From 1 to 5 July, Freie Universität Berlin hosted the summer school Implementing gender and diversity management at universities in Egypt, organized within the project Gender Equality in the Egyptian Higher Education System. The summer school brought together university managers from the project’s partner universities, policy makers, experts in the fields of gender research, and representatives from civil society organizations to share knowledge and experiences with regard to gender and diversity management and equal opportunity policies in higher education.
The five-day workshop started with an overview over the project by project manager Prof. Dr. Brigitta Schütt, Vice-President of Freie Universität Berlin, followed by status reports of the project’s main partners, being the Universities of Cairo, Alexandria, Sohag, and South Valley as well as the Strategic Planning Unit of the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education.
The following days featured sessions on how to assess the inclusiveness of the higher education system, on the intersection of gender differences with other inequalities, and on activism to promote gender equality in Egypt before and after the uprising in 2011, among others.
On the fourth day, participants split into working groups to further discuss four aspects of equal opportunity polices in higher education: the establishment of equal opportunity officers at Egyptian universities, support for female researchers on their way to professorships, ways of monitoring the implementation of equal opportunity policies as well as the relation between gender research and equal opportunity policies. Based on the results of the working groups, the last day was dedicated to develop a vision for the project for the coming year and to talk about next steps.
One of the topics which was controversly discussed during the summer school was the representation of women in leadership positions. On the one hand, the so-called glass ceiling keeps women from reaching top positions, regardless of their qualifications and achievements. On the other hand, leadership positions often don't seem to be attractive to women due to an office culture that does not allow for work-life balance. Instead of developing specific measures to “push” women in leadership positions, strategies to change the system and adapt it to the wishes and needs of both men and women were regarded as more successful in the long run.
Therefore awareness raising for gender inequalities was considered as very important: Many problems that Egyptian women face while pursuing a career in science were regarded as being related to cultural and social factors. Measures that target only the higher education system would therefore not be successful. Participants suggested organizing an awareness raising campaign that targets the broader community to change the underlying stereotypes and the way of thinking.
Furthermore, promoting gender studies was recommended to better understand gender relations within and outside higher education as well as problems, needs, and challenges of both men and women. Gender research at Egyptian universities is needed as a prerequisite for developing equal opportunity policies and defining priorities of action. While traditionally there is a gap between gender research and equality policies in Germany, the establishment of new Equal Opportunity Units at Egyptian universities offers the chance to bridge this gap both practically and institutionally from the beginning.