Portretfoto Jutta Joachim en Yvonne Benschop
Portretfoto Jutta Joachim en Yvonne Benschop

Gender and power research: as relevant as ever

Last Fall, the Hot Spot Gender and Power in Politics and Management, an interdisciplinary group of researchers, celebrated its tenth anniversary. Although there is a lot from the past to celebrate, the present and future pose new challenges to the researchers. ‘There is still a lot of work to be done.’

Gender research has a long history in Nijmegen. ‘Our Hot Spot was a hot spot before we started to think about Hot Spots’, says Yvonne Benschop, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Department of Business Administration. ‘Interdisciplinary collaboration has been part of the fabric of this faculty since its beginning, and we have been researching gender issues from multiple theoretical perspectives for a long time. When the faculty wanted to formalise interdisciplinary collaborations into Hot Spots, we saw that as an opportunity to institutionalise what was already there.’

Members of the Hot Spot participate in a broad range of research projects on organisational change; the body and identity politics; intersectionality; and globalisation and transnational feminism. Benschop: ‘We work with all disciplines of the Nijmegen School of Management: from human geography and public administration to economics, spatial planning, business administration, and political science.’ ‘We bring different viewpoints to disciplinary issues’, adds Associate Professor of Global Security Governance Jutta Joachim. ‘Our goal is to unravel taken for granted assumptions and to draw attention to the role of gender.’

Portretfoto Jutta Joachim

Unique in size and focus

Highlights of the past decade include all kinds of research projects, publications, conferences, grants, and trainings. ‘But equally important is our community’, says Joachim. ‘We have established an international network of researchers and policymakers. Many gender scholars are isolated at their institutions. We are privileged to have a Hot Spot at our university, with so many colleagues with whom we can talk gender.’ Benschop: ‘Our Hot Spot is indeed quite unique, both because we are still growing and because of our focus. That is one of the reasons we attract international students and PhD’s. It is known around the world: if you want to do interesting stuff, go to Nijmegen!’

Portretfoto Yvonne Benschop

Core challenges for the future

Some people assume that in 2023 gender is no longer an issue, that we have accomplished everything we need to accomplish. ‘But that is definitely not the case’, says Joachim. ‘There is still a lot of discrimination. In some places, we are even experiencing a reversal. Look at Poland where abortion rights have continuously restricted over the course of the past years or consider Hungary where the ruling Fidesz party successfully blocks LGBTQ+ people from gaining legal recognition.’ Benschop: ‘One of the core challenges for the future is: how can we integrate the questions of gender within this big set of other, equally important, inequalities based on class and ethnicity?’ Joachim nods. ‘Gender is at the core of many societal crises – such as climate change, war, and health crises – but at the same time at risk of falling off the agenda.’

Joachim also sees that when gender is taken into account, it is often reduced to meaning ‘women’. ‘But the issue is much bigger. Men are also discriminated against because of their identity. And women do not form one isolated category. That is another challenge: breaking through this one-dimensional assumption that it is just about women and that one size fits all.’

Growing demand

Looking back at the past ten years, Benschop and Joachim agree that gender research still has an important role to play. Joachim: ‘We see a growing demand in our research and the courses we teach, also from other disciplines.’ Benschop: ‘In the past, people thought of gender research as a short-term issue. But society evolves and presents us with new questions. Today’s research is not the same as in the 1990s. In that sense there is a parallel with ‘Through another lens’, the faculty’s 35th anniversary slogan. Our lens has often shifted and is still constantly shifting to reflect changes in society such as changing norms following #metoo that address the many manifestations of gender violence, or changing norms about gender diversity that inform the empowerment of intersex and trans people.'

Benschop believes gender research will always be relevant. ‘In a way, that is sad because we strive for change. Of course, change is happening, but you need a historical perspective to see that. When you look back fifty years, you say: wow, we have come a long way. But if you look at all the inequalities today, then you have to conclude: there is still a lot of work to be done.’

Text: Machiel van Zanten

Photo: Duncan de Fey

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