Gender, Equity and Diversity Work Through WSRC
Puja KAPAI, Convenor
The Women’s Studies Research Centre (WSRC) brings researchers, policy makers, leaders from different sectors and from within the broader community together around issues of gender, sexuality and diversity across disciplines, cultures, and contexts. WSRC is committed to promoting research and dialogue in areas crucial to the development of women’s, gender, sexuality, and diversity studies. We organize seminars, conferences and symposia and are a hub for research activity, collaboration, and multilevel stakeholder engagement in the efforts to achieve equity and expand opportunities for all.
Approved in 1994 as a HKU virtual center, the WSRC collective has instituted new courses in various faculties, collaborated with colleagues across the university to integrate gender as a frame of analysis, and has helped to shape various interdisciplinary initiatives. On several occasions, WSRC has reached beyond the university to partner with NGOs, social enterprises, and governmental institutions to facilitate a cross-community discourse on integrating the gender / sexuality / diversity lens to inform our work and initiatives. In its early years, WSRC members collaborated with community stakeholders in the establishment of the Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission, The Women’s Commission, and the extension of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to Hong Kong in 1996. Prior to the 1995 Fourth World Conference in Beijing, WSRC members worked with women’s groups across the spectrum to support all those representing Hong Kong in Beijing.
WSRC has over the course of the years organized numerous activities with a view to engendering a culture of conversation about gendered perspectives across all disciplines and fields. WSRC also aims to systematically broaden these initiatives to include other categories of analysis that are often rendered invisible in dominant discourses. Drawing on interdisciplinary and intersectional theoretical frameworks, as well as candid and practical reflections on the progress and process of engendering inclusivity through engaging a diversity of perspectives, our recently launched seminar series, Gender Plus covers a host of themes highlighting these vital intersections and connections. It is hoped that these conversations can spark innovative ideas for interdisciplinary and collaborative research in relation to the intersections where disciplinary themes coincide to offer enriched perspectives, understandings and framing of social phenomena.
More recently, WSRC’s vision has expanded in tandem with new developments at HKU and in Hong Kong generally. As with all efforts to achieve change, one needs a vision to aspire to. Motivation and passion need to be accompanied by the powerful and influential action to deliver a coordinated response if we want to achieve systemic change. WSRC is very proud to have as the University’s leader, someone who has made a global and public commitment for and on behalf of the University of Hong Kong, to lead these efforts in Hong Kong as part of the UN Women’s HeforShe movement.
With the vision that Gender Equality can and should be a cause that unites everyone, with the university leadership working from the top down, WSRC works from the bottom up. At WSRC, we have, for over two decades generated ideas, solutions, and goodwill by seeking common ground across diversity. WSRC is a place for affiliated faculty to come together to share their ideas, research, to co-supervise and train people on gender, women’s and diversity studies.
There is much talk of tribes or silos in the university but the best thinking transcends both. A truly independent and cross/interdisciplinary WSRC has existed for nearly a quarter of a century. If men and women who care about the work who have been keeping this up are to continue, we need dedicated resources to support things like that more regularly and to that end, welcome opportunities to collaborate in research and other activities that may engage interested stakeholders who can fund projects or initiatives like ours.
The need to formalize WSRC through institutional support of some kind has been urgent now for some time. The Centre has however, continued to operate on its initial budget from its founding in 1994, displaying its utmost scrupulousness in terms of expenditure but also, highlighting the severe limitations of operating on a gradually dwindling fund, which does not permit the appointment of dedicated staff support or research assistance. WSRC has, despite this, worked to rebrand and reach out to new members and as of 1 September 2016, our mailing list boasts 471 members from across the university, NGO community and the broader Hong Kong society, including several global connections.
We have continued our annual Spring Workshop and International Women’s Day events and have expanded our seminars – co-branding them HeforShe events where appropriate. We have launched successfully our Gender Plus events, with the inaugural lecture (on Gender and the Law) having been delivered by Judge Allyson Duncan, Judge of the 4th Circuit Courts of Appeal in the United States and the first African American woman to be appointed to an appellate court and to chair the American Bar Association, in April 2016. Given recent conversations, review processes and research output in relation to gender equity issues, particularly across disciplines and in the higher education sector as a whole, there is need to move beyond a virtual centre into something more concrete with a formal structure and funding. Thus far, WSRC has not received any funding at the institutional level but in light of the relevance, significance and impact of this work, we are hopeful this will change in due course.
WSRC has historically been and continues to be uniquely placed due to its cross-university and cross-community connections to drive conversations and discourse on gender, diversity and equity and to do capacity building work as a form of applied research. WSRC’s research and collaborative activity around gender and diversity initiatives has filled a critical structural gap at the University since most Universities have either a Gender Studies or equivalent centre or academic studies program. WSRC has served as an important hub where people come to for support and questions, collaborate on research and knowledge exchange initiatives, and to share expertise about the latest theoretical and intellectual developments in the fields of women’s/gender/sexuality/queer/intersectionality studies. WSRC has nurtured these connections and produced important work for gender and women by leading out on various initiatives and forming synergies between community and academe. Through its capacity building work, the centre has engaged in knowledge exchange, advancement and advocacy of social justice at local and global engagement platforms.
Our vision and hope is that this work will gradually permeate other spheres of knowledge to encourage the broader community to put equity and social justice issues into focus by encouraging a sense of civic duty to and responsibility to our fellow beings.