Gender Equality Plans as Changemaker: Successful Practices for Sustainability

The third R&I Peers Multisectoral conference took place on 9 December 2021. The purpose of this conference was to discuss and bring to light the good results and working practices within the Gender Equality Plans of the R&I Peers project, as well as that of other GEP initiatives. The aim was to disseminate activities, practices and policies that could eventually lead and become a best practice.

An effective GEP should consider gender equality both in terms of an organisation’s internal processes, as well as the impact of its broader research outputs. When building and implementing a GEP there are several “building blocks” that need to be present in order to insure some success. These can be defined as process-based elements (i.e. dedicated resources, internal monitoring, official endorsement, etc.) and content-based elements (i.e. organizational culture, gender balance in decision making bodies, gendered research, etc.).

These were foundation of an exchange of “good practices” at the conference where the changemakers in the environment were discussed with different GEP implementing bodies. To enrich and dive deeper into the organizational realities, hands-on experiences were shared from witnesses who had to implement and run such changes internally. 

The R&I Peers conference was joined by science and innovation leaders, decision makers, researchers and practitioners who eagerly shared learnings on gender equality in R&I.

Link to the original event communication may be found here.

Outputs and presentations from the conference may be found below, with more to be added as they come available.

Do What You Like

Prof. Rachel Amir’s message to women, “Go with your dreams, with what you think is right and according to your inner desires. Do not give up. Tell yourself that you are capable, even when you are told you are not.”

Prof. Rachel Amir’s inspiring story combines spirit and science and proves, that with iron willpower and motivation, almost any dream can come true. Prof. Amir is head of the Plant Metabolism Research group at MIGAL-Galilee Research Institute, in Israel, head of the master’s program in biotechnology and responsible for advanced degrees in science at Tel Hai College. She was born on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in the southern part of Israel and came to the Galilee in the north in her late teens.

Prof. Amir’s plan of study included more than just a bachelor’s degree; however, she felt a slight discomfort, when telling family and friends of her plan. In those days, it was not acceptable for woman members of the kibbutz to learn more than one degree. Prof. Amir, for who the bachelor’s degree was not enough, was not willing to surrender to the dictates of the kibbutz or to give up on her desires and dreams. She left the kibbutz, even before beginning with her studies. “I am proud that I funded all of my studies without asking for help”, she told. “I worked hard before starting to study, and, as was common among many that grew up on kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) then, I did not even have a high school diploma”. She did her bachelor’s degree in Plant Protection Science at Tel Hai College in a combined track with the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment of the Hebrew University. This was followed by a master’s degree in the Botanical Department in Tel Aviv University.

You can do it, even when they tell you “you can’t”.

When Prof. Amir says, “Don’t give in!” she knows very well what she is talking about. When she approached, Prof. Dan Levanon with the request to do a doctorate in MIGAL, he answered decisively, “It will not be!” In response, Prof. Amir said, “It will be, because I want it!” This argument was repeated a number of times, and in the end in 1988, Prof. Lebanon surrendered. From then until today, 42 years later, a special name is saved for Prof. Amir, as the first Ph.D. student in MIGAL-Galilee Research Institute. After her doctorate, Prof. Amir did her post-doctorate in Weizmann Institute in Israel. Her message to women: “Go with your dreams, with what you think is right and according to your inner desires. Do not give up. Tell yourself that you are capable, even when you are told you are not.”

Prof. Amir continues till this day to break conventions; she is often in a very male environment – in the Council for Higher Education, in an appointing committee at Tel Hai College, in MIGAL and in committees judging research proposals. “I have the energy to advance women in all these committees”, she explains.

A female mentor may have improved the balance between home and career.

Prof. Amir is married to Ofer, her partner since her last year in high school. The couple has three children, ages 28-35, and she admits that it was difficult to find the balance between work and home. “I spent more time working in MIGAL than at home.” In retrospect, if I had had a woman mentor, possibly the balance between home and career would have been different. Today, I am myself a mentor, and I recommend each female researcher to get advice from a female mentor that works in the field”.

