Monday, 25 November 2013

Female Inclusivity in Dutch Debating: 2013/2014 season

Last August I published a statistical analysis of  female participation in the Dutch debating scene. The post
received positive feedback, although concrete steps to look at causes of lessened female participation, attempts to create safe spaces, or cross-sectional and similar reports about other minorities have still not been undertaken. While the RA Open had a fantastic equity officer in Karin Merckens, and a comprehensive equity policy drafted in consultation with NUDC Women's Officer Jennie Hope, the Dutch Debate Association voted down a proposal to investigate equity issues in the last few years.
This blogpost was sparked when I realised that last at Cicero, the Dutch-language season opener, I judged the final as part of an all-male panel, listening to an all-male final debate.

The majority's opinion seems to be that equity would lead to the "PC brigade" invading free thought at debate competitions. This is frankly an absurd suggestion, as an equity officer is more akin to dispute resolution. Take the following example: A debater makes an ill-received argument that 'gender roles' can be a positive force in the world, as women biologically are better suited to caring roles (a common opinion in society). The debater who takes offense goes to the equity officer. This officer can now mediate a discussion between the one who received offense, and the one who offended. The grievance can be resolved by offering various suggestions for how the argument could be interpreted and by perhaps coming to the conclusion that this is an argument that can potentially cause offence if formulated in a brusque manner. In this way the political opinions of both participants aren't coerced, both participants have learned the value of phrasing an argument carefully (something which isn't "political correctness", but more learning the fine line between having valuable discourse and causing personal offence) and any anger or upset between the two participants has been solved.
Not having this conversation means that a speaker may still feel offended or hurt, but has nowhere to go to with her concern. She may at the very least lose out on socially interacting with the other speaker, and in the worst case feel not welcome at a debate activity where she's offended. But moreover, even if the offense isn't granted (or, for lack of a better term, "overblown"), if there's no equity officer to comfort this person and make the speaker feel safe, this "overblown" offence can still cause hurt for the offended speaker.

This simple realisation, that dealing with equity means that people feel safe and comfortable regardless of whether equity offences are recorded, is still lacking in the scene. The need for equity also still isn't felt, as many prominent debaters (shockingly, most of them white men) say they've never heard about any equity offences that have happened in the scene. Unsurprisingly, this mirrors the discourse about racism in the wider Dutch society that has recently erupted. Popular commentary about various issues such as racist comments in Holland Got Talent, the tradition of Zwarte Piet or  a recent Amnesty International report condemning Dutch police for racial profiling has all been waived away by white talking heads saying "there are more important things", "this isn't racist but innocent ("jokish") behaviour", "minorities should be tolerant to our culture", et cetera.

For that reason, I will personally continue to investigate if there are still problems with inclusivity. Qualitative research for this is hard to do (although in the UK a qualitative report has been compiled), and anecdotal evidence is difficult for me to come by due to issues of my personal privilege. The tool I will at the very least resort to is the blunt tool of quantitative analysis. So during this debate season I will look at Dutch competitions and continue to compile statistics of female participation.

A few notes on methodology:
  • I will compile data from speakertabs, and so limit myself initially to speakers. If organisations want to send me a list of judges and volunteers I would be very grateful and include these lists in the statistics.
  • the process is as follows: I will base the sex of a person on his or her name; if this name is ambiguous I will try to use social media to identify the sex of the person (as the person self-identifies on Facebook).If this proves inconclusive this person will be omitted from the data. I will not publish the names of individuals in order to preserve their privacy. I will deem a gender bias to conclusively exist if more than 60 percent of the competition is of one gender.
  • This study focuses on female participation only for two earlier mentioned reasons: Firstly, that ethnicity, sexual preference or other indicators can't be extracted from the available data. Secondly, because female university attendance rates in the Netherlands is higher than male attendance rates, so a lower female debate participation rate is likely a result of biases. For other groups there is a lack of available data for university attendance, so it is hard to reason if a low participation rate is correlated with something specific within our community or activity.
  • As this is a statistical analysis I do not infer any causes for why potential biases may exist, and leave this up to further debate and research that hopefully will arise.
  • International competitions (UCR Open, UCU Open and Leiden Open) are omitted from this dataset as data about Dutch participation rates can be skewed because of international participants. This sadly means that I may miss out on some data on foreign students speaking in The Netherlands.
Cicero 2013

Tab information

Cicero Toernooi 2013Numbers MaleNumbers FemaleTotal NumbersPercentage MalePercentage FemalePercentage Total

Break information

Pro-am break: 3 male speakers, 1 female speaker.
Open break: 7 male speakers, 1 female speaker.
Top ten speakers: 8 male speakers, 2 female speakers.
Judge break: 11 male judges, 4 female judges.


Cicero Toernooi 2013 misses 0,24 percentage points to, as a tournament, rank as being significantly biased.
Interestingly, the top end of the competition is more male dominated than the competition as a whole.

1 comment:

  1. Daan!

    Interessante materie hoor. Zou je mij kunnen toelichten
    1) Waarom aanwezigheid van vrouwelijke deelnemers op toernooien relevante informatie geeft over een 'probleem' betreffende gender bias.
    2) Op grond van welk statistisch criterium je een significantiegrens bij 60% legt? Ga je initieel uit van een poissonverdeling?
    3) Stel dat je een 'bias' vindt, dan denk ik dat het van belang is om aan te tonen dat deze in debatteren groter is dan in andere sporten. Pak 'm beet: schaken, bridgen, ijsdansen.

    Hartelijke groet,

    PS: Excuses voor mijn gebruik van de Nederlandse taal in communicatie van Nederlander naar Nederlander.