Implementing Gender Equality Plans at the Tunisian Agency for Scientific Research Promotion

The National Agency for the Promotion of Scientific Research (ANPR) of Tunisia is a public agency under supervision of The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Its primary mission is providing services to professionalize the management of research activities in partnership with effective and equitable socio-economic operators. It plays a crucial role in interfacing with and supporting research organization in the valorization process of research results and technology transfer. As a Research Funding Organization (RFO), ANPR works in a national context, which recognizes the important historic place occupied by women in society in general, and in the field of science in particular.

IEEE: Female Researchers in the Maghreb

Tunisia has always been considered as one of the most advanced Arab countries in terms of women’s rights, thanks to a family code promulgated in 1956, followed by the amendment of the labor codes, the penal code and nationality. These legal regulations have strengthened the rights of women in Tunisia.

March 1, 2018 marked the formal adoption of the Gender Equality Plan (GEP) by ANPR, which represents a fundamental action of R&I PEERS project and a key tool for encouraging the improvement of gender balance in ANPR, in its capacity as a Tunisian piloting partner in the project.

The ANPR GEP covers the following six target areas:

  1. Mentoring
  2. Raising awareness of gender bias in decision-making bodies
  3. Raising awareness of importance of gender perspective in research content and curricula and promoting female academics ’research
  4. Improving gender-sensitive language in ANPR’s documents
  5. Work-life balance
  6. Raising awareness of gender equality

In the framework of the GEP implementation, ANPR has carried out awareness-raising actions by organizing workshops and training for the benefit of key actors, including mentors, decision-makers, et al. ANPR promotes awareness of the role of women in the R&I ecosystem and showcases achievements of female Tunisian researchers through participation in several national and international events. This latter includes hosting a desk for the RI-PEERS project as part of an exhibition on Horizon 2020 projects at the 9-10 September 2019 high-level conference on “Tunisian-European Science and Innovation Days” [TESI], jointly organized by the Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MESRS), European Commission Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission (DG RTD), and the Delegation of the European Union (DUE) in Tunisia.

Who Are Women

ANPR also participated in the January 2020 international Information Day on Horizon 2020 Calls within the H2020 “Science With and For Society” (SWAFS) Work Programme, by providing testimony on the RI-PEERS project and underlining the importance of the gender dimension in research organizations. Leveraging modern communication tools, ANPR also moderates a dedicated Facebook Group promoting “Success Stories of Tunisian Females in Research and Innovation”.

A community for equal opportunity has also been established that provides a space for discussion and reflection around gender issues in the R&I ecosystem. Thanks to the period of general confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic, ANPR was able to experiment with remote work as an alternative favoring work-life balance, as provided for in the GEP, despite the legal limits of its adoption for public officials. The evaluation of this mode of work is in progress .

ANPR at Horizon 2020 SWaFS Information Day – January 2020

Other activities that are planned for implementation by the end of the R&I PEERS project include the following:

  • Regular training sessions for early career researchers;
  • Awarding of the Women in Science Excellence Prize; and
  • Establishing channels to report anonymously disrespectful behavior, abuse and sexual harassment.

The GEP is an innovation in the practices of Tunisian public administration in general, and in the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research institutions in particular. Its implementation raises many challenges that can inspire other structures within the same ministry and far beyond!

MIGAL Program Promotes Women Researchers

Implementation of the R&I PEERS project at MIGAL, Galilee Research Institute Ltd., is designed to develop activities with a group of women researchers from various fields of knowledge and expertise. The idea was to lead research at the MIGAL Institute for scientific excellence and to encourage a research breakthrough.

In the context of the project, a training program was deployed that included a variety of workshops, lectures and meetings aimed at enriching the women’s toolkit, improve skills and create rich scientific and work-life balance. In addition, regional and national industries were engaged in order to contribute to future know-how development at Galilee by increasing involvement of women in the fields of agriculture, environment, biotechnology and food science. This training reached over twenty women researchers.

Text Box: Fig 1: Senior and junior researchers by gender at MIGAL
Fig 2: Senior and junior researchers by gender at MIGAL

The challenge addressed by the project is the existing inequality in senior research positions. A survey conducted at the beginning of the project indicated that, despite gender equity at pre-admission stage, the balance between women and men diverges considerably in among primary researchers.

