Monday, 25 November 2013

Female Inclusivity in Dutch Debating: 2013/2014 season

Last August I published a statistical analysis of  female participation in the Dutch debating scene. The post
received positive feedback, although concrete steps to look at causes of lessened female participation, attempts to create safe spaces, or cross-sectional and similar reports about other minorities have still not been undertaken. While the RA Open had a fantastic equity officer in Karin Merckens, and a comprehensive equity policy drafted in consultation with NUDC Women's Officer Jennie Hope, the Dutch Debate Association voted down a proposal to investigate equity issues in the last few years.
This blogpost was sparked when I realised that last at Cicero, the Dutch-language season opener, I judged the final as part of an all-male panel, listening to an all-male final debate.

The majority's opinion seems to be that equity would lead to the "PC brigade" invading free thought at debate competitions. This is frankly an absurd suggestion, as an equity officer is more akin to dispute resolution. Take the following example: A debater makes an ill-received argument that 'gender roles' can be a positive force in the world, as women biologically are better suited to caring roles (a common opinion in society). The debater who takes offense goes to the equity officer. This officer can now mediate a discussion between the one who received offense, and the one who offended. The grievance can be resolved by offering various suggestions for how the argument could be interpreted and by perhaps coming to the conclusion that this is an argument that can potentially cause offence if formulated in a brusque manner. In this way the political opinions of both participants aren't coerced, both participants have learned the value of phrasing an argument carefully (something which isn't "political correctness", but more learning the fine line between having valuable discourse and causing personal offence) and any anger or upset between the two participants has been solved.
Not having this conversation means that a speaker may still feel offended or hurt, but has nowhere to go to with her concern. She may at the very least lose out on socially interacting with the other speaker, and in the worst case feel not welcome at a debate activity where she's offended. But moreover, even if the offense isn't granted (or, for lack of a better term, "overblown"), if there's no equity officer to comfort this person and make the speaker feel safe, this "overblown" offence can still cause hurt for the offended speaker.

This simple realisation, that dealing with equity means that people feel safe and comfortable regardless of whether equity offences are recorded, is still lacking in the scene. The need for equity also still isn't felt, as many prominent debaters (shockingly, most of them white men) say they've never heard about any equity offences that have happened in the scene. Unsurprisingly, this mirrors the discourse about racism in the wider Dutch society that has recently erupted. Popular commentary about various issues such as racist comments in Holland Got Talent, the tradition of Zwarte Piet or  a recent Amnesty International report condemning Dutch police for racial profiling has all been waived away by white talking heads saying "there are more important things", "this isn't racist but innocent ("jokish") behaviour", "minorities should be tolerant to our culture", et cetera.

For that reason, I will personally continue to investigate if there are still problems with inclusivity. Qualitative research for this is hard to do (although in the UK a qualitative report has been compiled), and anecdotal evidence is difficult for me to come by due to issues of my personal privilege. The tool I will at the very least resort to is the blunt tool of quantitative analysis. So during this debate season I will look at Dutch competitions and continue to compile statistics of female participation.

A few notes on methodology:
  • I will compile data from speakertabs, and so limit myself initially to speakers. If organisations want to send me a list of judges and volunteers I would be very grateful and include these lists in the statistics.
  • the process is as follows: I will base the sex of a person on his or her name; if this name is ambiguous I will try to use social media to identify the sex of the person (as the person self-identifies on Facebook).If this proves inconclusive this person will be omitted from the data. I will not publish the names of individuals in order to preserve their privacy. I will deem a gender bias to conclusively exist if more than 60 percent of the competition is of one gender.
  • This study focuses on female participation only for two earlier mentioned reasons: Firstly, that ethnicity, sexual preference or other indicators can't be extracted from the available data. Secondly, because female university attendance rates in the Netherlands is higher than male attendance rates, so a lower female debate participation rate is likely a result of biases. For other groups there is a lack of available data for university attendance, so it is hard to reason if a low participation rate is correlated with something specific within our community or activity.
  • As this is a statistical analysis I do not infer any causes for why potential biases may exist, and leave this up to further debate and research that hopefully will arise.
  • International competitions (UCR Open, UCU Open and Leiden Open) are omitted from this dataset as data about Dutch participation rates can be skewed because of international participants. This sadly means that I may miss out on some data on foreign students speaking in The Netherlands.
Cicero 2013

Tab information

Cicero Toernooi 2013Numbers MaleNumbers FemaleTotal NumbersPercentage MalePercentage FemalePercentage Total
Speakers31215259.62%40.38%100.00%
Judges18123060.00%40.00%100.00%
Total49338259.76%40.24%100.00%

Break information

Pro-am break: 3 male speakers, 1 female speaker.
Open break: 7 male speakers, 1 female speaker.
Top ten speakers: 8 male speakers, 2 female speakers.
Judge break: 11 male judges, 4 female judges.