Today, Prof. Amir is a leading world authority in the field of methionine, an essential building block of proteins, which animals and humans cannot produce in their bodies, and which has a low level in plants. When methionine is lacking in food, the motor and cognitive development of living creatures is arrested. Another research subject of hers is the regulation of active materials in pomegranates, which contain many constituents that slow down inflammation, atherosclerosis and signs of aging. A third project deals with the metabolic profile of parasitic plants (held by Prof. Amir in picture), which damage crops and cause a reduction in yield.

Don’t get upset from failures.

Yet, she does not get upset from failures, definitely not professional failures. “Failure is an inseparable part of success. I used to be sensitive to failures, but with time I understood that together with successes there are also failures, and today I know how to deal with them. In addition, I understand that I don’t understand, and in that manner, I reduce my level of frustration. Each time that I understand something, other unanswered questions arise. So, I feel comfortable in accepting this understanding, doing research and moving forward.” (Translated and partially summarized from an article in Hebrew, “Al Hazafon”, 16.6.2021.)

Gendered health research from Hellenic Statistical Authority needed to confirm data

The Hellenic Statistical Authority conducts a research about health population issues every five years since 2009. The research is attuned to the statistical surveys of the European Union members.

The 2019’s research on 8125 households, males and females over 15 years old gathers information concerning the use of health services, the maintenance of individual’s health and the factors involved such as nutrition, smoking, alcohol, fitness activity etc.

According to the 29th Informative Note of the GSDFPGE Observatory and based on the Hellenic Statistical Authority research, 44,8% women over 15 years old have had a mammography during the last couple of years (increase of 6,7% since 2014 :42%). 33,1% has never done mammography (decrease of 13,8% since 2014: 38,4%).

The results of health population for the following years 2014 and 2019 concerning the four main geographical regions are illustrated likewise: 

In 2019, 77,1% of the female population claim that are in good health while in 2014 the percentage was 71%. Evidently there is an increase.

In 2019 the 81,9% of the male population claim that they are in good health. In 2014 the percentage was 78,9%.

This shows that the majority of female population realises the importance of prevention concerning female diseases, so programs in this direction will continue to be implemented.

Marija Wakounig awarded ZRC SAZU Member of Honour

ZRC SAZU presented awards for the past year’s scientific achievements on May 27, 2021.
The highest award, the ZRC SAZU Member of Honour, was given to a woman, Marija Wakounig, the second year in a row was given to a woman (previously only men received this award for the past 16 years). The Member of Honour Award is given to top researchers who have made a significant contribution to the establishment of the ZRC SAZU at home and abroad. Women were in the majority among the recipients of the Awards  (like last year). I would also like to highlight the winner of Blue Award (this is an award given to administrators not to scientists). This year it was awarded to the cleaner Amra Sabotić and we are very proud that a cleaner got the award. Amra’s work is one of those services that seem to be taken for granted and therefore overlooked.

SHARE Project Promotes Work-Life Balance in Greece

The Greek General Secretariat for Demography and Family Policy and Gender Equality (GSDFPGE) are coordinating a two-year project entitled “SHARE – Promoting work-life balance in companies and a better sharing of care between men and women,” co-financed by the REC Program of the European Commission. The SHARE Project aims to contribute to tackling traditional gender family roles and promote reconciliation of work and private life. The project focuses on the role of the father in sharing care responsibilities and highlighting the benefits arising from family-friendly working conditions and work-life balance initiatives, both for employers and employees. In the context of the SHARE Project GSDFPGE prepared a TV commercial that will be broadcast in Greece by national and regional TV channels.

Gender Equality Success at a Cypriot Youth NGO

In the context of the second R&I Peers Multisectoral Conference, participants had the opportunity to receive first-hand feedback from external project stakeholders about their experience of implementing Gender Equality Plans. One panelist, Niki Karoulla, President of Active Zone Outdoor and Physical Education Teacher in Primary Education, shared her experience of a GEP implementation at Active Zone Outdoor, a non-profit organisation she runs in Cyprus.