The women’s training program in research that been carried out all year has been a huge success and we have a new plan for next year.

Mutual Learning Workshop in Ljubljana

On October 14, 2019, the second Mutual Learning workshop under the topic of “Towards the identification of measures and actions for successful Gender Equality Plans implementation within Research Performing Organisations (RPO)” took place in Ljubljana in collaboration between the Znanstvenoraziskovalni Center Slovenske Akademije Znanosti In Umetnosti (ZRC SAZU) and the Cyprus Neuroscience & Technology Institute (CNTI).

The workshop was executed following the principles of the methodology of the Structured Democratic Dialogue (SDD) and was attended by fifteen (15) participants holding either research or administrative positions in their institutions. The goal of the workshop was to identify measures/actions (administrative, organizational culture-related, financial, legal…) which could be taken to make Gender Equality Plan implementation beneficial for all employees in research organizations.

The main conclusions of the workshop were the following:

  • Organisational and political support on implementation of gender equality: Women’s gender representation principle should be applied when appointing work bodies and preparing legal acts and other strategic documents in order to assert the role of women and gender. These action plans should have an obligatory nature, be supported by policy and thus follow a top to bottom approach;
  • Awareness raising: Raising awareness of unpaid care work within academia and institutions is an important factor to ensure that all employees benefit from the implementation of GEPs;
  • Management support: The role of superiors in the implementation of GEPs is vital in a way that if they are careful and responsible about gender equality in their institutions, then it is expected that the whole institution will support the new ideas. It is easier to implement gender equality in the whole organization if there is support at a higher level;
  • Inter-institutional cooperation: All stakeholders involved in gender equality plans should be brought together and the knowledge already generated from their past experience to be collected and published at one place in order to benefit academia and other stakeholders interested in designing their GEPs.

Ana Rotter Shares Best Practices for Implementing Gender Equality Plans

Ana Rotter, a researcher at the National Institute of Biology at the Piran Marine Biological Station, shared with us her experiences in the work of promoting gender equality and implementing gender equality action plans. “It is somewhat unusual for the microbiologist and statistician,” she said, “to have an intense commitment to gender equality, traditionally dominated by humanists and humanists.” But that is why her experience is all the more valuable. We hosted Ana Rotter as an invited lecturer as part of an international meeting of R&I PEERS partners – Pilot Experience to Improve Gender Equality in Research Organizations .

Ana Rotter started addressing gender issues in 2011 when she received the L’Oreal and UNESCO National Program for Women in Science. It was then that she first became exposed to the media and began to notice differences between the treatment of women scientists, not only by gender, but also by geographical origin or whether they came from the so-called Eastern or Western Europe. On several occasions, she publicly spoke with her opinion and in response received that this kind of activity does not come from a scientist and is not compatible with scientific excellence. This has not stopped her, she has been involved in several different projects dealing with finding solutions to social inequalities. Rotter pointed out that the European Commission is currently supporting a number of related projects seeking a solution to gender inequality, such as Plotina, Change, Libra, Integer and Gender Time. She emphasized the need for mutual cooperation and knowledge sharing between projects, and shared her experience with the fundamental difficulties in implementing action plans and trying to solve them.

“The first problem may lie in the very design of the goals of the plan,” said Ana Rotter. If, on the one hand, we can have associates who want to finish the project as soon as possible in order to get back to the “right” scientific work, on the other, they are those who have too high and unrealistic goals. The solution is found in “soft”, smaller, even more easily practicable measures, which are therefore long-term measures and remain valid after the end of the project. It is also important to establish direct accountability for the implementation of the measures, and it is not irrelevant who cares about what. If tasks are assigned to the youngest in the group, the chances of derivation are less. Institutional change requires the search for people who have a high level of authority in the institution, but one should not forget the so-called “middle management”, which is often overlooked,

However, even if the design of the project is good, it can stop at implementation. First of all, due to lack of knowledge, which is present mainly in STEM, which traditionally does not address topics such as social equality. Knowledge is gained through continuous participation in workshops, networking and exchange, as well as through the diverse composition of research teams where one person can influence others. One-off measures that are not implemented after the formal expiry of the project should also be avoided. According to Ana Rotter, the action plan needs to be constantly adjusted and new measures added.