Conclusion

Cicero Toernooi 2013 misses 0,24 percentage points to, as a tournament, rank as being significantly biased.
Interestingly, the top end of the competition is more male dominated than the competition as a whole.

Friday, 22 November 2013

On Style, Judging and Ingrained Biases

I made a bit of a fool out of myself recently.

Quick situation sketch: I am coaching my former high school for the upcoming Dutch Schools Nationals. This
competition introduced a new judging format this year where matter and manner (content and style) are judged in equal terms (so yes, a victory on style points is possible). My high school team, as well as the debating club as a whole, is majority female.

I recently heard about a study that said that women sound more convincing if they use "evasive language". I also read a related study that shows that women in pop culture make on average longer sentences and use more passive speech. In debating we value people being direct and to the point, as we like people to analytically demolish other arguments.

A fresher girl, 15 years old, made some compelling points in a debate about allowing anonymous adoption. She told me that a child of adoptive parent would be greatly hurt by not knowing who her parents are. The one thing that bugged me during the adjudication was her usage of passive language, and unanswered retorical statements. So during individual feedback I started showing her how to use language far more directly - before stopping in my tracks and realising that my linguistical preference comes from how I was brought up to talk, and how I know that this girl quite likely talked the way she did because of her environment. Indeed, most female freshers in the debate club made the same "errors' in their talking style. However both the fresher guys in the debate and the more experienced girl were far more direct.

I quickly waffled my way out of the explanation and moved on to talk about other points of feedback. Mentally I double-checked and wondered whether it was good advice to ask the girl to change her speaking style for the benefit of a game, and whether I could objectively say that her speaking style was "wrong", and not a result of my own personal preferences.

Holistic judging and the erosion of cultural-linguistical barriers

In parliamentary debate, certainly on an university level, we teach judges to judge "holistically". This means that instead of judging speakers on a range of separate criteria (style a 70, content a 72, strategy a 72) we look at all elements of a speech as a whole, and look at "persuasiveness" as an intuitive mix of logic, emotion and relevance. In doing so, we educate our judges to judge a speech primarily on their content. We think that strategy, style, structure, et cetera are important in relation to the content. So an argument can be made more persuasive if explained really clearly, or if strong examples are tied in to the explanation.

Given we have such a tremendous focus on the content of the speech, this means that trained parliamentary judges forgive errors that laymen find simply unacceptable. Debaters usually speak at higher speeds than average speakers, for instance. We note down the complex logical arguments that people present, and weigh them of to equally complex and interesting arguments. Furthermore, we look very precisely at what was actually said, and judges are trained to not take language concerns into account (so a speaker with impaired English who makes logically understood arguments can win from an argument that is less logically sound, even if it is explained in "better" language).
As a result people whose English would be ranked as worse by many laymen can win from people with better English if their arguments are logically more believable. So our judges are trained to actively discount the myriad of subconscious biases that influence our daily opinion of speech - saying that a team won because "they sounded better" or "they just sounded more convincing" will hold little weight during adjudication.

This judging tradition is something we celebrate, as it gives people from different backgrounds equal opportunity to engage in debate on an equal footing; it is now your smarts and wit that count, and no longer whether you have the best Queen's English or if you got lucky with the development of your vocal chords. The reason for this is incredibly simple: we are all a product of our own unique upbringing and linguistical backgrounds, and thus value different speech styles. It is next to impossible to say that our own subjective speech preference is "correct" or "better", and if we allow individual judges to take their stylistical preferences into account the game would be skewed in favour of people with similar linguistical backgrounds, or people who have a better awareness of the judges' preference. However, the laws of logic are nearly universal (although people can be "persuaded" more or less by similar argument to some extent). Moreover, explaining a call based on the content of a speech means that speakers can reproduce this feedback. Speakers can understand the logic of how their speeches where judged and reproduce that logic for future debates.

The explicit focus on style and the reconstruction of barriers

Having given a defence for celebrating the power of argument, and the necessity of discounting biases, let me make a caveat of using style as a unique detached reason for deciding a debate.