As a first action in their GEP implementation, Karoulla says Active Zone Outdoor–which enjoys a membership of fifteen organisations and reaches 250 young people with sporting activities in Cyprus–focused on creating gender balance in two key areas: Within the AZO board of directors, and among participants in AZO external events that focus on outdoor sports activities for youth, ages 18 to 30.

In both cases, AZO reported successes. As of 2019, their 15-member board of directors enjoys involvement by seven women, with Karoulla herself as President. Karoulla also reports that “Click and Go, ” a project promoting non-traditional sports to women, succeeded at reaching equal gender engagement across trainers, leaders, and participants. Key to this success Karoulla says, was “promoting ‘atypical’ sports to women, like mountain climbing, and also by including women leaders in mountain climbing among their training team. This latter especially “challenged important gender stereotypes in this sport,” Karoulla said.

An additional success story Karoulla shared was a program called the Youth Policy Project, which aimed to “cultivate a culture of awareness for equal gender representation in Cyprus. In dialogue among policy-makers, youth, media, coaches, trainers and athletes, Karoulla says their event succeeded in having fifty-fifty participation across the board, a genuine accomplishment.

Karoulla says that key to these successes may be that Active Zone Outdoor is an organisation “made up of young people with an open mindset” which facilitates actions to support gender equality. “Maybe also because I am female,” she adds. Looking forward, Karoulla says she hopes the experience of implementing a gender equality plan at AZO can show that other NGOs can benefit from such strategies. Critical to this she says, is that “people in charge of the organisation have to treat gender issues as impacting both male and female. It is not just an issue for women,” Karoulla says. “It is an issue for all of us.”

Lessons in Engagement: The R&I PEERS Second Multisectoral Conference

On 20 April 2021, the R&I Peers project hosted its Second Multisectoral Conference addressing “the impact of gender equality plans on internal and external stakeholders.” The purpose of this conference was to disseminate the results and contribution of the R&I Peers project to advancing gender equality in research and innovation in EU. The conference dove into questions about the real impact of gender equality plan (GEP) implementation, both internal and external to the GEP implementing organisation.

The following topics were discussed:

  • The impact of the GEP implementation on internal stakeholders
  • Gender Equality Plan in engaging external local, regional and national stakeholders
  • Most successful actions in the GEP implementation

Science and innovation leaders, decision makers, researchers and practitioners ready to collaborate, were invited to the conference to share and learn about gender equality in R&I.

The conference program can be found on this link.  

UNISA Success with Women’s History and Gender Studies

The course Women’s History and Gender Studies, promoted by the Department of Humanities, responds to UNISA’s GEP key area ‘Integrating gender perspective in research and curricula’. In the academic year 2020-21, the course has registered an increase in enrolled students, passing from 20 of the previous years to 56 of this year. Moreover, the organising committee received numerous requests from people outside the academic world, who asked to take part as listeners. They work in the most disparate sectors, from the engineering to social sciences, others coming from anti-violence centres and some others working in schools and enterprises. The increase in attendees is mostly due to a dissemination campaign started a year and a half ago, that involved students’ associations, social pages (Facebook and Twitter) and flyers, both printed and virtual.

The course hosts several seminars and workshops with the aim to encourage a lively debate on different issues, from history to linguistic, from sociology to politics, from engineering to law. Exploring gender with the tools of different disciplines, Women’s History and Gender Studies strives to help students to learn how to use gender as a category of analysis, but also reflect on the manifestation of gender in their own lives, leading to a range of personal and intellectual discoveries. The course thus affords students the opportunity to study the history of women and of gender around the world and add depth and perspective to the curricula of all graduate students, regardless of their main fields of study.

The students have been asked to respond to a questionnaire, completely anonymous, concerning their perception of gender-related issues, what they know about and what they would like to learn more about. At the end of the course, a second questionnaire will be distributed, and in this case, it will be shaped as a satisfaction survey. For the next academic year, a new dissemination campaign is expected that will last longer and will include, in addition to social media, a sort of “word of mouth” among students.

Women’s History and Gender Studies is a free choice course for all university degree programs.

