7.3 Gender and Model United Nations

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Model UN conferences offers insight into international politics and offer the chance to meet and network with students who are also interested in global politics. However, there tends to be a gendered dynamic to this experience, so it is important for delegates to keep this in mind before going into conference.

Before I go further I want to acknowledge that this is written from my own experience of Model UN and gender and that, given the range of possible gender expressions, what I say here many not necessarily resonate with your own experience.  In particular, I would like to recognize that this article does not address the experience of transgendered delegate.

The environment of Model UN ranges from competitive, to diplomatic and friendly. It creates a space for students who are typically in undergraduate classes to meet delegates and share insights, perspectives and even personal stories from their own experiences. Yet the environment of college students in this type of environment can lead to unequal power dynamics and promote heterosexual relationships. In this part of the handbook, I will offer my own experience as a female delegate about the gendered dynamic of MUN.

I don’t want to generalize about how each conference is run, but I found that I struggled more negotiating with male colleagues than female colleagues, whether that was based on our positions or because of my gender. I found that it was more common for my female partners to get a note asking for their phone number or for a date by male partners. I also noticed that my male colleagues gave more “memorable” speeches, whether it is more outrageous or daring, and it was always perceived as being funny, or accurate to world politics.

I was also more worried about how I looked or appeared, not wanting to dress to flashy or too frumpy, but also wanting to come off as professional. However, I also have noticed a power dynamic in committees where the main issue being discussed is women’s rights. I remember having to explain to some of my female colleagues that men can also be feminists, and just how unproductive it is to shut out the male perspective in these discussions.

These gendered aspects to MUN can be credited to several factors; perhaps it is because of the college setting or the competitive nature of Model UN. I would also like to point out how I experienced more of this power dynamic with conferences in the United States. I found that I experienced more micro-aggression from American delegates during conference.

So, what to do if you find yourself in this situation where you think your colleagues are acting towards you in a way that is due to your gender or your identity? I would first say that we have a no tolerance policy of sexual harassment (as do most conferences) so you can always contact a Head Delegate or the Faculty Advisor to address it. I would also say you absolutely have the right to walk away from a person or group that you feel threatened by or uncomfortable with , because you do not need to experience or tolerate that kind of behavior during your time in conferences. Most chairs and advisors take this behavior seriously, so please let us know if you are experiencing it in any way. Looking at conference with a gendered lens also has helped me in conference to check myself on how I am acting and behaving towards others, which has made my experience more memorable and useful.

Katelyn James for Pace University, 2014. Version 3.0 BETA. For information, permissions or corrections, contact Dr. Matthew Bolton, mbolton@pace.edu