Reflections after a conference: CEMR on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
This week the Equality Journey’s core team: Christina, Laura and Malin-, was united at the European CEMR Conference in Bilbao, Spain. The CEMR is the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and they promote gender equality at local level through the Charter on Equality of Women and Men in Local Life. Therefore, representatives from municipalities and regions, as well as national organizations dominated the conference.
The conference had a clear focus on the public sector and it’s challenges in achieving gender equality, diversity and inclusion in general. As consultants we were somewhat “rare birds” in the place, and the conference gave us an important input on the present situation and challenges faced in the area of gender equality and diversity, particular gender mainstreaming.
So, after three days, what are our general reflections?
We were happy to see the great commitment, learning and experimenting for the right solutions that were represented from all around Europe. However, many examples can be hard to replicate. The good example is often told as a story with a happy ending. We wish for more systematic analyses on local levels, identifying the success factors and challenges faced. This would make learning and insights easier, both for people involved in the activities, but also for others that would like to be inspired by or replicate the example, perhaps in a different context.
Another useful approach for learning and inspiration would be to show the pitfalls. How did it happen, why, and how did they cope with the situation? Even though it might be harder to find those examples, we should not forget this aspect of learning to avoid walking into the same trap as others.
We also noticed that, even though the participants were coming from different contexts and countries, they face similar situations and obstacles. There are a number of common themes, such as lack of political support, lack of tools, and resistance from coworkers or from the community around. This highlights the need for keeping up the exchange. It also urges all of us once again to identify the patterns of these obstacles, and possibly address each and one of them separately in order to identify the right tools.
A significant challenge when it comes to discussions about diversity and inclusion is the absence of an intersectional perspective. Intersectional perspective means taking more than one discrimination ground into consideration in order to understand potential multiple discrimination. The conference was in many ways mirroring these issues, as discussed. We took part in debates regarding migration and disability where gender was not at all mentioned. When one participant asked about the gender perspective, the answers from the experts and representatives were very vague, showing quite clearly that this perspective had not been taken into account.
Among the group committed to intersectionality, the challenge is how to address more factors simultaneously and integrate them in practical work without isolating these into new smaller groups based on some factors (ie. migrant women activities). There is no walked path to follow on intersectionality and every step taken is something of an experiment. But, once again, there is a need of getting concrete on which are the needs and where is a shortfall of practical work. If we take as our starting point the practices of gender equality work, would it be possible to specify when and why intersectionality makes things more difficult? That would be a good first step to find ways forward!
At the Conference, we also attended many presentations and debates on tools and methods for achieving long term change. The quality was diverse, from brilliant to wondering if it was really a tool or just a categorization of topics. In general, we see an exaggerated trust in education as a game-changer. Education, though it might be a necessary first step, only takes you a very short path and is not the only way of achieving learning and understanding. We want to lift the possibilities in learning by doing. When starting an equality work, collecting facts and reflecting on your own work from a gender perspective, a lot of knowledge is acquired. This is why toolkits have to be concrete and practical, addressing causes, consequences and a concrete definition of equality. This kind of tool will give you a deeper understanding of what is going on, which is one of the four important steps for creating change.
The last and maybe most important reflection is that equality is just the work we do everyday. It’s nothing "other", separate from what we are doing daily.
It’s just achieving what is written in most constitutions, laws and regulations, and a natural part of every civil servants work: providing equal service for each and every inhabitant in our municipality or region. And we were so pleased to see that this is a common understanding among the Conference participants, the ones set to carry out this work!
We will get back to many of these issues in our blog, reflecting on them and giving them more sense. Please, stay tuned…