It is a fact that “Manels” or all male panels are a reality. It is a subtle form of excluding women’s voices and perspectives at important discussions and decision making events.
Gender equality is a popular buzz word and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) is dedicated to it. There are many reasons we have yet to achieve it. Gender inequality is all around us, including on TV and at the various events and conferences we attend.
I just returned from Habitat III, the UN Habitat’s flagship event that is held once in 20 years to decide on policies and strategies regarding Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Whilst everyone agreed that the voices of women and girls must be included in development plans and policies, it was disappointing to see many male panels. Some of them had “token” women moderators.
This is common. Last year in the Paris Climate Conference (COP21), only 16 out of the 58 main figures were women. The absence of women in the Syria and Yemen peace processes are also glaring. But such blatant disrespect and sidelining of women is not restricted to high level conferences.
Across the last few months, Safecity and SheThePeople have scanned the Indian TV networks, conferences and events for “manels” or all male panels. Shockingly, we found that on average of over 100 data points, 18% of TV news panelists and 12% of conference panelists are women. The latest example is the industry body NASSCOM’s product conclave which had 168 male speakers and a mere 18 women speakers!
There are enough qualified women to be speakers if one has the will to find them. Statistically, the “manels” should never happen, even in fields that are male-dominated. Mathematician Greg Martin has created a statistical probability analysis that can be applied to any field where there is reliable data on the field’s gender distribution. He estimated that women are 24% of PhDs in mathematics, so statistically, panels of these high level mathematicians should have at least 1 in 4 women speakers, not 1 in 19, as has been the case at mathematics conferences. The fact that manels exist clearly shows that gender discrimination is taking place and there is bias in the selection process.
Gender equality should not be a buzz word which is mouthed without “walking the talk”.
As mentioned in the SDG 5, gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.