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Gender Day

Gender Day: A large step forward in WRI's history?

"This day was an experience. When I started to work in WRI in 1979, many men could not accept, nor understand why women should have their own spaces and their own conferences. After a while we formed the Women's Working Group, and one aim was to look at WRI's issues more in a gender perspective.
"But Gender Day was not a women's day. Being a gender day means that we should look at the world from a man's perspective and a woman's perspective. Of course, we could have chosen different perspectives, such as language, race, religion, identity. We can look at the world through many different glasses. And this time, after many years working on the edge of the WRI family, we chose gender-glasses.
"I think that this was a large step forward in WRI's history."--Ellen Elster
"Only a usual day" was one of the comments on gender day, probably one of the frustrated ones. While gender day was an important experience for WRI, and showed the willingness to take up the question of gender, at the same time it showed that it is still women who seem to be most aware of their gender and the importance of gender.

Making one day a special gender day made some general problems: Gender "is a question that can't be dealt with in a minute, because we need confidence in each other", says one of the reflectors. As many people didn't know each other before, there often was not enough time to get beyond the clichés, to get a deeper understanding of this very complex question. And the same reflector noticed: "the men were not confident enough to be personal, and some of them felt threatened by the theme. They accepted that gender was the word of the day, but failed to get behind the unpersonal and academic approach to the theme". Some even stepped out of the day, and in the evening plenary one woman made an important comment that maybe explains some of the difficulties the day faced. She said that this day probably for most women was the first time to discuss gender issues in mixed groups, and for most men it was the first time to discuss gender issues in groups.

Some comments in the discussions highlighted the difficulties of the theme: "Men perform, women conform." "I obey my conscience only", which is, as a reflector mentioned, "difficult for a woman to say with various external pressures to conform". Is the problem that men don't want to acknowledge that they conform too, that their "performance" is part of conforming?

The role of the reflectors


At least one thing that made this day an unusual day at the Triennial was the use of the technique of "reflectors". Six persons (four women and two men) were chosen to monitor the discussion in theme groups, workshops and in between, and reported to the evening plenary. This was meant to highlight the difficulties in discussing gender issues in a mixed organisation like WRI.

But the experience with using reflectors is ambivalent. "Perhaps there was a feeling that the presence of reflectors affected the spontaneity of discussion and hence many did not appreciate our presence", one reflector says. But "at the same time it is important that the presence of the reflectors in the same situations perhaps led people to discuss on gender issues".

The reflectors collected a lot of observations, "but the positive energy of the day was not reflected back to the plenary. I feel that the output in the plenary was not adequate," reflects one of the reflectors, and this was a result of a misconception of the day, giving the reflectors just one and a half hours to prepare their presentation.

Was the day a success? Comments from two reflectors: "Still, especially in the late hours of the day, I DID feel that special thing, the crossing of a line, where the understanding within a mixed group was real and honest." "I enjoyed being a reflector in the gender day and am happy that some progress has been made. Now it is to be seen how to transform this one day special event to an everyday normal affair within the WRI family." Every day is gender day.

Report by Andreas Speck and Majken Sørensen