Universities hammer out voluntary gender equality plan

Chile’s Education Minister Marcela Cubillos has sent to all rectors of the 150 higher education institutions an eight-point voluntary agreement aimed at fostering greater female participation in high-level university positions.

The agreement was hammered out by the council of 17 university rectors – two of them women – that advises the minister.

The agreement is designed to address the gulf between female participation in higher education and the share of females in university leadership positions.

This article is part of a series on Transformative Leadership published by University World News in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.

In Chile, women make up 53% of university graduates but academic leadership is predominantly masculine: there are only six female rectors among the 61 existing universities. Twenty-six of them do not have a female vice-rector and only 5% of 89 technical and professional institutes are headed by a woman.

According to the proposed agreement, which was disseminated on 25 March, higher education institutions should:

  • • Have a gender equality policy with commitments, targets and actions that promote gender equality.

  • • Take measures and implement programmes that foster the inclusion and participation of women in academia and in management, including removing the arbitrary barriers that undermine the progress of women on both fronts.

  • • Include women in at least 40% of directorates and in all collegiate administrative organs.

  • • Include at least one woman among candidates for rectors or the equivalent higher authority.

  • • Inform and publish once a year the list of one-person authorities and deans or top academic authorities, indicating whether they were elected or appointed. Also, give the percentage of female academics per academic unit.

  • • Have special provisions for female academics who are also mothers, for example, by extending the period they must complete before being promoted.

  • • Provide facilities and-or affirmative measures for the admission of female academics and-or researchers.

  • • Promote equality of opportunities between men and women, for example by including at least one woman expert in seminars, forums and other activities where four or more experts take part. Also, carry out student admission campaigns that promote female and male participation in all disciplines, with special emphasis on those careers that are generally sought out mainly by women, such as education, or mainly by men, such as engineering.

Higher education institutions will discuss and validate the text of the agreement with staff and students before subscribing to it. Once they sign, they will have two years to implement most of it. The 40% of women in top jobs target can be met in three years.

“This is the first step towards the full integration of women in leadership positions so that opportunities and equal treatment extends to all sectors and all educational institutions,” said Minister Cubillos.

Systemic problem

Some gender experts in those universities that have made more progress in gender equality and in taking action to prevent harassment and violence towards women – speeded up by the spate of feminist take-overs and sit-ins in Chilean universities last year – do not think much about the agreement proposed by the government.

“The agreement Universidad de Chile subscribed to with the feminist movement goes much further than what the government is proposing. Gender inequality is a systemic problem that has many dimensions and our take is that we must address the problem as a whole,” says Carmen Andrade, head of Universidad de Chile’s gender directorate.

“Top flight appointments for women are a minimal part of the whole: we can have more women rectors, but inequalities will remain,” she said.

Antonia Santos, academic at the private university Universidad Arturo Prat and head of the Gender Equality Commission of the Council of Rectors of Chilean Universities, to which 27 universities belong, told University World News that she thinks the proposal is not bad, but it is insufficient because it “ignores the progress already made regarding gender equality by many Chilean universities”.

She also says that the agreement does not propose new appointment mechanisms that will make it easier for women to get an executive job.

However, Antonia Bezanilla, gender advisor to the Ministry of Education, points out that the agreement deals “exclusively with promoting gender equality in academia and creating a better environment for female researchers”. It is, she says, only one of the topics that has been discussed by the ministry’s group of gender experts.

“We cannot achieve gender equality and solve the predicament of Chilean women from one day to the next; we can, however, make progress on several fronts at the same time,” Bezanilla said.

Disadvantages ignored

The introductory paragraphs of the commitment document on gender equality sent to all higher education institutions by the Education Ministry lists some of the disadvantages faced by women academics. These include the fact that women are responsible for childbirth and family, a fact that is ignored by academic career regulations; tolerance towards ways of interaction that are detrimental to women; curricula where male discourse prevails; and varied and sometimes hidden forms of violence.

“Therefore there is a vast area for ensuring an equal distribution of opportunities and the abolition of all unfavourable treatment towards women,” the document states, adding that “we believe that the reasonably equitable distribution among men and women of top management posts can be a starting point for the betterment of other dimensions of everyday life in the higher education system”.