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NEWS | CONFERENCE OPENING

Interdisciplinary debate on gender, sexuality and justice

On Monday 21 August, the fourth Bergen Exchanges conference opened with a special focus on legislation as a catalyst for social change regarding gender and sexuality.

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For the fourth year, UiB researcher Siri Gloppen (right) gathered researchers across disciplines for the Bergen Exchanges conference. Here with the opening keynote speaker Rashida Manjoo from the University of Cape Town. Photo: Sver
RESEARCH AND ACTIVISM: For the fourth year, UiB researcher Siri Gloppen (right) gathered researchers across disciplines for the Bergen Exchanges conference. Here with the opening keynote speaker Rashida Manjoo from the University of Cape Town.

The annual conference is a cooperation between the University of Bergen (UiB) and

Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), organised by the Centre on Law & Social Justice.

One of the conference highlights is the Annual Lecture on Law & Social Transformation, in collaboration with the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights. This year, Professor Kathryn Sikkink from Harvard University will speak on the subject “Evidence of Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century”. The event will be in the University Aula on Wednesday 23 August 18:00 and is open for all.

Physical and virtual meeting point

For three years the research centre has been a meeting point for researchers, both physically at the Resource Centre (a joint venture between CMI and UiB) and virtually via digital communication channels, enabling global cooperation.

“How is the law used to create greater justice,” centre leader Siri Gloppen asked when she welcomed the conference participants, “this is the type of question Bergen Exchanges is all about. The way we are organised contributes to bring knowledge and debates about social justice to the public. This is something we have developed strongly in the three years since the centre opened.”

In dialogue with society

Currently there are ten research projects connected with the centre, and in line with the centre's activist ethos there are voluntary partners as well as researchers involved in the various projects.

“We build ties with society outside academia, be it with judges or activists. This is also reflected in this year's Bergen Exchanges and the topics discussed,” said Gloppen.

Given this year's central theme of gender, sexuality and the law, the conference was fittingly opened by the former UN rapporteur for violence against women, Rashida Manjoo from the University of Cape Town (UCT), immediately hitting the right note for Bergen Exchanges 2017.

“At the centre we have launched the expression “lawfare”, meaning how legislation is used to change society, for better or worse,” said Gloppen.

A stimulating arena

Head of UiB's Department of Comparative Politics, Jan Oskar Engene, followed up on Gloppen's theme in his introduction.

“The programme focuses on gender and inequality, but there is also an important focus on how legislation can not only strengthen society but also weaken it,” said Engene, pointing to recent events in the United States as an example of the latter.

While sceptical to the current president of the United States, he was full of praise for the conference.

“Bergen Exchanges is an incredibly stimulating meeting place, where researchers and activists come together to contribute to change in society and to create an understanding of why change takes place in society. It is a pleasure to witness the wide range of activities, not to mention the networks and research collaborations that have grown out of both the centre and the conference,” he said.

Tremendous success story

CMI's director Ottar Mæstad joined in the chorus of praise in what has been achieved since the centre opened three years ago and the first Bergen Exchanges took place.

“The conference brings together some of the finest scholars in the topic of law and social justice,” said Mæstad and recalled the day the centre was born, “Siri had this idea that we could create a virtual centre, which could become a global hub for this type of research. Not only that, but could we have a week every year to discuss these topics.”

He pointed to the short jump from idea to reality and was amazed that this is already the fourth conference organised by the young research centre.

“It has been a tremendous success, and the centre is well-established, well-known and a well-funded international research partner,” he said adding, “this has come through hard work, a lot of passion and a number of volunteers who have contributed.”

The CMI director thanked all the involved for their contribution to make Bergen Exchanges happen and summed up the conference nicely.

“This is more than a meeting, it is more than a conference. In the words of Siri: it's a festival! Both intellectually stimulating and with a great social programme,” said Ottar Mæstad.