The third challenge lies in the so-called human factor, that is, the possible resistance of employees and management, to whom gender equality projects may seem insignificant, unrelated to their work, or conditioned by current “popularity”. Believing that they have not experienced something themselves, many women and men believe that there is no inequality in the scientific sphere. Such responses are important, Rotter points out, and especially communication with those who are most skeptical. According to Ana Rotter, the solution is not to pressure colleagues or big gripes, such as gender quotas, as they automatically provoke resistance. In her view, the conversation and emphasis is much more on the point that action plans are not about the formal introduction of new rules but only about guidelines and proposals, which will have a positive impact on the work atmosphere and relationships between the employees of the institution. Even small approaches such as flexible working hours or promoting achievements on a website can help you feel better. Again, it is important to include colleagues at all levels, both women and men, researchers and administration workers, techniques and PhDs that are often overlooked. The best motivation to talk, however, was the all-human common thing: food and drink. Rotter organized an informal meeting with beer and burgers at her institution, to which most technical, male staff came. The conversation began with an invitation to the participants to present their work and why they were indispensable at their institution; only after such an introduction, in which she emphasized the importance of each member for the institution,

The final challenge is the monitoring and evaluation of action plans – in the absence of these, there are no sustainable approaches. Given the time constraints of the projects, measuring the grip should start in the middle of the project and establish an opportunity for future continuation. Data is crucial as it can prove that the institution has inequality problems. For example, if within a project we can arrange for the annual report to collect data suggesting a link between pay, employment practices, promotion and gender, then data collection may continue beyond the end of the project, says Ana Rotter. International projects also need to pay attention to cross-cultural differences. For example, there are not many housewives in Eastern Europe, mainly because of the legacy of employment policies of the socialist regimes, paid maternity leave, and an extensive childcare network. That’s why with us, Unlike Portugal, Austria or Cyprus, there is no need to promote women’s employment and there are different approaches. In doing so, Ana Rotter reiterates the importance of soft approaches, as they affect not only those currently occupying leadership positions, but future leaders who, as she hopes, will have a different consciousness.

From Spolinznanost

Diversities make the company grow

Friday 20 September, Confindustria Salerno hosted the event “Doppia Coppia, research and innovation + gender and generation. The complementary talents that make the company grow “.

 

The initiative, commissioned by the Confindustria Women’s Committee of Salerno, and in collaboration with the Politecnico di Milano, is part of the Horizon 2020 project: “R&I Peers: Pilot Experiences For Improving Gender Equality In Research Organizations (Pilot experiences to improve the equality of genre in research organizations), of which the University of Salerno is leader with the support of the Observatory for Gender Studies and Equal Opportunities (OGEPO).

 

Among the other interventions, were present the testimonies of Gerardo and Susy Gambardella of Bioplast; by Antonello and Valentina Sada of Sada Packaging and Fausta Colosimo and Antonia Trucillo from Caffè Trucillo on how different but complementary genders and generational alliances, can prove to be decisive variables in determining the business success and growth.

Is there still gender discrimination in academia?

It seems that still some proactive steps must be taken to make it happen.

People speak a lot, for years, but we can not see a big change in the attitude, nor in the administration. 

Very few steps are taken seriously to change the situation and there is just a lot of talk. In many places, the situation is similar, but in the academia there are possibilities to show and bring about a change.

Professor Loredana Incarnato presenting GEP as the heart of structural change

Professor Loredana Incarnato, Full Professor of Material Science and Technology at the University of Salerno, took part to the final event of the SAGE Project (Systemic Action for Gender Equality), held in Brussels on 10th July 2019. The Conference included the presentation of the final results and experiences of the SAGE Project, and a panel discussion involving representatives of the next generation of EU gender equality projects. Professor Loredana Incarnato, leader of the WP 4 “GEPs set-up, running and improvement” of the R&I PEERS Project presented the project as well as the results reached so far.

Professor Incarnato gave particular attention to the seven Gender Equality Plans approved in the framework of R&I PEERS, and the importance of the monitoring indicators as part of the process of change.