Diverse Women’s Voices Still Unheard in the European Policy Debate

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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A Brussels Binder in transition celebrates 5 years of actions and remains committed to leading the way for a more diverse and inclusive European policy debate.

Dr. Audrey-Flore Ngomsik is CEO at Trianon Scientific Communication, board member, expert in corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. Fanny Trang is a Brussels-Binder volunteer and public affairs professional. Indre Krivaite is a Brussels-Binder volunteer and from Carnegie Europe.

21 June marks the fifth anniversary of The Brussels Binder.

When Charlotte Brandsma, Paola Maniga, Pauline Chetail, and Corinna Hörst founded the organisation, they were seeking answers to a host of questions:

Why were women so underrepresented in policy debates? Why was their expertise only valued on certain topics, such as well-being or education?

The answer they often received from event organisers was “because we do not know where to find qualified women to engage with us”.

Five years later, nearly 2,000 women have registered on the Brussels Binder’s database and proven them wrong. Meanwhile, the Brussels Binder Beyond repository of women expert databases hosts over 55 databases with more than 57,000 women experts from across the world. Their expertise ranges from economics and foreign affairs to climate and health.

So why, if women make up 55% of the European population, do they still only constitute less than 40% of speakers at policy debates at think tanks across Europe (source: Open society Foundation, 2019, and Ashoka Foundation, 2016-2019)?

While some progress has been made and many event organisers are now conscious of the efforts required to bring more women around the table, the Covid-19 crisis did not reverse this trend. As The Brussels Binder’s recent reports reveal, women are still underrepresented in policy discussions.

What is more, many women experts are still relegated to the role of moderator. What’s the problem with that, you wonder? When a woman is the moderator, her opinion on the topic of discussion is not heard. She is a facilitator, not an active participant able to provide her opinion and expertise on a subject matter. This only perpetuates non-inclusive policy-making.

From gender balance to diversity and inclusion

Entirely volunteer-run, the Brussels Binder continues to advocate for gender balance at policy debates, but a renewed organisation is actively seeking to bring diversity and inclusion into the fold.

The killing of George Floyd in the United States sent shockwaves through Europe and increased Europeans’ awareness of issues of systemic discrimination.

The Brussels Binder was also impacted by this issue and looked at its own structure, mission and contribution to an inclusive and diverse debate.

The Brussels Binder was initially promoting the voice of white women, mostly educated in and by the Brussels bubble. Our own biases have perpetuated the upholding of dominant structures existing in the Brussels policy bubble.

Six toolkits, nine podcast episodes, numerous reports and countless collaborations with other NGOs later, The Brussels Binder volunteers have spared no efforts to rethink and revitalise the organisation and meet the challenges of our time.

In order to continue our evolution, we need to attract new talents, new experts, and new volunteers. Because the Brussels Binder has always been about practising what it preaches, our board changed to reflect the diversity of our environment and to make room for new profiles and new strategies that will help the organisation remain a champion of inclusivity.

My name is Audrey-Flore Ngomsik, and I am the current president of the Brussels Binder. Together with our new Secretary-General, Ana Mingo, we’ve been elected for three years with a mandate to expand the mission of the Brussels Binder to include diversity and inclusion. Alongside us, a cohort of volunteers, old and new, from both the public and private sectors, share our mission.

Our priorities are three-fold:

  • engaging men as diversity & inclusion partners,
  • working with existing and new partners to provide, tools, events, and networks, to help public and private organisations improve their diversity impact in policy spheres,
  • improving our database to ensure it remains an essential tool for promoting diversity in public debates.

The Brussels Binder is committed to paving the way for diverse and inclusive policy-making. Because when everyone is included, everyone wins, and for that to happen, we must look beyond gender.

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