Six years ago, the Brussels Binder burst on to the scene like a superheroine, ready to address the glaring issue of underrepresentation of women in policy debates. Nowadays, it is the city’s go-to resource for improving gender diversity in the so-called Euro-bubble.
But our cape needs more sparkle. Despite our efforts, the situation remains dire. In 2020, of 270 conferences across 26 countries, 26 per cent had “manels” (panels featuring only male speakers), 68.48 per cent of speakers overall were men, and fewer than 4 per cent of men and fewer than 1 per cent of women were from underrepresented minorities, according to data from Open Society and Ashoka.
In the media landscape, in Belgium, in 2020, women represent only 26% of subjects and sources featured, according to the 6th Global Media Monitoring project.
If we focus on Brussels, the numbers are similar. Research for our Walkingthe Talk report shows an increase in gender equality in think tanks’ panel discussions, with 46 per cent being gender balanced. However, 16 per cent were manels, only 36 per cent of total speakers were women, and ethnic diversity was even more scarce than in European panels. Knowing that 62% or residents are foreign born, according to the Migration Report published by IOM, this is concerning.
The problem is that for democracy, equality and peace to thrive, voices that are not typically heard on panels need to be amplified to promote a diverse range of perspectives. This is even more important in policymaking. When diversity is not represented around the table, the challenges of diverse groups are unlikely to be taken into consideration, because “you don’t know what you don’t know”. How can you advocate for a population whose challenges you are unfamiliar with?
As we approach 2024, with European and federal elections coming in June, there is an urgency to ensure the needs, interests and viewpoints of the people are fairly represented throughout the democratic process. Therefore, at the Brussels Binder, we have decided to embrace the words usually attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” Mere advocacy and tacit agreements are insufficient; it's time for accountability.
To this end, we will release a manifesto on December 11th 2023 – a public declaration urging people to refuse participation in any political debate or policy discussion unless the panel is composed of diverse and intersectional speakers. Gender, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, background … intersectionality should be the cornerstone of any public debate, to be sure that everyone is represented.
The manifesto will include pledges for both individuals and organisations that all stakeholders active in politics and in the European Union policy space can sign up to, demonstrating their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility for all EU policy debates. Through this manifesto we will strive to end manels once and for all, and shine a bright light on underrepresented communities in EU policymaking today.
We are facing some of our greatest challenges yet in the EU, ranging from security to climate and our cost of living, and the only hope we have of solving them is through balanced solutions that represent all our interests. It is time to step up; it is time to pledge to listen to diverse voices and start making inclusive choices.
Representation matters! We need to empower diverse voices for inclusive choices.