Equality policy has predominantly grappled with the question of how to ensure women's equal participation in all areas and at all levels of the Scientific community for years, but we are still far from reaching that goal. A legal framework for equality policy in higher education is provided in the shape of the EU equality guidelines, specifically Gender Mainstreaming, which was enshrined in the Amsterdam Treaty of 1999. In the context of Gender Mainstreaming as a so-called dual strategy, we have seen a range of measures and programs supporting women's empowerment on the one hand, on the other, there have been strategic tools aimed at (re-)shaping governance structures within higher education institutions to ensure equality of women and men.
However, the discourse around gender equality often still implies a uniform understanding of 'men' and 'women', confirming with a binary, heteronormative understanding of gender. This is particularly remarkable since it has been apparent since the inception of feminist movements that there is no such thing as 'women' as a uniform and unified group. Especially Black women, working-class women, migrant women, women with disabilities, lesbian and bisexual women have always spoken out about their varied experiences of marginalisation, and demanded that these be recognised. Increasingly, there are now discussions around integrating intersectional and diversity perspectives into policy approaches, hoping to emphasise the interrelation of gender with other social categories. Despite these efforts, overall, equality policy discourse has been cautious in opening up gender categories to include a more complex understanding of 'women' and 'men'.
Theoretical approaches which have come out of Queer and (De-)Constructionist Theory and critique a heterosexual-by-default, binary model of gender with fixed identity categories are not resonating with equality policy, and are often rejected as being too abstract to have practical use. Instead, policies often reference strategic or pragmatic essentialism, referring back to the empirical and structural differences between 'women' and 'men'.
A similar case can be made for current work around sexual discrimination and gender-based violence taking place in colleges and universities. In many cases, the analysis focuses only on the power imbalance between women and men, and women's experiences of violence (Feltes, Th. et al. (2012). Final Report Gender-Based Violence, Stalking and Fear of Crime). However, gender-based violence can affects all genders: women, men, but also trans* and non-binary persons.
As shown by the Grundrechtsreport study, 50% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* people report experiencing violence as a result of their perceived LGBT identity. 18% of respondents had experienced discrimination on a personal level due to their sexuality or gender identity while attending school or university (FRA _ EU – Grundrechte Agentur 2014). These statistics are alarming, but they are slow to be reflected in the discourse around sexual discrimination and gender-based violence in higher education throughout Germany. Action is urgently required.
At a European level, there are now conversations around including the protection of trans* and intersex persons under the gender umbrella, as these experiences of discrimination are rooted in gender-based power inequalities in society. Gender-based discrimination also encompasses incidents in which a person's appearance or behaviour is targeted because it does not conform to prevalent gender stereotypes. In this context, experiences of violence as a result of another type of gender-nonconforming behaviour, namely sexual orientation, also deserve more attention. Sexual discrimination is closely tied to homophobic violence, with women are often labeled as 'unfeminine' and men as 'unmanly'.
From this perspective, it is vital that all stakeholders engage with the implications of multi-layered gender-based discrimination, broadening their working concepts beyond binaries and heteronormativity to include gender diversity, and developing protective measures to include all groups affected.
Expanding concepts of gender beyond binary categories can also generate new and growing impulses for equality politics at colleges and universities. A more complex and nuanced understanding of gender provides more powerful and effective tools to address various forms of discrimination. Does equality policy have catching up to do? What might that look like? How can concerns around LGBTI* issues be integrated into anti-discrimination and gender-based violence prevention work in higher education more widely? Who is responsible for these changes, and who should take the lead?
The proposed panel seeks to place this very current, but hardly discussed, topic firmly at the centre of gender equality discourse. Each presentation will touch on the legal and discursive status quo in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, respectively. The central goal is to initiate a dialogue, starting with an exchange of ideas and networking between stakeholders. All speakers have a background in gender- and queer studies, equality- and anti-discrimination work.
The paper introduces a ongoing volunteer-led storytelling project hosted by the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with an LGBT Oral History charity and the Scottish Life Archive. Running since 2012, the project brings together students and a wider public to share personal takes on a range of themes. Each event focuses on a different theme, such as alternative families, bodily autonomy and coming out. While each theme is linked to issues affecting LGBTQ-identified people in particular, participants of all genders and sexualities are encouraged to connect their personal contributions to that theme, emphasizing interconnectedness and the diversity of shared experiences over narratives of difference. The paper will discuss the evolution of the storytelling sessions over the space of several years, and in affiliation with a range of activist groups such as the university's Feminist Society and external bodies such as LGBT History Month Scotland. It will explore the interdependence of such community networks and the event structures themselves, as well as the value of intersectional sessions for the wider practice of LGBTQ Oral Histories.