How do we organise for gender equality at university? The students’ take on challenges and strategies.

On 5 November 2021, students from Sabanci University, in Turkey, and the University of Deusto, in Spain, held an online roundtable to share their perspectives on how gender equality issues are tackled in the university context. The discussions were moderated by Ilayda Ece Ova and Fernanda Campanini from the GEARING-Roles team. Two students participated as speakers from each of the institutions (Melis Yılmaz from Hacettepe and Ege Atacan from Sabanci, and Irati Rico and Marta Lázaro from Deusto). Overall, the event was attended by around 60 people from different European countries.

During the roundtable students also shared the initiatives they had been organising to promote gender equality and the ideas they had on overcoming any challenges and resistances to gender equality.

It was clear from their discussions that gender inequality in the university is rarely recognised by the student community rather, universities are often considered “equal environments” by many students where gender discriminations do not take place. However, the reality is very different. Both Turkish and Spanish students stated that there is a lack of consciousness among the student community on the meaning of gender bias and sexual harassment and how discrimination happens in practice. Irati Rico from Deusto said: 

“In face-to-face classes, female students participate less than male students, while they (female students) are more likely to participate when courses are online; also, girls are less represented in sports and more represented in cultural activities. Girls and boys sometimes receive unequal treatment in classroom and evaluations.”

The joint discussion between different students also allowed for a reflection on how gender equality can be understood differently in diverse contexts. For instance, Sabanci students discussed the measures that the LGBTIQ+ community have taken over the last years to promote equality in academia. However, this is still a pending discussion at Deusto, and therefore little action has been carried out.

Students from Deusto have mostly used social networks (e.g. Instagram and TikTok) to promote gender equality and have carried out activities that encourage interaction between the student community and other stakeholders, within the institution as well as outside of the institution.

The impact of various social-political factors present in both Spain and Turkey were quite clear in the in the implementation of gender equality actions. Considering the contextual differences in the power structures that govern gender relations, Ege Atacan pointed out that

While some of us are trying to further queer and feminist struggles in the face of homophobic and sexist administrations, others are trying to raise awareness in an environment in which gender issues are pushed aside as secondary.

Further, the debate approached the differences in gender understandings between students in the social sciences and those in the STEM field. Speakers emphasised how different educational backgrounds not only represent different professional interests, but also affect the ways in which students from different disciplines communicate, the leisure activities they engage in, and the different social status they occupy. When it comes to gender equality, students agree that such issues are more difficult to address in predominantly STEM environments, and that innovative means are needed to reach the various groups in a friendly and effective way.

All these discussions led to the students to conclude those initiatives aimed at increasing gender equality amongst university students must use current communication tools and adapt to the different contexts and fields of knowledge. As Ege Atacan from Sabanci stated:

“adapting to the changing means of communication is very difficult but ultimately worth it. We talked about how much engagement opportunities TikTok can bring, and as a representative from Cins Club 1 , I realised that the fact that our club does not have a TikTok account at all was something that hindered our potential of reaching out. The rule of thumb of ‘adapting with the times’ seems much more prevalent after these discussions to me than it used to.”

The use of humour was also highlighted as a powerful means to effectively reach different groups and raise awareness about serious issues in a way that was more easily absorbed than through traditional campaigns. As students from Sabanci expressed, “using feminist and/or queer humour might be a good way to tackle the frustration of being seen as “killjoys” when raising gender inequality issues.

Overall, the roundtable brought to light the different ways that gender roles are enforced in the university context. It also discussed the ways the student community are pushing for change and the challenges they are facing. Irati Rico from Deusto expressed:

“as a student, I believe there is still a lot to do, but I think it was great to share strategies and challenges among us. Not only because it gives you a glimpse of what the situation looks like in other countries and how each country faces its own challenges, but also to share good practices, to learn from each other and to build up a community that is aware of this issue, and that is willing to change the current situation.”

Without a doubt, the event served as an opportunity to share experiences and engage in mutual learning opportunities. As well as a powerful format for raising awareness of gender equality among young people.


Ege Atacan (Sabanci University), and Irati Rico (University of Deusto)

[1] More information on Cins Club can be found here:

Photo by Jaime Lopes on Unsplash

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