Main topics:

  • Masculine and feminine identities are socio-cultural construction
  • Relationship between sexes
  • LGBT+ literatures
  • Gender-based violence
  • Equal opportunities and social inclusion
  • The body in the legal discourse
  • Diversity opportunity

Why then choose Women’s History and Gender Studies?

  • Because it conveys the ability to understand the issues of integration, equal opportunities and social inclusion, as fundamental values ​​for the future of society.
  • Because it makes students aware that men and women’s identities are complex social, cultural and political constructions and that such constructions vary according to historical and geographical contexts.

Dr. Dorit Avni Awarded EUR 7.5M Grant for Ground-breaking Research

Dr. Dorit Avni credits a gender equality plan implemented during the R&I Peers Project with her success at leading and winning a prestigious EU Horizon2020 project bid in the amount of EUR 7.5 million. Dr. Avni, whose project ALGEA4IBD will pursue ground-breaking research on inflammatory bowel disease, is group leader of the Bioactive Metabolites and Immune Modulation Laboratory at the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute (MIGAL), a regional mega-R&D centre supported by Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and partner to the R&I Peers Project.

As part of an R&I Peers Gender Action Plan implementation at MIGAL, Dr. Avni and her colleagues participated in “Champions,” a course launched in 2019 aiming to promote advancement of women researchers and increase their participation in international and competitive research projects, in leading scientific journals, and in economic and research decision-making,

Following the course, which tackled empowering self-confidence, improving presentation capabilities, and developing the ability to write competitive research proposal, Dr. Avni initiated, led and coordinated a successful consortium bid for the ALGEA4IBD Project.

Of her achievement Shai-Lee Spigelman, Science and Technology Ministry Director-General says, “this award is an impressive achievement that few achieve, with international recognition confirming the importance of this innovative project aimed at transforming algae into sorely needed treatments for inflammatory related diseases.”

For more details see the article published in Yahoo Finance and The Jerusalem Post.

The Challenges of Research During Covid-19 for Women

The past year has been special in many ways. The pandemic has exposed everything that was already weak and on shaky foundations, but which, in the heightened circumstances, has collapsed and crumbled: from health systems to democratic arrangements, which are under threat in many places… The pandemic, with its necessary reinforcements to contain its spread, such as quarantine and the shutdown of public life and the compulsion to work from home, has unfortunately dealt a particularly heavy blow to women. The burden of caring for the family, educating the children and carrying out daily household chores has fallen on them. This made the pursuit of research a major challenge. Here is a testimony form Slovenian female researchers.

Dr. Helena Seražin

Researcher at the France Stelet Institute of Art History, where she has been working for the last few years on the MoMoWo (Women’s Creativity since the Modern Movement) megaproject, which has included numerous exhibitions and events, and she was also co-editor of this year’s excellent monograph Into the Fore, which brings together 40 pioneering women in the field of architecture, design and construction in Slovenia.

Dr. Helena Seražin

“Although the virus closed us in between the four walls of our home in the spring, it did not stop me from carrying out my research and editorial work. Like most of my colleagues at the institute, I was not hindered by teaching or child protection at home and other related factors, but as a consequence, I shouldered some additional, unforeseen work in solidarity. It also took a great deal of the proverbially feminine ‘bravery’ to be able, with the help of my colleagues, to realise my commitments in these uncertain circumstances, particularly on one of the projects that ended this autumn; the most challenging of these was the organisation and execution of the international scientific conference at the end of August, which took place partly virtually and partly in situ in Nova Gorica. There was virtually no time for actual rest this summer, because in the break between the two quarantines, in addition to organising the aforementioned conference, I was in a hurry to gather material in archives and libraries for the possible autumn closure of institutions and homework, which did in fact happen. Of course, what we have collected will not be sufficient for writing scientific papers, so we have already established a kind of informal network with some of our colleagues, through which we exchange information or scans from books in our home libraries. I am now rushing off with my last commitments, including the preparation of a paper for an international zoom conference, which, at least in my experience so far, will not be able to replace the usual face-to-face meeting where scientists, especially in informal meetings, can exchange ideas very fruitfully and pave the way for further collaborations in the form of international projects.

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