By Melody Brown Burkins
Vice-Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Model Arctic Council; Senior Fellow, UArctic Institute of Arctic Policy; Governing Board, International Science Council; Associate Director, John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies, Dartmouth College
After almost three decades of working at the intersection of science, governance and international collaboration, I can say without hesitation that the inclusive systems of governance and operations modeled by UArctic serve as a true inspiration – including the intention with which the network weaves respect of Arctic indigenous voices and knowledge throughout its organizational fabric.
Nevertheless, one of the most striking and globally powerful models of inclusion I see in the work of UArctic is not yet fully developed. The emerging effort to more visibly promote and advance Arctic gender equality and inclusion issues is one that should be celebrated. More importantly, it could be mainstreamed throughout UArctic as a model for other networks around the world.
For issues of gender equality, the term “mainstreaming” is widely understood to mean that an organization commits to ensuring that all policies, strategies, operations and activities are designed and assessed through a lens that considers their impact on issues of gender, specifically as to whether they further inequalities or advance greater equality. Often used to advance programs focused on empowering women and supporting girls' education, such as with the United Nations' “UN Women” program, gender mainstreaming can also mean supporting, empowering and inclusion of all gender identities.
UArctic has an exciting opportunity to develop its global voice as an organization that is truly committed to advancing and supporting Arctic gender equality and inclusion. And UArctic is absolutely poised to be recognized as a leader in this space. Just last year, at the UArctic Congress 2018, I counted over 50 speakers giving talks, leading discussions and advocating for issues of Arctic gender equality and inclusion. UArctic’s governance and operations are already well aligned with the principles of gender equality and inclusion, and the UArctic Strategic Plan 2020 intentionally highlights them as core values. In addition, the UArctic Congress 2018 Declaration – as a message from the network and its members as a whole – explicitly notes that “we view gender equality in all aspects of academic, social and working life in the Arctic as essential.”
We are in a new era where foundational, institutional attention to advancing equality, diversity and inclusion is finally being recognized as value added – not only as “the right thing to do,” but because systemic gender gaps are a disadvantage to organizations who actively lose talent, knowledge and funding when gender equality and inclusion are not prioritized. UArctic members are already highlighting the critical need for greater gender equality and inclusion discussions, and the Arctic Council itself – an entity that often looks to UArctic as a source of critical knowledge and best practices – could look to UArctic’s efforts as it looks to continue and expand gender equality projects led by the Sustainable Development Working Group.
So: how can UArctic begin to think about and model the mainstreaming of gender equality and inclusion practices, and advance more visible gender inclusive and equitable governance and operations? My proposal is to initiate new discussions with the diversity of UArctic members already leading these ideas in the Arctic and around the world. Possible outcomes might include:
- Planning a series of formal UArctic dialogs or a summit to collaboratively discuss and develop a draft set of UArctic gender inclusion and equality principles for the organization, ensuring inclusion of all voices around the Circumpolar North.
- Discussing the potential to weave gender inclusion and equality awareness into UArctic operational protocols for all conferences and meetings; for example, ensuring UArctic-hosted panelists and speaker rosters are gender inclusive, and always requesting preferred pronouns for event name tags and other identifying language.
- Developing a series of ongoing dialogs as to how UArctic hopes to develop, implement and refine gender equality and inclusion practices throughout Thematic Networks; not only to improve our understanding of their efficacy, but also to share our knowledge of best practices with our members, the Arctic Council and other international networks.
- Developing an annual report assessing how UArctic gender equality and inclusion mainstreaming efforts help meet the global targets of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (e.g. SDG #5: Gender Equality, SDG #10, Reduced Inequalities).
UArctic has a unique, timely and important opportunity to announce its commitment to advancing gender equality and inclusion as a foundational value of the organization and the network. If we succeed in this work, UArctic will be recognized as a model for how we can better address and achieve greater gender inclusion and equality in the Arctic and around the world. We will also be one step closer to truly realizing UArctic’s vision of “an Empowered North – with Shared Voices.”