Men Engaging in the Gender Equality discussion: a conversation with Dr. Tobias Denskus of Malmö Univ

Leading up to International Women's Day on March 8th, Women in Global Health wanted to highlight how gender equality affects everyone and it is beneficial to all for us to achieve it within global health leadership. Along this thinking, Women in Global Health set out to interview a few Male Champions on their views on gender equality and how they are addressing it within their own networks. Dr. Tobias Denskus is a Senior Lecturer in Communication for Development in the School of Arts and Communication at Malmö University in Sweden and is active in gender equality conversations on Twitter. Read on to see our conversation with Dr. Denskus.

[Women in Global Health]: In what ways have you noticed gender inequality at the leadership level during your career in global health?

[Dr. Denskus]: This is a bit of a tricky question as I would not consider myself a ‘leader’ at this point in my career but I have been very fortunate throughout my post-graduate studies and work to have great female leaders and mentors in various organizations. So, I often notice the absence of diversity and equality in organizations, panels, or teams as not being the norm.

[if !supportLists][Women in Global Health]: [endif]How did you get involved in work addressing gender equality? Was there a specific reason that pushed you into this field?

[Dr. Denskus]: I think it started during my PhD research and wasn’t with a single incident, but more a combination of various aspects- from very uncreative, ‘masculine’ meeting spaces of the peace-building community to a lack of diversity in policy discussions- and from there it was a small step to discover #allmalepanel. As a researcher, I am still very much interested in performances and representations- how is a ‘meeting of the OECD sub-committee xyz performed’ and why is it ‘normal’ that there is a group of older men in suits making decisions? It’s an interesting combination of spaces, places, ‘products,’ and outputs in which traditional gender roles often become very visible.

[if !supportLists][Women in Global Health]: [endif]How have you been involved in addressing inequality in global health leadership?

[Dr. Denskus]: I have been fortunate to work in a Swedish university that takes equality very seriously (even by Scandinavian standards…) and there is fantastic female leadership in all areas of the organization, whether it relates to research, teaching or administration. At the same time, I work in a diverse group that does not have a full-time female academic in the team- which is a problem. So we are discussing the complexities of inequalities a lot and trying to mitigate by relying on great female colleagues in our network. I discuss the topic as often as possible within our faculty.

[if !supportLists][Women in Global Health]: [endif]What do you do to get people around you interested in working with gender equality? (ie in your workplace, personal life, etc.)

[Dr. Denskus]: My wife is a gender and development expert and as a public sector employer Malmö University is bound by law to take equality and diversity seriously. I also work in international development which has been featuring some of the most active gender debates for a long time. So, I certainly do not need to re-invent the wheel so much as remind students and colleagues of the great work and role-models that are out there.

[if !supportLists][Women in Global Health]: [endif]Where do you see opportunities to improve the inequality? Are there strategies you’ve seen implemented or used yourself that have helped?

[Dr. Denskus]: With the limited resources I have access to and that we as a team can use, we always try to be as open and transparent as possible -and luckily that has attracted fantastic female talent as adjunct faculty, visiting researchers and student assistants. We are certainly not complacent and we will try harder, but openness to learn and be challenged is an important first step.

[if !supportLists][Women in Global Health]: [endif]Solving inequality requires an ‘all hands-on deck’ response, we need all genders to address and engage in the issue. Therefore, what role do you think men can play in addressing this inequality?

[Dr. Denskus]: It may sound a bit paradoxical, but I think in some ways men sometimes need to do consciously less. A good example are large academic conferences where there is a lot of talk about gender inequality-and yet, the same group of academic men attend them year in and year out. Stepping back, not attending, or using your departmental funds to support a female PhD student can all be little steps to ensure that you are not among the group of men who complain about other male professors dominating the conference space. It is hard sometimes to see yourself as the bass player in the background when our academic culture very often rewards the instrumental solo, center stage…

[if !supportLists][Women in Global Health]: [endif]What advice do you have for young men regarding gender equality and moving forward?

[Dr. Denskus]: I think [what's important is]:

  • respectful communication;

  • a willingness for empathy;

  • and a realization that the world is complicated, sometimes crazy, and full of amazing people.

These form a good foundation to think about and act in a way that those around you are empowered, loved, and heard. Such a foundation will hopefully help to create inclusive communities that go beyond questions of what men need to ‘give’ or women need to ‘take.’ But I understand that I am very idealistic now…

[if !supportLists][Women in Global Health]: [endif]In your opinion, how will we reach gender equality?

[Dr. Denskus]: Humanitarian aid is sometimes described as an ‘imperfect offering’ and I think some notion of ‘imperfection’ will always surround us because inequalities are so complicated and deeply entrenched. To phrase it slightly provocatively: I don’t believe that every 6-person panel should have 3 female and 3 male participants. Age, class, ethnic, religious or sexual orientation are all important dimensions and we need to constantly re-negotiate issues of power and empowerment, of who is (re)presented and whose voices count. The process is important even if the outcome may never be ‘perfect.’

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