Style as a judging metric related to content is devoided from hosts of cultural assumptions. The questions a judge can ask in this regard are: "did the speaker explain the point clearly, did I understand it immediatedly?" "Did the speaker use any jargon I don't understand?" "Was that example impactful?"
If however you ask a judge to make a value judgment on style that is not necessarily linked to content, people's subsconscious biases may come into play.

My speaking partner has a high-pitched voice. She's a terrific speaker, however, and at the last Worlds she ranked as the highest continental European speaker of the competition. But many new speakers at our society have to get used to the pitch of her voice, and some of them have voiced that she sounds "intimidating" or "shrill". After a couple of rounds of debating they learn to value the arguments she makes, and get used to her speaking style.
The reason they don't like this speaking style is because we have ingrained that it is an "unpleasant" style. But also that there are negative gendered connotations to high-pitched voices. As society used to be patriarchial, women were considered unfit to hold political opinion, so feminine voices were considered unfit to hold serious conversations.

Similarly, when you hear an accent different to your own you may subconsciously believe the arguments to be less strong. Firstly because you find such an accent more difficult to understand, and secondly because you could consider the accent less valid. Even in the Netherlands, a very small country, accents from the southeast ("Limburgs', or people speaking with a soft "G") get pejorative attributes such as "provincial" attached to them.

The most vicious part of these biases is that you don't think about them consciously. You've grown up with these linguistical connotations, so subconsciously you apply them in your standards. Moreover, unless you are explicitly challenged, you will use your preconceptions to continue judging someone's speech. So my partner would probably continue to be looked at oddly by new debaters if we don't learn them how to value her excellent speeches.

And the danger is that being primed to judge on style means that you overcome the content barriers that keep these biases in check. Clarity, structure and examples can be objectively explained as being "good style". Subconscious biases such as vocal delivery of an argument may not. And when you focus solely on style, that is the trap you may walk into.

Similarly, I had to bite back my tongue when I judged my high school pupil. And I have to check myself when I judge another of my pupils with a high-pitched voice, noting that I should pay attention and judge her fairly for the amazing arguments she makes at age 16.

Conclusion

Debate should be valued as a clash of ideas to which everyone, regardless of age, background or gender can freely participate. Careless use of style as a separate judging criteria can however undermine this clash of ideas by a judge's subconscious biases towards a speaker's vocal delivery. Style judges therefore need to pay attention and consciously weed out their subconscious biases. In that way we can love debate for what makes it great.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Musings on the Debatbond and mandate theory

Last night I was installed as the Public Relations Officer of the Nederlandse Debatbond (The Dutch Debating Council) at one of three annual council meetings. As this board remains neutral, I will be hesitant to introduce my personal opinion on the content of anything that's decided, but I will allow myself to make observations about the procedurals of council and keep on pointing out things that I think can improve debate*. This does remain my personal space on the internet, and this blog has been set up partially as an exercise in writing.

I moreover feel that it is fair that I share my comments on the proceedings, as these are ideas that I develop during the council regardless. Opponents of the idea that the Board should be in any way coloured can hold me to account better than they could've ever done otherwise.

Having studied political theory before going into law, the council's meeting struck me as a beautiful example of how to explain the idea of soft power versus hard power and make a case for the importance of soft power.

The council comprises of most of the Dutch debating societies, who we can consider sovereign nations in this experiment. Each 'nation' has a number of votes contingent on the amount of members that they represent; so a society with 200 members gets 20 votes, whereas a society with 50 members gets 5 votes. The make-up of this council is thus that a few large societies can outmuscle a large number of small societies, in a situation mirroring almost perfectly the pre-Lisbon Treaty European Parliament.
But of course these debating societies, being sovereign nations, have been reluctant to give up any real power to the supranational Dutch debating council. For that reason the council rather plays an advisory role, and only really has a mandate on what it can do with the money it gets from societies, and on deciding things that have to do with Nationals.

The following fantastic natural experiment occurred last night. After the representative of the largest society had to leave early, a situation arose where ten societies were present, but the largest two societies could in effect block any motion, or needed the support or abstention of one other society to support a motion. Moreover, the next policy that was being discussed was the definition of advisory. The motion proposed that the council would create a debate calendar where individual societies could reserve a month for their competition in advance, with the idea being that other societies won't organise a competition in the same month. This motion was incredibly controversial in council, with some societies stating that even if it were passed they wouldn't conform to the policy.

