July 18, 2013

Yasmine Ergas, a lecturer at SIPA and associate director of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, will serve as inaugural director. Students may take classes beginning this fall.

SIPA has launched a new specialization in Gender and Public Policy that will be part of the MIA and MPA curriculums beginning this fall. Yasmine Ergas, a lecturer at SIPA and associate director of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR), will serve as inaugural director for the new specialization.

Students in the two-year MIA and MPA programs must fulfill the curricular requirements of one of six policy areas, known as concentrations (similar to undergraduate majors). They must also fulfill the requirements of a specialization (or minor), defined as a skill or area of specialized knowledge. Gender and Public Policy will take its place as the seventh non-geographic specialization. (Students have the option to instead specialize in one of nine region- or country-focused specializations.)

According to Ergas, the new Gender and Public Policy specialization aims to provide students with the analytical skills to understand how gender operates as a crucial, although often unexamined, dimension of public policy and how to develop policies that can attain more equitable effects. Curricular offerings will address gender in relation to such issues as human rights, development, labor markets and leadership, examine the methods for mainstreaming gender in policy analysis and practice, and allow students to interact with international and domestic policy-makers, funders, and advocates. Students will learn how gender relations both shape and are shaped by all domains of public policy and how policy can serve to promote greater gender equity.

Dean Merit Janow praised the addition to the MIA and MPA programs. “Gender issues are an important consideration in contemporary public policy,” said Janow. “Elevating the study of gender and policy to the specialization level gives our students an opportunity to deepen the expertise they will bring to private companies, public-sector agencies, and not-for-profit organizations.”

Ergas has taught at SIPA since fall 2006, also serving since 2008 as associate director of ISHR. In Spring 2013, she taught a new course on Gender, Globalization and Human Rights, and advised a Capstone workshop that studied reparations for victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She also teaches International Human Rights Law.

Gender issues and policy first drew Ergas’s interest in the 1970s. “I was working at what was the major public policy institute in Italy [where she grew up] and I was asked to work on educational data,” she recalled. “We had data on the school systems, reports from all the different parts of the country and educational levels. I remember that when I started working on this I started looking at differences [in educational] outcomes for girls and boys and I wrote about them. I remember there was an article that came out from a leading newspaper, saying it was the first time this institute had published an analysis of the educational system in terms of the participation of girls and boys. It had seemed natural to me to ask the question, but it also taught me that it was not an obvious question for everyone.”

The issue of gender and policy is of increasing interest to students and scholars around the world. Ergas recently enjoyed an opportunity to give lectures on the subject of women in human rights before audiences of undergraduates and doctoral students at the University of Palermo. At SIPA, a very active student-faculty organization, the Gender Policy Working Group, has promoted activities focused on gender for several years.

“I’m very excited about the launching of the specialization, and I know students are excited, too,” Ergas said. “We have a terrific opportunity to create a specialization that meets the needs of students as they prepare to become leaders in a policymaking world that has become increasingly attuned to issues of gender, and that we would like to see remain so.”

Q&A with Yasmine Ergas, founding director of the specialization in Gender and Public Policy