14 March 2024

Moderating the 2024 Geneva Gender Debate

Master student in International and Development Studies (MINT) at the Geneva Graduate Institute, Marie Holch discuses her experience moderating the fifth Geneva Gender Debate. The debate was hosted by the Institute in partnership with the International Gender Champions on 5 March 2024 as part of the Institute's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Initiative, and tackled the substantial gap between women’s particularly high stake in environmental conservation and their ability to act on it, due to their significant underrepresentation in institutions forming environmental policy.


What do you study, and what are you writing your thesis about?

I am a Master student in International and Development Studies at the Geneva Graduate Institute, specialising in Gender, Race and Diversity. During my two years, I have focused on issues related to gender, peace and security as well as gender and development. In my MA thesis, I  examine how gender has been integrated into UN disarmament efforts.


How did you get involved with the Geneva Gender Debate?

The International Gender Champions team approached me about moderating the event. I had worked with them in the past on a joint event in my former capacity as co-chair of the Gender, Peace and Security Coalition (GPSC). I was honoured and very excited to be asked to moderate, as this was a completely new and challenging experience for me. Having attended the previous Geneva Gender Debate in 2023, I was already familiar with the format of the event and appreciated its interactive and fun nature.


The motion debated was “This house believes that 50:50 representation of men and women should be made mandatory for all environment-related multilateral conferences, negotiations and fora” Where did you initially stand on the issue, and did the debate cause you to think about the issue in a new way?

Before the debate, I was inclined to support the motion. In my experience, quotas are an effective tool to increase the representation of women or other marginalised  groups in various contexts, especially when progress is very slow. However, as the "against" team showed, quotas are not a stand-alone solution to address the root causes of gender inequality. Rather, it is one tool in the toolbox. So I think the debate contributed to a more nuanced picture when it comes to equal representation of men, women and non-binary people. I also think it is important to take an intersectional feminist approach to quotas, which would mean looking not only at gender but also at intersecting identities. For example, in the context of environmental negotiations, this could mean making sure that indigenous women are represented in the negotiations. 


You are the class representative of the MINT Gender, Race and Diversity specialisation, and you obviously feel strongly about the topic. What do you think is the number one thing that needs to change for women and nonbinary people to be systematically represented in positions of power?

I do not think there is one perfect solution. Systemic barriers vary from context to context. On the one hand, it is important to promote inclusive policies that address these structural barriers. On the other hand, there needs to be cultural change in regard to gender roles and expectations. Overall, we need to be careful not to be fooled by tokenistic representation and ensure that meaningful and intersectional representation is considered at all levels and positions.


Watch the 2024 Geneva Gender Debate

Marie Holch (centre) in conversation with the debaters (left to right): Ambassador Matthew Wilson, Ambassador Nadia Theodore, Jean-Pierre Reymond, and Adriana Quiñones.