Naturally, this policy was brought forward because of problems existing with tournament planning in the country. In the last year alone competitions had to switch their dates as they realised they were both running on the same weekend, or just one weekend apart. Adding to the difficulty, Dutch Nationals usually means that the society who organises Nationals that year vacates its traditional spot on the calendar and moves its competition to early April. Moreover, besides the motion outlined above  two less strict motions were being discussed in council as well with significantly broader support. It was thus in everyone's interest that night that a motion passed and that societies would abide by that motion.

What happened however, was that the "month" motion passed with the two largest societies voting in favour, one society abstaining and seven societies voting against. This was a classic use of hard power; where the large societies knew that they had the power to push through a legal reading that they preferred.
However, this alienated smaller and younger societies who heavily opposed this motion and had never been told why this motion could be in their favour as well. The narrative created in council was exactly that this motion would favour the large, and disenfranchise the small. As a consequence this motion, which will likely be applied in July for the first time, is set in stone, but is only advisory and there is no clarity about how many societies are willing to actually follow the rules laid out. An overturning could even happen before July. All because there was a lack of soft power employed by the proponents of the motion. An explanation as to why this motion would benefit all was sorely lacking or not well-received.

This situation mirrors exactly the shift in international relations between the latter Bush and early Obama years. The USA here is the big society: it understands that it has hard power, such as a strong military and a veto power in the UNSC. But it also noticed that the application of its hard power under the Bush years, by waging wars in the Middle East, led to a lot of small societies opposing the USA and not complying to its vision of the world. The break between these policies happened when Barack Obama gave a much-cited speech in Cairo, calling for building bridges between the USA and Middle-Eastern countries; an application of soft power, where the USA says it wants to work together to the mutual benefit of itself and the Middle East.

An understanding of this theory of hard power and soft power may inform societies during future council meetings; as the council remains an advisory body, discussions should be had about what benefits proposals may have to the Dutch debating community as a whole, and if there is a trade-off in benefits, why that trade-off is one that the losers may agree with.

It also means that the proponents of the motion now passed can't rest on their laurels: they need to create public awareness of the existence of this motion, and spell out its benefits. Otherwise societies that weren't present at the meeting or don't believe in it at all will not use this motion, and the motion can pass into obscurity and become a dead letter of the law.
A good example is the law that banned smoking in bars in The Netherlands. This law was legally passed as an employer protection law, and not as a public health law. It was also explained as such. Therefore there was a lack of a penalty to individual smokers, as smokers wouldn't be penalised but the bar would be. Moreover, many bars in The Netherlands are owned and operated by one or two persons, many of whom would smoke themselves and see no problem with allowing smokers in their bar. As a result, this was a law that was not properly explained by the government other than in technical terms, and thus many people opposed it. This led to the law being rarely applied in small bars (only the tip jar was replaced by a jar where smokers could save money for the bar to pay its legal fees). Eventually a later cabinet amended the law and gave small bars the right to allow its customers to smoke.

As a second example, two motions failed to pass that evening as they attempted to use soft power rhetoric (coincidentally, they were introduced by the largest of the small societies) in a haphazard way. Instead of introducing the motions as being important problem solvers, they were introduced as hypotheticals that could prevent a future problem; these were a motion on installing an equity committee who would do research in potential equity-related complaints in The Netherlands and a motion which would ask the council to be in English if one of the societies had appointed a chair who can't speak Dutch.
However, given that these motions were ill-discussed beforehand, the council meeting was the first time that many societies were introduced to these hypotheticals. It became hard for them to care about these situations, having not had much time to think about the problems they may prevent. The proponent later confided in me that using stronger wordings than hypotheticals would mean that some societies would have withdrawn their support, as they didn't believe in the stronger wordings. For that reasons in both cases a majority (a very small one in the case of equity, the proponents missing just one vote) felt that the potential problem wasn't big enough and rejected these motions.

As readers of this blog will probably be able to guess, I am personally gutted that equity isn't looked at more thoroughly**, and I was happy with having an equity officer at Roosevelt. Not because any equity complaints came up, but because when one incident happened with a few participants that we received complaints about after the competition, we could point them to the equity officer as having been a solution if they had brought it up sooner. While I am in the pro-equity camp, I understand that the people who want to implement equity policies through council will need to do a more convincing job of explaining its importance, and I hope that a national discussion and an implementation of equity policies at competitions such as Roosevelt and the Leiden Open will continue.

