Women in Science

Gender Summit #GS7EU: Informing the @UN Sustainable Development Goals

All 17 SDGs will benefit from being examined through a gender lens

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Elizabeth Pollitzer, PhDThe relevance of gender issues to societal aspirations for a better future is much wider and deeper than the way it is identified in the newly approved UN Sustainable Development Goals, which constrain gender to a single SDG.

That was the conclusion the speakers and participants at Gender Summit 6 – Asia Pacific came to, after three days of discussing how biological and psychosocial differences between women and men (and the differences between females and males in the world of flora and fauna) influence research and innovation outcomes.

This is a conversation we will continue at the Gender Summit-Europe in Berlin November 6 and 7 and in an upcoming report.

2015 has been a milestone year for the global policy agendas linked to science and technology. The biggest of the players identified science and technology as holding the key to fulfilling societal aspirations for wellbeing and sustainable economies. The United Nations approved the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) announced the Creating Our Common Future Through Science and Technology agenda. And the African Union Council adopted Agenda 2063. However, in their current form, these agendas contain a critical flaw because they restrict considerations of gender into the sphere of societal equality and leave out the role of gender as a construct of science knowledge and technological solutions. In short, even though substantial body of scientific evidence is available to demonstrate how important gender differences influence results and differentiate outcomes for women ad men, all three policy agendas assume that the circumstances and the needs of women and men are the same.

The Gender Summit 7 Europe will be in Berlin November 6 and 7. The theme is “Mastering gender in research performance, contexts, and outcomes.”


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For example, among the SDGs, one goal has been dedicated to gender equality issues, but examining the objectives of all the goals shows that there may be as many as 130 concerns where the role of gender should be examined. Gender inequality issues created through biological and socio-cultural differences between women and men are intrinsically intertwined, for instance, with poverty, hunger, health and wellbeing, maternal death, climate change adaptation, environment, and peaceful societies. We must ask, therefore, when planning implementation strategies for the SDGs: Will the interventions work equally for women? Will they work equally for men? And, we must use the best scientific evidence when formulating solutions to ensure this. This is a demanding task that requires policymakers, science leaders, researchers and development practitioners, as well as all the stakeholders in “our common future” to adopt new perspectives, acquire new expertise, and change their established operating procedures.

The evidence that science knowledge and technology are gender biased is extensive. This bias crept in and remained unnoticed until recently. It came about because historically women were excluded from research, and the tendency of researchers has been to rely on male animal models and male subjects, making “male” the norm. This has resulted in science having more evidence for men than for women, and consequently also in efficacy of outcomes often poorer for women than for men. When it was established in 2011, the Gender Summit transformed how gender was discussed in science by involving scientists, gender scholars and policy makers in joint examination of research evidence demonstrating the influence of biological (sex) and psychosocial (gender) differences in results, and in the quality of outcomes for women and men.

The intellectual diversity and scientific and societal relevance of these discussions have expanded with each new Gender Summit.

At the GS5 – Africa, participants recommended that gender research should be mainstreamed into the implementation of the Agenda 2063 goals, as well as into other policy initiatives promoted by the African Union Council. To this end, Susan Shabangu, the Minister in The Presidency responsible for Women in South Africa, communicated the recommendations proposed at the GS5 – Africa to the AU meeting of Ministers in Cape Town, which took place two months after the Summit.

Similarly, communications were sent from GS6-Asia Pacific to the Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, containing the Seoul Gender Summit Declaration with the 10 principles for mainstreaming gender into research and innovation agreed upon during the Summit, and the recommendations that gender research should be used to inform the implementation of each SDG, and not be restricted to just one. Following this action, a (first in a series) report will be published in December 2015 showing how gender research relates to each SDG. The report is a collaborative effort involving 24 experts who participated as speakers in past Gender Summit events, with further feedback to be provided during Gender Summit 7 – Europe, which will be held in Berlin on 6-7 November 2015.

The GS7 – Europe will be opened by Dr. Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It is held in Berlin for two reasons. Firstly, because of the introduction by Germany of the 30 percent quotas for non-executive board positions (“frauenquote”); secondly, because the Falling Walls conference that follows provides an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that gender bias in knowledge-making creates boundaries that divide quality of research outcomes for women and men in an unequal way, and therefore these “walls” must also fall.

The scientific discussions at each Gender Summit have strong sense of social responsibility and share the purpose of eliminating gender bias from science knowledge and practice. The scope of these discussions will now extend to include implementation strategies and measures adopted by the UN, OECD and African Union, with the mission to use scientific evidence and consensus to make them more accurately sensitive and responsive to the needs of both women and men.


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Dr. Elizabeth Pollitzer is co-founder and Director of Portia Ltd., a London-based nonprofit organization focused on improving gender equality in science and inclusion of gender dimension in research and innovation content. She has served as "architect" of the Gender Summit since its inception in 2011, guiding its focus on gender issues in research and innovation and helping to bring together the scientists, policy makers, gender scholars and others groups in the science system.

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