Linking SPEAR Friends to Build Gender-Friendly Environment at Plovdiv University

Following SPEAR's main objective to overcome inequalities within the organization, the SPEAR team at the Plovdiv University has started with the initial shortlisting of actions to devise and implement the strategy to overcome the administrative, financial, and cultural challenges that exist in the current environment. No doubt, in the process of achieving gender equality, one of the most really important prerequisites is to surround ourselves with a strong community that supports us regardless of our gender or sex. These are the people who respect our sex and gender, support our personal journey, and offer empathy and advice. They will be the people who we can trust and turn to for support when we are struggling. Therefore, since the beginning of our project, we have started our work on establishing connections, personal relationships and building a sense of community in our university by following the steps below.

Linking SPEAR Friends to Build Gender-Friendly Environment at Plovdiv University

1: We identify our community stakeholders and get to know their concerns

First we focused on a narrow group of key university stakeholders with the aim to build relationships of peer support and mentorship as well as to support the mainstreaming of gender analysis into institution and the science production process. The stakeholders group include the university leaders as well as some visible stakeholders encompassing:

  • A group of top management level representatives including our Academic Council, Rector, Vice-Rectors, Pro-Rectors, Deans, Vice-Deans;
  •  Senior administrative managers and human resources department experts;
  • A group of middle management of academic and non-academic units;
  • A group of academic researchers, scientists and teaching staff, and key employees;
  • A group of students that show interest in the topic;
  • Gender-aware and gender-responsive or gender-interesting men of PU staff;


Further to this we broaden our stakeholder target group including allies, NGOs as well as and national and regional networks on gender equality. Having identified our important community stakeholders, before launching into any project initiatives, we clarified our engagement strategy on which to focus.

2. We plan our engagement process and develop a series of engagement measures

To reach the goal of community involvement and integration, we focused on a strategy of two-way communication encompassing the launch of SPEAR interactive website as well as a series of “involvement” activities like social interaction activities, workshops surveys or public meetings.  

The methodology that we adopted is broadly revolved around the key elements of Community of Practice - that of exploring experience and enhancing competence. In this early stage of the SPEAR project implementation it was important to develop up-to-date and easy-to-share information on the current situation in the country as well as in the university where our GEP would be implemented. To achieve this, in the past several months we have been working on gathering information and means to provide this information and resources to the community through arm’s length transactions.

As a result a framework for the systematic mapping and comparison of existing policies and practices at national and institutional level was developed and a database of qualitative and quantitative information across the institution was collected in a format to be shared between community members and the wide audience. The raw data and summary analysis actively fed into later steps of the methodology, regarding stakeholders’ engagement in activities that attempted to influence management and develop actions that support women at various stages of their scientific careers.

3: We select suitable practices and techniques to improve our stakeholder engagement

With this in mind our preoccupation was in building and maintaining cross-institutional relationships using a broad range of methods: website platform, a number of collaborative meetings and workshops, discussion forums, and in-process consulting. Alongside with the social interaction activities we plan on raising public awareness through social media updates, printed brochures, and general university-wide updates.

  • SPEAR Project Local Website - Skillfully we built our website as a framework for information sharing on gender equality hot topics that are important to establish our community relationships. The focus was put on building competences, stimulating learning processes and knowledge sharing among the community and the organization, as well as collecting and communicating feedback forms from the regular website visitors. Though this tool we seek to create environment in which stakeholders can share activity as well as to provoke and enable positive responses to problems and challenges particularly in the field of gender-responsive scientific researches.

Currently the online articles on hot topics related to gender equality, published on the website (in Bulgarian language) include:
-    European policies for equality between women and men;
-    National legislation concerning equality between women and men;
-    Official data for equality between women and men in Bulgaria;
-    National Policies Supporting Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in Bulgaria;
-    The Politics on Domestic Violence Against Women and the Dignity of Womanhood;

A meaningful indicator that our website successfully fulfills its goal is the statistics including the number of visitors that are steadily rising. Over 23.09.2019 - 14.10.201943 unique visitors visited the site was visited. The review of the traffic shows that the most visited pages of our site were the ones with information content and articles, followed by the news and gallery sections.

  • Social interaction activities – In the past several months we participated in a number of promotional, awareness rising dissemination events attended by stakeholder representatives. Our presentations were focused on the exchange of experiences, on the challenges and success factors that permitted the participants to identify common challenges on gender equality and share ideas for how to respond to them. Some of the most popular events include:

       12-th National Conference „Education and Research in the Information Society”,  Plovdiv - 31.05.2019;

  Round Table "The Benefit and Necessity of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in Academia and Research", University of Plovdiv "Paisii Hilendarski", Conference Hall, - 20.06.2019

 International Scientific Conference "Economic and Social [Dez]Integration", Plovdiv - 27.06.2019

  Conference "New Challenges to the Digital Economy (Industry 4.0) and the Role of Women in Engineering and Technology" (part of the project "Participation of Women in Engineering and Technology for Sustainable Development" funded by UNESCO), Sofia, 15-16.10.2019.

Alongside with this we organized series of informal meetings and open discussions to work closely together, to reflect on experiences and to offer mutual support and guidance on gender equality topics aiming to support the mainstreaming of gender analysis into the institution. The meetings gave the opportunity for community members to work closely together, to reflect on experiences and to offer mutual support and guidance on the important aspects that will facilitate GEP implementation. To ensure a successful outcome, relevant questions were formulated by making use of collective intelligence.

4. We think for sustainability and permanent engagement

From this prospective, the SPEAR project work represents not only an opportunity to identify challenges and implement gender equality actions, but is also a starting point to install a culture of reflection at institutional level. To ensure sustainability we have started to work and contribute towards shifting our organization towards cultures that value and could act on gender equality.  Crucial to that effort is to build a strong sense of community, solidarity and peer support with others facing similar struggles in the organization.

Surely, there is still much to be done to support this process, but as we have seen throughout the past several months, positive steps are being taken in the right direction. At least our community is steadily growing and for some time we have been aware of the importance that it is not enough just to have more woman in the organization, we need to change the attitude and the rules within the institution as well.