Gender (Im)balance at the World Resources Forum

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Dianne Dillon-Ridgley sits up in her chair and prepares to answer the moderator’s question. The attention of the eight men on stage shifts to the US-environmentalist and Human rights activist as she adjusts her pink jacket. She is the only woman among the nine experts engaging in the debate on global resource management at this year’s World Resources Forum.

“Gender balance fail” tweets Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner of Friends of the Earth Europe, an NGO that promotes environmentally sustainable societies. Global Action Plan International activist Marilyn Mehlmann points out that the gender imbalance “is even more striking in the lineup of this year’s WRF workshop leaders.” Out of the 22 workshops, only two were led by women. The men-women ratio of the WRF’s “Scientific Expert Committee” is 29:2.

Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, the only female speaker at Monday's plenary session on resource management.

Stürmer Foto

Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, the only female speaker at Monday's plenary session on resource management.

One female participant felt that the phenomenon was part of a larger trend in the sciences. “Resource efficiency is a male topic because it covers economy and technology–two fields usually preferred by men,” said the 29-year-old scientist, who did not want to tell her name.

33-year-old Bastien Girod, member of the Swiss National Parliament for the Green Party said he “didn’t notice that there were fewer women than men at the conference.” According to him, there were “many women” in the audience compared to other similar conferences, although “maybe less among the speakers.” High school student Caterina Bonora said “I would like to see more women here.” The 18-year-old felt that this would be positive for the debate, since “men and women think differently.”

Roland Clift, Executive Director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology and a professor, does not think that „resource efficiency is a male topic.” He adds that the research center in the UK where he works is very gender balanced. According to the 71-year-old, the WRF’s gender problem has to do with academic hierarchy structures, not the topic itself. „People in senior academic and political positions are more likely to be men, because women haven’t been represented in these fields long enough“, he says.

When asked about the gender imbalance, Bas de Leeuw, Managing Director of the WRF says: “It was bad luck.” According to him the WRF team did invite qualified women, “many of whom were unable to attend the conference for different reasons. We want qualified speakers to present at WRF”, he says. “Gender is not an issue.”

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