and women. There were activists, who suggested, those accusations were false and politically motivated and used to prevent him from running for the board members of the Georgian Public Broadcaster. Allegations that prove to be wrong in this regard are harmful, as they discredit the seriousness of sexual harassment issues.

This conference covered a variety of topics and panels as discussed here. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend them all. However, it was undoubtedly a valuable contribution made by the University of Amsterdam and all the organizers, partners, attendees and researchers towards the full realization of women’s rights around the world.