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IGC panel parity pledge represents a good approach to avoid "manels"

Statement by Ambassador Andrej Benedejčič, Permanent Representative of Slovenia, at the power breakfast on "An end to 'manels' – Why gender parity in OSCE panels matters", Vienna, 19 July 2019

Dear Secretary General, dear colleagues,

I would like to welcome you all to this power breakfast on the topic of gender parity in OSCE panels.  I would also like to thank the OSCE Gender Section for organizing this event.  Our discussion is both timely and topical, especially in light of the Secretary General's 2018 Annual Progress Report on the Implementation of the 2004 OSCE Action Plan on the Promotion of Gender Equality, which was presented yesterday at the OSCE Permanent Council.  The report is characterized by its frankness and uncompromising reliance on hard data to assess the actual state of affairs.  One of the resulting conclusions is that the composition of the majority of OSCE panels is visibly gender unbalanced. In fact, in 2018 only one-third of panellists at all OSCE conferences were female and they mostly appeared at human dimension events.

I think the data is sobering, especially when it comes to single-sex panels, as it appears that we had a total of 40 all-male panel events at the OSCE last year.  This is something we need to acknowledge and talk about.  After all, panellists are public speakers and public speakers are role models.  I think that now that we have identified the extent of the challenge we can formulate some possible solutions as well.  Before turning to the other speakers, I would therefore like to briefly present my experience, especially in light of the Slovenian Chairmanship of the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation last year, which was somewhat uncharacteristic for the politico-military dimension.  When I say uncharacteristic, I mean that almost half of all the speakers at our Security Dialogues – 42% to be precise – were female.  To be sure, this does not mean that we were able to ensure perfect gender parity at all the events:  sometimes we had more male and sometimes more female speakers.  But we never had a single-sex panel, neither male nor female. 

How did we manage to achieve this result?  Well, the first step was awareness of the issue.  And, I have to confess, I myself became mindful of the importance of gender balanced panels only three years ago, on September 6, 2016, to be precise.  The reason why I know the exact date is because that is when the panel on "Reinventing European Security" took place at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia.  One of the panellists was Lassina Zerbo, the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.  It was he who at the beginning of his intervention pointed out that out of the seven panellists on that panel none was female.  In other words, we, the Slovenian hosts of the event, managed to organize a classic "manel".  I have to say that this is something that we in Slovenia took collectively to heart and that since then there have been no more all-male panels at our annual conference.  This particular episode also influenced my work here in Vienna in the sense that a couple of months later I got actively involved in the efforts to establish the Vienna chapter of the International Gender Champions initiative, which was launched at the Vienna International Center in June 2017.  And, as many of you know, a required commitment on the part of a gender champion is also the panel parity pledge.  This is both a concrete process and a thoughtful internal and external exercise for the conference organizer and potential panellist aimed at ensuring the participation of female experts. 

This brings me to last year's Slovenian FSC Chairmanship.  As you know, in addition to the Permanent Council, the FSC is the only other decision-making body of the OSCE.  It is also by far the most male-dominated, since it consists primarily of Military Advisers.  In fact, the initial goal of the OSCE MenEngage Network when established seven years ago was precisely to engage with this group of men at the OSCE. Well, last year, I had the opportunity to interact with them both as the FSC Chairperson and the Chairperson of the MenEngage Network.  Since an integral part of preparing for the FSC Chairmanship is participating in the work of the FSC Troika, I was able to observe some of the dynamics of this particular OSCE body ahead of time.  This is how I realized that in order to promote the awareness of the importance of the inclusion of women in security processes I would need to mainstream a gender perspective in all of the Security Dialogues.  It also became apparent to me that I would need to plan ahead, because some of the topics that our side was thinking about for the chairmanship were rather specific and ranged from "Export Controls and Deactivation of SALW" to the "Centenary of the End of World War I".

Let me confess right away that I had by far the biggest problems with getting together a panel on "Nuclear Security in the OSCE Area".  The issue as such is a sensitive one and it therefore took some time and effort just to secure the participation of a representative from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a male Deputy Director General.  However, getting a female expert on the topic seemed almost impossible.  I therefore turned for help to a female colleague, the Permanent Representative of Canada to the IAEA, who got me in touch with Ms. Elena Sokova, then Deputy Director of the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California. She turned out to be an absolutely fantastic speaker, who transformed the panel into one of the highlights of our FSC Chairmanship.  She also turned out to be an engaging interlocutor, with whom I got along splendidly, which is why I am so glad that as of this summer she is back in Vienna, this time as the Executive Director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. 

I think this particular episode shows that you can always find female experts out there, if only you look for them.  My advice would be therefore to systematically include the simple and concrete steps of the IGC panel parity pledge in the work of the participating States and the OSCE Secretariat.  This means asking yourself the following five questions:  1. What are you doing to ensure gender balance at your event?  2. Are there any women, or equal numbers of women, speaking on the panel?  3. (If not), have the organizers reached out to female experts?  4. (If not), can we share our evolving list of dynamic experts in the field that happen to be women?  5. Are conference organizers using the list to identify and invite expert women panellists?

Finally, let me say that as we collectively tackle this issue, we should also approach it with a certain amount of sensitivity and diplomatic tact.  And this brings me back to the anecdote I mentioned earlier about the Executive Director of the CTBTO.  When he pointed out to the Slovenian organizers of the event that we managed to organize a "manel", he also said that technically speaking he should not be participating in it.  Still, he decided to stay and contributed actively to the discussion.  We were grateful to him both because he taught us a lesson, but also because he was gracious about it.  As we try to improve the gender balance in OSCE panels this is probably the approach that we should follow.  To quote a Slovenian proverb:  lepa beseda vedno lepo mesto najde – a kind word is always kindly received.

Thank you.