for 20 years, Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff was the Women’s Representative at Hof University. 20 years in which a lot has happened in terms of equality for women at Hof University. Shortly before her retirement in September, we at Campuls.digital take another look back at her tenure and let her take stock.
“The first women’s representative at Hof University was a man,” Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff tells us. “The reason is quite simple – at that time, there were simply no female professors at Hof University.”
Since September 1999, Blank-Bewersdorff has been a lecturer at the university herself, and was hired as a professor with the teaching area “Materials and Surface Engineering and Fundamentals of Mechanical Engineering.” Since 2002, she has represented the concerns of students as the Women’s Representative at Hof University of Applied Sciences.
Office as women’s representative
We are deliberately talking about students here, because men have also contacted Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff almost as often as women during her term of office, if they have noticed something in the way men and women are treated or in relation to equality.
For me, it doesn’t matter who contacts me. The goal is always to abolish a grievance.”Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff
According to Blank-Bewersdorff, however, the decision to become a women’s representative was initially a strategic political one: “To be honest, I wanted to have a voice in the various committees as a result,” she admits with a smile. “Over time, however, my interest in the advancement of women and equality has grown more and more. Today, I’m glad I decided to take on this office back then!”
Tasks of a women’s representative
The list of tasks Blank-Bewersdorff has in her office as women’s representative is long. Among other things, she supports the university in establishing equal opportunities as required by the constitution and in avoiding or eliminating disadvantages for female students, professors and female faculty. Furthermore, she represents the interests of women in university committees and works to increase the proportion of women in professorships, to name just a few examples.
In short, I take care of everything that has to do with the advancement and counseling of women!”Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff
She is supported by her deputies and student assistants.
Furthermore, all faculties at Hof University of Applied Sciences also have additional women’s representatives, who, Blank-Bewersdorff reveals, are also male from time to time. A current example is Prof. Norbert Dietrich from the Faculty of Interdisciplinary and Innovative Sciences.
Still too many people with outdated views
“Why do women, for the same work, still earn less money and why are women so rarely found in leadership positions?” These are just two of many questions that basically answer why women’s advocates are still so important in today’s world, whether at universities, companies or other institutions. And this despite the fact that equality for women should be the most normal thing in the world by now.
Over the decades, of course, the situation has improved. In most people’s minds, the issue of equality is no longer a problem. But there are still too many people with encrusted views. And one should not be satisfied with 80% of the way!”Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff
For this reason, Hof University of Applied Sciences also tries to promote equality in all areas, i.e. in teaching and also in the area of academic self-administration, whether linguistically through gendering or also through support campaigns such as Girls Day or mentoring programs for women
In addition, the proportion of women among the teaching staff is being continuously increased.
Mentoring appointments are still in demand
Nevertheless, it does happen from time to time that women request a consultation appointment with Prof. Dr. Blank-Bewersdorff.
“Thank goodness this only happens quite rarely. Most of the time it’s about sexual harassment. In these few cases, I have then contacted the accused men. In this way, it has always been possible to settle the matter, without much effort. With the support of the president, which I have completely in such matters, measures up to exmatriculation would then also be possible,” says Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff.
However, cases of anonymous reports are problematic – then the hands of all authorities are tied and nothing can be done.
I can only encourage all students to come forward when sexual harassment occurs, only then can we help!”Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff
However, there are also always great experiences in her office as Women’s Representative: “The nicest thing for me in my 20 years as Women’s Representative was when a student thanked me for my advice to have her children while she was studying. After her time at the university, the young mother then went into business and has made a career there, despite having children.”
By the way, all pregnant women are offered a counseling session with the women’s representative from the university. On the one hand, this involves a hazard analysis, as required by law from the trade supervisory authority, to ensure that nothing happens to the expectant mother and child during the study / internship. On the other hand, exam situations are discussed and breastfeeding rooms and parking facilities in the vicinity are pointed out.
Encouragement and support
For many victims of oppression, bullying, (sexual) abuse or harassment, however, the inhibition threshold to open up to others is still far too high.
No one should be bullied or even mistreated. Everyone must have this awareness. You can’t put up with something like that, and that’s why you have to defend yourself. Not every person can do it alone – then you absolutely have to get help.”Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff
And further: “I don’t know if I can take away the fear of those affected to confide in someone, but I can encourage and support – and I do that gladly and with all my heart.”
The best way to get in touch is to email firstname.lastname@example.org. However, the women’s representatives of the university and the faculties can of course all be contacted in person. The most important thing is just to dare and not shy away from it.
Looking back at the past
At the end of September, Blank-Bewersdorff will go into well-deserved retirement. In her 20 years as a women’s representative, there are two important points that have had an impact on her work:
“First, there was more money from the university administration to initiate and support some projects, like the Career Strategies workshop series.” Second, Covid. Because of the pandemic, many projects, such as Girls Day or Girls and Technology, have been converted to digital formats. Unfortunately, most are now so “digitally saturated” that participation rates have plummeted. I hope that will change again soon.”
Wishes for the future
In your opinion, there is also still a need for action on some points in the future.
“All current projects must be permanently reviewed and optimized. However, there is one area that I, too, have unfortunately always treated somewhat stiff-mouthed, but which, in my opinion, is playing an increasingly important role: female scientific staff. These should definitely be better looked after in the future.”
However, she has no requirements for her successor, Prof. Dr. Anett Matthäi, but rather hopes that she will have a lot of fun and enjoy the office as women’s representative. Blank-Bewersdorff herself will continue to fight for women’s rights even in retirement.
When you’ve been involved with this issue for so long, you can’t help but remain committed to it. In what form, that remains to be seen.”Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff
For the future, the outgoing women’s representative at Hof University hopes that the development of equality for women will continue to progress and not stagnate, and that Hof University will always work on this task as a priority.
However, when asked what plans she now has for her well-deserved retirement, she answered very modestly:
I just want to stay reasonably healthy for as long as possible!”Prof. Dr. Margarete Blank-Bewersdorff
If you would like to know more about the tasks of the women’s representative at Hof University of Applied Sciences, you can find more information here.