Given the importance and application of soft power council members may have to be willing to avail themselves of more information or discuss proposals more before going into council and voting. It could mean, for instance, that motions should be made public a long time before the next council meetings, instead of only a day in advance or during the meeting itself. This would lead to better informed decisions and a better use of the council's advisory powers.

*As a side-note, the board has explicitly stated to be neutral, which means that even if the board has to implement policies that I'd disagree with I would take it on the chin. Consider me in this regard a MP who has been instructed by the party whips to adhere to the party discipline, and will thus gladly follow party line.
** As I said before, I will of course abide by council's decision and not investigate equity issues through council lines. But I feel it would be disingenuous to say that I won't support equity procedures, having blogged about this, engaged in discussions on social media and tried to take concrete steps in favour of equity-related measures. I will still, for instance, advise the society I belong to and competitions I (D)CA to take equity-related measures.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

A precautionary warning about judges to organisers of Dutch competitions this year + motions and infoslides from the Roosevelt Open!

Last weekend I had the honour of being the Chief Adjudicator for the Roosevelt Open, our first competition of the year together with the impeccable Ruairidh Macintosh and Simon Tunnicliffe. I believe this tournament was superbly judged, yet this was due to circumstantial factors that won't necessary be repeated at other competitions. Therefore I want to give out a bit of a warning about judging at future competitions, so conveners and CA teams can be prepared and take necessary steps to ensure that this year's competitions will be fun for all and not be marred by bitching about bad judging. This of course would not be fun for any of the speakers, judges and organisers involved.
This post reflects only my personal views, and not necessarily those of the rest of the CA-team nor of anyone associated with the Roosevelt Open.

Numbers of judges

The situation at Roosevelt
UCR is a small still developing debating society, and many active and experienced judges graduated last year and moved abroad. As a result, it cannot boost a large strong local judging pool. This is a problem that many other fledgling debating societies have, and even many well-established debating societies rely on a substantial amount of alumni giving up a free Saturday for the competition.
We solved this problem by flying in very experienced judges from the UK, spending nearly 800 euros on judges alone. To note, I also reached out to many experienced Dutch judges, and we did get four Dutch chairs not through the N-1 rule, although many experienced Dutch judges couldn't make it to Roosevelt.
We ended up getting two very good judges from Kalliope, one through the N-1 rule and one because his partner had to drop out on the day before. After intensive contacts with members of my own institution Leiden we managed to get judges from them as well, and broke two Leiden N-1 judges who proved themselves during the competition. Other societies sent us judges through the N-1 rule who may have only seen five or six debates before going to Roosevelt.
As a result, we had a 9-room competition with 11 people we gave chair judge slots in Tournaman, and 2 further people we felt confident could chair a room if needed.
If the Roosevelt Open OrgComm had not been so ruthlessly efficient with their budget however, we wouldn't have been able to fly in two members of the CA-team and three additional judges. The consequence would have been that in one to three rooms we would have let someone with no prior chair experience chair the debate in round 1.

Why is this a problem?
Three variables may not be present at future Dutch competitions: A] enough money to fly in strong judges. B] the competition being in English, as you can't exactly fly in foreign judges for a Dutch-language competition and C] a big local judging pool.
This means that for instance Cicero and the rumoured Trivium competition will find it incredibly difficult to be well-judged, and that the UCU Open has gone to pains to create a 1000 euros judging budget, money that could've been spent elsewhere (Although it means that the CA-team can fly in good friends who are astounding judges, so I'm happy with it on a personal level).

How do we prevent this problem from arising, apart from the measures Roosevelt Open took?

1] Be incredibly strict with N-1
When it looked like we would have one good chair per room I opted to actively waive n-1 rule for some institutions, as it looked like first year debaters would have to take the brunt of that decision and not be allowed to speak and gain valuable speaking experience. If you are not in that situation you may want to actually enforce n-1. Furthermore, I'd suggest to CA-teams that you don't break up a random team, but break up that team which consists of the best judges of that institution. I have now been guilty of what too many other CA-teams are guilty of: eroding the norm around the judging rule.

