A little over ten years ago, this blog was founded to give women scholars, lawyers, policymakers and others a voice on issues related to international law, policy and practice. The idea was, in part, to counteract the argument that “there are no women” out there with relevant expertise on a particular international law topic, through a page listing women by their expertise. (By the way, if you’d like to update your expertise, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Expertise Update” in the subject line.)
Although progress has been made, the “manel,” and surprisingly, even the all-male or almost all-male conference, continue to live on. See this conference taking place this week at McGeorge Law School on the fascinating topic of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nine men and zero women will be speaking, according to the website.
It is hard to believe that only men have something to say about this topic, which dominates the news cycle on a daily basis. If the organizers are looking to diversify, there are plenty of women they could contact with expertise in public international law, national security law, election law, and Russia. A quick look at the IntLawGrrls, LawFare, Opinio Juris, and the JustSecurity blogs is enough to find numerous women with relevant expertise. They could also check out a few law schools’ faculty profiles (e.g., nearby Stanford) and places like the Wilson Center.
The reason to eliminate “manels” is not that men and women bring different perspectives to Russian interference in the 2016 election, which is an open question. Rather, the point is that these events give participants a chance to share scholarship and contribute to cutting edge debates in real time. They result in greater prestige and name recognition for the participants. They grow networks and open doors for future collaboration and job opportunities. And, the presence of both sexes shows students and others in the audience that women also have something to say about these issues.
So what do we do about it? Marty Lederman recently called out a conference at the University of San Diego for having 14 men and one woman, on Twitter: “We academics (present company included) should stop treating this as acceptable/unremarkable.” UC Irvine Professor and UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye ends his emails with a signature block that includes, “& I don’t sit on manels.” Their voices and their commitments are noteworthy and important. In Geneva, numerous chiefs of international organizations have pledged not to sit on panels without gender parity or to ask about gender parity before accepting an invitation, through the Geneva Gender Champions Initiative. In 2016, Champions intervened 42% of the time to request a change in the gender balance of a panel, resulting in changes 84% of the time.
Maybe it’s time we all had some hard conversations with our colleagues and asked them to refrain from sitting on such panels or attending such conferences going forward. Maybe we should stop forwarding announcements for conferences and panels with no women involved. Or maybe we should start featuring “manels” on IntLawGrrls. Thoughts?
March 1, 2018
The McGeorge Global Law Center asked me to put their comment into the blog, so that people could read it without having to scroll through the comments. I am reproducing it here, with some of my own thoughts below:
“We are organizing the conference and thank you for raising an important concern. Please understand that as of Thursday, February 22, when the announcement went out, we had invited more than ten women to speak at the conference. However, only one accepted the invitation, and she unfortunately had to withdraw for personal reasons. While we were distressed at failing to secure women speakers, we thought it necessary to publicize the conference at that time given that it was but a week away. We are nevertheless continuing to look for women speakers. We have since approached an additional number of women, and while almost all of them have conflicts, we believe that one invitee will be able to participate and are working with her to accommodate her schedule. We would also note that our resident election law expert, Dean Mary-Beth Moylan, has always been scheduled to moderate the election law panel. (The announcement only listed speakers and not the moderators or organizers.)
We are very troubled that people would assume we had not considered inviting women speakers, and wish to take the opportunity to clarify the record. We hope you will consider acknowledging the same in the text of your blog post as readers may not scroll down to read all the comments that follow.
With thanks, McGeorge Global Center”
I appreciate very much that McGeorge responded to this blog post and felt that it was important to clarify what their process was, and that they did, indeed, seek to include women. I wonder whether this was a fluke or whether it is a common phenomenon to invite 10 women and get only one who is available to participate (who unfortunately, dropped out in this particular case). Have others had similar experiences? Do men accept invitations to speak more frequently than women? If so, what explains that phenomenon?
I am also heartened that others have commented to this post or reached out to say that they are thinking about ways to ensure that women are included, like by asking organizers whether both sexes are present on the panel or at a conference. Another question this exchange has raised is, what happens if you did reach out to women, and none were available? What responsibilities, if any, do the organizers have in such a situation? What can they do to send the message to their students and conference attendees, or to the broader community, that the participation of women is important to them?
I hope we can continue to have this dialogue in an open and respectful way, whether on, or off-line.