By Anastasia Zabaniotou (School of Engineering, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; Mediterranean Network of Schools of Engineering and Management (RMEI)
The Mediterranean Network of Engineering Schools (RMEI) was established in 1997 in France, by around 100 Engineering Schools from different Mediterranean countries. The network was later affiliated to UNESCO UniTwin chair of Sustainable Development Innovations (http://www.rmei.info/index.php/en/). The network embraces a diversity of cultures, religions, political and socio-economic differences that exist among the Mediterranean countries.
Based on a strong set of common values among its members, and relations that are based on trust, the network envisions building Sustainable Development (SD) and Peace in the Mediterranean region by bridging people through common history and values. The mission of the network is to help future engineers, scientists, and managers (men and women) to become able for creative problem-solving and technical innovations at local and global level, that are environmentally and socially sound. The network considers learning, training, research & innovation (R&I), and transformation in the context of co-creation. It envisions to contribute to this transformation, knowing that global challenges are complex and interrelated, requiring interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary and system-thinking approaches and respect to the local cultures.
The Higher Engineering Education (HEE) of the 21st century calls for respect to the ecosystems and for openness towards society, respecting inclusion and diversity. RMEI acts as a Living Lab of people co-learning and co-implementing SDGs Technological Innovations, such as SDG6, SDG7, SDG9, SDG11, SDG12, SDG13, SDG14, SDG15 innovations directly connected to engineering practices. It also acts as a Social Change Lab of people co-learning and co-changing gender inequality patterns in engineering education in synergy with the implementation of other SDGs.
Thriving for a sustainable world, gender equality is important for the network, because it is acknowledged as a social value and human right. Women represent more than half of world’s population, they can contribute to a sustainable present and future, while both men and women engineers need to contribute equally towards bringing sustainable proposals for the societies. Around many issues concerning work, education, and industrial production, food and agriculture, energy, and water, etc., dominant development pathways have often contributed to both unsustainability and gender inequality. Environmental-ecological challenges are created by market actors seeking to secure profit by the overexploitation of natural and human capitals.
Ecological unsustainability and social inequalities are being produced by development models that support the persistence of unequal power relations between women and men in all sectors including education. These intersections of unsustainability and gender inequality are pushing planetary boundaries and create stresses and climate change-based risks.
RMEI is partner of TARGET, which aims to the advancement of gender equality in research and innovation by supporting a reflexive gender equality policy in seven gender equality innovating institutions (GEIIs) in the Mediterranean regions, including the RMEI network (https://www.gendertarget.eu/). The Mediterranean countries have been characterized as relatively ‘inactive’ in developing gender equality policies in R&I. Traditional engineering schools across the Mediterranean world are characterized by patriarchal, hierarchical structures of command and control, in most of the cases, and gender bias.
Gender equality and sustainability can powerfully reinforce each other in alternative pathways. Engineers women’s knowledge, agency and collective action are central in managing technological innovations and services towards delivering livelihood and conservation benefits, to scale up capacity to reduce vulnerabilities to climate change. The network recognizes that gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but is a significant factor for the sustainable and resilient development of societies and for enhancing the performance of businesses and institutions. It envisions to offer a support for the creation of a “gender equality culture” for all involved members (professors, students, leaders of the engineering institutions of the Mediterranean countries, etc.) and to inspire gender equality in the member-institutions (schools) as a fundamental prerequisite to address the pressing global and local challenges of environmental, climatic, economic, and social dimensions that the Mediterranean is facing today. The network aims for technological pathways to be truly sustainable and advance gender equality and human rights, by involving women in engineering schools’ leadership and operation, and other forms of collective action and engagement.
In this context, RMEI with the support of TARGET has designed a tailored methodology to bring gender equality change, by taking the following paths:
- Leading awareness, fostering cultural shift on gender equality.
- Fostering collaborative learning and participatory acting for gender equality.
- Building capacity and competence of gender equality to reflect on practices and action plan.
- Implementing a gender balance at the network’s governance.
- Including the gender dimension in the network’s policy.
- Catalyzing the development of gender equality committees/centers in member-institutions
- Building a community of practice.
- Harvesting gender equality benefits from the synergies with other SDGs innovations
RMEI is cultivating a strong potential regarding institutional change on gender equality through its Social Change Lab, at two levels:
- At the network level (board, working group, policy, strategy).
- At members-institutions level.
It takes an action research, to become aware of gender equality problems yet unidentified, to realize the need of changes, following the phases:
|1. Identification and awareness of the wicked problem of gender equality in engineering education.|
|2. Articulation of a shared common purpose.|
|3. Diagnosis of the level of the problem by using a gender equality audit, data gathering (survey), feedback of results, and joint action planning.|
|4. Transformation phase including actions relating to learning processes and to planning and inspiring changes in the network and at the members.|
|5. Output phase including changes in behavior (if any) resulting from corrective action steps taken following the second stage and structural change.|
The RMEI gender equality work plan includes:
Based on TARGET project’s evaluation framework and guidelines, and on members creativity, a tailored, bottom-up and case-specific self-assessment process was developed tracing the empirical evidence of the interventions results. Tailored indicators to assess the gender equality progress, considering the systemic view of the cross-cutting gender analyses interdependently connected to sustainable development goals innovations, were applied.
The developed RMEI Gender Equality Change Lab (GECL) has the following high added- value characteristics:
- Transparent Leadership
- Good Communication and Collaboration
- Creates Active Learners
- Creates Change Agents
- Creates Synergies of SDG5 with other SDGs innovations
- Creates Commitment of members based on Trust
- Practitioners Character
- Multi-Stakeholders Participation Character
- Sharing Case-Studies and Exchange Best Practices
- Contributes to Cultural Narratives
- Creates New forms of Learning in an Ever-Changing World
Finally, the RMEI Change Lab on gender equality (GECL) is a practice-driven creation, representing a pragmatic approach to SDG5 innovations, characterized by a reflexive approach of interventions in real-life, with the active involvement of users (member-institutions), and the support (financial and experience-transferring) of the TARGET project.
It benefits from the existing co-sharing and collaborating conditions that the network had developed, and inspires a cultural and institutional/structural change at a broader level, that of Engineering Schools in Mediterranean countries, by involving a range of stakeholders (policy- makers, practitioners, administrators, researchers, etc.).
The RMEI-GECL is challenging the melting of traditional boundaries around engineering institutions, by moving from separate bureaucratic centrally managed institutions to interconnected ecologies of self-assembling networking and collaboration with mutually beneficial partnerships, where individual learners are becoming change agents to kick off the output phase of the other learners’ metabolism and finally create an ecosystem of metabolizing learners in the Mediterranean Engineering Education, life and societies.
Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank all members of the RMEI Change Lab: Mr O. Boiron, executive director of RMEI office and professor at ECM-France, Ms Fatma Asfour, vice-president of RMEI, professor at University of Cairo, Egypt; Mr Massimo Guarascio (leader of GAMe) professor at Sapienza University, Italy, Ms Najoua Essoukri Ben Amara and Mr Ghiss Moncef professors at ENISo-Tunisia; Mr Khalid Najib and Ms Ibtissam Medarhri, professors at ENSMR-Maroc; Ms Tilda Karkour Akiki, Associate Dean of School of Engineering, Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, Lebanon; Mr Khaled Al-Sahili, Dean of the Engineering School, at Al-Najah National University, Nablus, West Bank, Palestine; Mr Juan Jesus Perez, Vice Dean at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya(UPC),
Barcelona, Spain and all students from RMEI-GAMe are acknowledged. Authorities of the member-institutions and various stakeholders participated in the workshops are acknowledged.