Laura Boillot, Campaigns Forum – New York, 18 October 2014

No more male panels initiative

I’m going to talk about why the practice of having all-male panels and I think it is important to say No to All Male Panels.

Earlier in the year at a CCW expert meeting, 18 experts were invited to present during the official plenary on autonomous weapons. None were women.

In this instance the organisers – the UN and the French delegation – claimed that there were no suitable women to fill the slots.

This is of course a ridiculous claim, but even more so when the panels at the NGO side events held during the lunch breaks at the CCW meeting included qualified and experienced women as well as men.

But seeing an all-male line-up is not a one off. We are seeing it at the First Committee too, and we have seen it at many other events before that.

So after the CCW meeting, Article 36 started a list for men to sign up to, committing not to speak on panels where the line-up is all-male.

Currently 55 men have signed on – mostly from civil society.

It concerns panels on issues related to disarmament, peace and security and the protection of civilians.

But we have been very pleased with the response, both in terms of the number of people willing to sign up to this, and the level of engagement in general. People have a lot of questions about different scenarios and the rules (!) which is a good indicator that they are taking it seriously. I would talk through some of these points in a bit.

So why is it important to say No to All Male Panels?

It’s not a one-off that we saw at the CCW. It happens repeatedly.

And systematic exclusion of women from panels, is a form of gender discrimination.

The practice of all-male panels prevents many capable women from sharing their expertise. It is also reinforcing: the more you appear on panels, the more exposure you get, the likelier it is that you will be invited to speak again.

Speaking on panels is just one example of gender discrimination.

We see it in other forms including the dominance of men in powerful positions and leadership roles.

Back to the list.

We don’t claim the list is a solution to fixing problems around gender discrimination.

But the point of the initiative is to draw attention to a problem, and generate some debate on the topic.

Getting people to recognize this as a problem helps to take action to prevent it.

It gives men the opportunity to recognize the power and status that they have and benefit from, and provides an opportunity to help redress part of the power imbalance by rejecting it by promoting gender diversity.

It’s also a very practical thing that people can do and very relevant to how we all work. We all spend quite a lot of time organizing and participating in events.

There have been a number of questions about what the commitment means in practice.

  • How many people constitute a panel? Does a one-on-one debate count?
  • If the moderator is a woman does that mean the speakers can all be men?
  • What if I don’t know who is on the panel in advance?
  • What if a woman pulls out at the last minute?
  • What if my superiors require my participation in a panel that ends up being all male?
  • What if there are no women available to speak?

These are all reasonable questions, but they should not draw attention away from the central point of the exercise.

We would encourage men to sign up to the list and when invited to speak, do everything they can to ensure that the panels they are on feature a diversity of gender identities.

Put pressure on the organisers – it is easier to do as a collective action. Often they are very receptive to this.

Don’t commit until you know the line up.

Suggest speakers that are of gender identities other than your own. Most often you just have to make the effort to look and to ask colleagues, rather than relying on perhaps better-known male colleagues.

We also agree with others that having a woman moderate an all-male panel is not the answer.

I don’t see all female panels as problematic. The problem is systematic under representation of women, which is discrimination. Men do not experience systemic discrimination in the same way.

What can you do?

  • Sign up to the list, if you are male
  • Call out all male panels when you see it. You could also use the hashtag #ManPanels when doing this! We will talk more about this in the workshop that Richard and I are running later.
  • Pay attention to gender discrimination – and indeed other forms of discrimination and underrepresentation, particularly when you are organizing and participating in events.
  • Lastly, lists are useful – we have this list of men but Sarah Knuckey has started a list of women experts on autonomous weapons, and I am sure there are other lists of women experts that exist or can be started.