Gender Equality Measurement project boosting Carleton's reputation as an international research hub for gender analysis.
By Suzanne Bowness
Photos by Luther Caverly
Gender equality is alive and well in today’s society, some might say. But the moment such broad statements are made, questions necessarily arise: How equal? How alive? How well? What society? Who says? Now a new research cluster called the Gender Equality Measurement (GEM) project has emerged to pursue possible answers. Along the way, GEM has embraced disciplines and researchers across the campus as well as internationally to boost Carleton’s reputation as a hub for gender equality research.
Halfway through a three-year mandate, GEM has already accomplished a lot, including an edited collection on gender equality measurement in Canada to be published by UBC Press, a special issue of the Journal of Social Politics on the same topic, and panels and talks both nationally and internationally.
“We spent the first year getting the word out about our project, and starting to develop a network,” says L. Pauline Rankin, associate vice-president (Research and International) and one of the leads on the GEM project. “We organized a number of events to bring publicity and attention to the kind of research questions that we’re interested in probing.”
That outreach has paid off, attracting attention both within the university and internationally.
“We’re finding as we go forward that this is speaking to people across a number of disciplines, where maybe they hadn’t expected the work that we’re doing to resonate with them,” says Rankin. “That’s been interesting for us, as a way of highlighting the richness and the depth of feminist scholarship at Carleton. It’s a huge area of strength for us as an institution, and we see this as a way to pull people together.”
We’re finding as we go forward that this is speaking to people across a number of disciplines, where maybe they hadn’t expected the work that we’re doing to resonate with them
To get a sense of the diversity of scholarship that the project has attracted, one barely needs to look beyond the research interests of GEM’s co-applicants. Rankin is an associate professor in the School of Canadian Studies who works on works gender and politics; Doris Buss is an associate professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies who works on women’s economic empowerment in conflict and post-conflict settings; Christina Gabriel is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science who works on gender and migration; Diana Majury is a professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies who works on human rights and charter equality as well as violence against women; Lisa Mills is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration who works on reproductive health in the developing world, and Susan Phillips is also a professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration, who works on public sector issues. Another founding member of the group, Edward Jackson, recently retired from Carleton after a long career in the School of Public Policy and Administration.
Beyond this wide range of campus-based expertise, GEM members say that Carleton is also ideally situated for this sort of collaboration, in close proximity to government as well as national and international NGOs. “Carleton is capitalizing on its own strength as well as the strengths that exist here in Ottawa. Certainly the civil society sector is one area where you see gender equality policy innovation being pushed and hence innovation in measurement. Because it is the capital city, we also have people engaged with international issues,” says Buss. Gabriel agrees. “We’re well located with the central government here, and also a number of national community-based organizations.”
So there’s a great community of scholars, gathered in an ideal setting, to study—what exactly? Even scholars agree that gender equality measurement can be challenging to describe. A couple of examples provide a clearer picture.
“Carleton is capitalizing on its own strength as well as the strengths that exist here in Ottawa”
For example Buss investigates how donor countries, like Canada or the UK, or even the United Nations (UN) use measurements to shape their programming in developing nations, by, for instance, setting targets for women’s equality. In her research, Buss asks questions about these targets: why and how they are set, and how they account for women’s roles.
Sometimes, assessing measurement involves asking whether these organizations are even asking the right questions. For instance, when the UN vows to involve women in peace building post conflict, are they setting the right targets? If they say that 15% of funding for economic recovery should be for gender equality, where did ‘15%’ come from and is 15% the right number? “I’m interested in the massive question around how the target gets selected and how it’s implemented absolutely. What are the effects over time? If we’re measuring funding for economic recovery, what are we not measuring?” says Buss.
In another example, Gabriel interrogates the interplay of gender issues and migration policy. “If the promotion of gender quality is a goal for migration policy, one of the things you would have to do is figure out which strategies and practices are implicated in this agenda. How is gender equality being measured within migration policy? What is constructed as best practice?” asks Gabriel. Again, her questions address not just the policies and tools of measurement but the reasoning behind those tools.
In the wider world of governance and policy development, gender equality measurement is a growing interest at all levels, from municipal through national and international. “There is a real appetite for critically looking at the whole question of gender equality measurement,” says Majury. “I think we’re really timely with this project.” Rankin agrees. “We just wanted to, in a way, pause and think about what the impact of all this measurement work.
“For us, we’re concerned to make sure that we’re measuring the right things. That the measurement work actually translates into policies that will change women’s lives, and men’s lives, on a daily basis in a positive way”
For us, we’re concerned to make sure that we’re measuring the right things. That the measurement work actually translates into policies that will change women’s lives, and men’s lives, on a daily basis in a positive way. That we don’t get so preoccupied with the measurement itself, that we lose track of what it is that the ultimate goal of the measurement process is supposed to achieve,” says Rankin. That ultimate goal, by the way, is to end oppression around gender full stop.
And while the GEM project is well on its way in terms of official deliverables, some of the best outcomes are those that were unexpected. The level of interest, for example. “I knew that there were communities of interest out there but I just didn’t realize how interested and that’s been a really nice surprise. Another surprise has been the diversity of groups that have contacted us or that have attended our meetings,” says Buss. Rankin agrees.
“What’s been exciting for us this year is that it hasn’t just been us looking for partners—partners have been coming to us,” says Rankin.
A specific initiative that has proved very successful with partners and GEM members alike is the group’s Coffee & Conversation events. Gabriel says she loves the opportunity to meet new people at the events, which offer both relevant guest speakers and time for questions. “I’m always surprised at the people at the events. It’s not always the same people, but people come out for different speakers,” says Gabriel. Majury adds that sometimes these meetings can have an influence beyond simple information sharing. “I go and I listen to somebody who does work completely, I think, unrelated to mine, and I can hear a whole multitude of connections that would never have occurred to me, and that make me rethink some of the things I’m doing in my own work,” says Majury.
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