Brussels Forum 2017: What About The Women?

A Young Professional Summit Participant Perspective on GMF’s Brussels Forum

By: Romana Michelon

Brussels Forum is much more than just an opportunity to travel and score a ton of likes amongst friends and family on Facebook. It is about creating and sustaining professional networks, about getting the issues you care about across to the right people, and about coming together as a transatlantic community. Because of the all the opportunities that conferences have to offer, it is crucial they not be biased against women. Fortunately, Brussels Forum 2017 was rich in female participation and representation.

Looking at the conference agenda, subjects traditionally dominated by men — think transatlantic security policy or even technological innovation — were discussed by just as many brilliant men as brilliant women. And not just that: Q&A sessions were carefully managed to ensure that as diverse as possible a group would get the floor, and anyone having participated will know that women did not shy away from voicing their opinions. Even countering the most subtle and implicit of biases, this year’s Brussels Forum no longer spanned an entire weekend, and allowed for greater participation by working mothers.

The bottom line? While there was not a single discussion designed to address gender issues specifically, gender equality was mainstreamed in this year’s overall organization of Brussels Forum.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. For one thing, there really was not any excuse for not having at least one female speaker at Friday’s plenary session on the Eastern Mediterannean. Gender equality should never come at the cost of conference quality, but who would really believe that only these four men possessed sufficient expertise to discuss resources and strategy in the region, and where were the many women that otherwise flood similar debates? On the practical side of things, should organizers have reserved extra funds to allow for the participation of invitees that need to travel with young children (think tickets as well as in-house childcare facilities)? Who knows how many additional women would have agreed to join, if only they would not have had to worry about finding someone to look after their kid(s) while they were away.

Progress is not easy nor linear — and we should not be naive about the amount of work that lies ahead. That said, GMF’s approach is the right approach. Op top of dedicating our efforts to raising awareness of the importance of gender equality in international affairs, the need for mixed panels, and the relative lack of female leadership, it is time we forge practical change. Only by physicially giving women the space and opportunities to fill the roles traditionally dominated by men, do we change mindsets, expectations, and aspirations.

For more on GMF’s Brussels Forum, check out for all of the session videos, transcripts, blog posts, and more.

The ideas expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.