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Weeknotes: How do we harness diversity?

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

The months since I posted my last blog entry end of November last year are a haze. My PC and I became one, and not in a good way. That’s not to say that I’m not very grateful for the opportunities that came my way during this period. But I constantly had this little nagging voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I needed to take stock of my week, take that much-needed time for self-reflection and for my weekly rendezvous of the good and the bad that happened in the world. So that’s what this is: the moment where I dive back in with all the good intentions in the world to keep it up as best as possible.

But first things first: I believe a small recap of what has kept me busy these past three months is called for. Early December I was contacted to help the UN Special Rapporteur on Peaceful Assembly and Association set up his new website. Big thanks to Valentine Sebile for helping me land this fabulous opportunity! We’re on the final stretch to launching the website and I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance to work on this project together with wonderful people. Thanks Ona Flores and John Kodjo!

This blurry period was also marked by developments in my other job. In collaboration with the minister of pensions and the minister of the self-employed, the public not for profit where I work launched a new platform regrouping statistics on pensions in Belgium. If governments, decisions-makers and researchers want to address social issues like pensions in a sustainable fashion, then reliable, open data are the least to ask for. does just that by providing transparent open data on pensions and will hopefully help pave the way to a more inclusive pension policy in Belgium.

And how has the world been faring? Even if I hopped off for a while, our world continued at its frantic pace. Occasionally checking in on the world’s information rollercoaster for brief peeks these last few weeks, one or two events caught my eye and deserve some brief reflection.

I was delighted to see the signing of the declaration on the Future of Europe this week, an initiative aimed at activating citizen engagement and participation to help define the future of the EU. This sounds so promising! I certainly hope the execution will be as successful as the idea behind it! I can’t think of a better time to engage citizens on the future direction of Europe than in the midst of this global crisis. Because challenge breeds change. I read somewhere that more than ever, our modern world is dominated by empires. Our current world order is such that small nation states don’t stand a chance against titans like China and the US. The EU must stand united if it wishes to continue to be a beacon for inclusivity, progress and human rights. It needs to turn its biggest challenge, that of diversity, into what it really is: its greatest strength. It must do so by harnessing its unique DNA and by working towards a more inclusive project, lest we fall apart. Crossing my fingers that the declaration of the Future of Europe will do just that !

On a less positive note, the developments on the Polish abortion ban have left me baffled. I think it’s particularly relevant to take a moment to reflect on this in the week that marked International Women’s day. Europe must stand strong if it wants to continue to uphold its values towards the rest of the world, even if it involves punishing its own family members. This is a rule of law issue and must be dealt with accordingly through action, not just empty words. That is, once the rule of law mechanism gets settled in court....

While the fight against Poland’s reactionary, authoritarian government continues to be led by strong women, other feminist issues caught my attention this week. A conversation with my father made me realise that the fact that women have to take a longer route to reach the same place in life as their male counterparts, is starting to enter our collective consciousness . This struck me when my father brought up the concept of “the mental load” of his own accord. A common concept in feminist circles, but one which I – clearly, mistakenly - believed to be restricted to this forum.

The mental load struggle is a minor inconvenience compared to so many other battles women are up against, but nevertheless one that means that women are obliged to take the longer path in life. If a woman wants to achieve the same as a man, then usually it will require more work, more hurdles to jump and more battles to fight. Managing the mental load, the invisible, organizational work that is required to run a family, means that other ambitions, for example professional ones, will suffer at its expense. If they are to be achieved, they will be so only by taking the inevitable long road. Discovering that my 67 year old father is aware of this concept and understands the impact it has on the life of modern women is refreshing, and hope-giving. Small advances are what the big fight is all about, and for this week, this felt like a beacon of light on the horizon.

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Do I feel proud or insulted for being congratulated, as a 67 year old male, for being aware of the concept of "mental load" and for understanding the impact it has on the life of modern women? :)

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