2] Reform N-1
Some societies kept N-1 at Roosevelt. They did so, however, by sending novice judges. These people of course gain a lot from going to the competition and I hope that they learned a lot by seeing good debates and learning from their experienced chairs (we certainly tried to rotate our judges as much as possible). But if you are in need of experienced judges who can make decisions and give good feedback, only receiving these judges may be problematic for the level of your competition.
As I wrote on my blog earlier, the Israeli Debating League has recently reformed the N-rule so that societies are incentivised to send stronger judges or train up their novice judges. We may look into a similar system, by for instance having the incredibly modest requirement that within your N-judges one of them has judged at a previous competition.

Knowledge about who can judge and how they judge

How do we know who can judge?

I have a good memory, yet I didn't know many of the people who came to judge at Roosevelt. This was much the same in previous competitions I judged (in Paris and in Riga, although in Riga the rest of the CAs had more local knowledge), and a judge registration form we created for Paris only received three replies.
There must be a better way to give CAs insight into who has judging experience and can therefore be trusted other than their memory - and actually, there is.
The Scottish debating circuit keeps an up-to-date spreadsheet with prior judging achievements of all judges at their competitions. As a result CA-teams can avail themselves to a wealth of data that they can use to check judges.
And all it needs is that someone (maybe in the Debatbond?) collects data about judges sent to them by the CA-team. Who judged (you can easily make a print-out from Tournaman), who chaired rooms and who judged outrounds? I have all of this information about Roosevelt, and I'm sure that tabbers have data from other competitions.

How do we judge?
In the semi-final at Roosevelt the Dutch judges had a conflict of judging styles. In judging an opening half of the debate, the majority believed that the Opening Opposition had beaten the Opening Government's material narrowly and deserved to go through. A minority of judges found, however, that because Closing Government had won the debate by destroying the vast majority of Opening Opposition's material there was less standing on the table after the debate for Opening Opposition compared to Opening Government, and thus Opening Government should progress.
Regardless of who is factually correct about judging in this context, what is apparent is that there is disagreement within our own national circuit about how to judge.
We may move to a more public discussion about how judging works. In the past the Debatbond tried to create judge training material and a judge ranking system based on this; the latter may be a bridge too far, but making judge training material from different societies public could be very useful. 

Conclusion

The Roosevelt Open was extremely well judged by a number of great people, and hopefully sets a precedent for the rest of the year in terms of judging and tournament organisation (I won't say anything about the motions). This excellence however is not a simple guarantee and requires hard work and planning by future conveners. In particular, the contributions of non-hosting institutions need to be enforced to keep the number of judges and chair judges at a decent level.

Bonus: the motions for Roosevelt Open

We posted the motions on Facebook, but without the corresponding infoslides as some last-minute alterations were only written down on the Powerpoint slides. Sebastiaan, our tabmaster, has been so kind as to forward them to me, so here are the motions in full.

R1: This House would no longer arrest or prosecute individual members of drug gangs operating in highly violent areas if gang leaders agree to holt all turf wars

R2: This House would suspend all regulation regarding environmental protection laws and policies during prolonged periods of economic recession

R3: This House regrets that in the case of SGP vs. The Netherlands the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of The Netherlands (forcing the SGP to allow women to take office within the party)

Info-slide: The SGP is a Christian Orthodox party in The Netherlands which consistently holds seats in parliament. They propose policies and laws in accordance with Biblical teaching. They are in favour of traditional gender roles. Article 10 of their Statement of Principles hold that women aren‘t eligible for political office. Women are unable to submit themselves to election lists for the SGP or take political office within the party. In 2004 there was a legal challenge against the SGP by women‘s rights movements who claimed that Article 10 is illegal under Dutch law. This case reached the European Court of Human Right (ECHR) in 2012 in „The Netherlands vs. The SGP“ where the judges ruled in favour of The Netherlands and forced the SGP to allow women to run as candidates both within their party and for national office.

R4: This House Believes that the International Criminal Court should hire private military contractors to arrest individuals who refuse to surrender after an indictment

R5: This House Welcomes the rise of online news media at the expense of traditional journalism

Info-slide: Traditional journalism consists of print media such as the Daily Mail and the New York Times as well as television news networks such as CNN. Its circulation and viewership has been falling over the last few years. At the same time there has been an increase in the popularity of online media such as blogs and social media as a source of news. Examples include the Huffington Post and Jezebel


Novice Final: This House Believes That schools should instill unrealistically high expectations in students from lower-socio economic backgrounds

Semi Final: This House Believes That the Israeli LBGT-movement should oppose pink-washing

Info-slide: Pink-washing refers to the Israeli government actively promoting LBGT issues in Israel to detract from human rights issues in the Palestine Territories. Many commentators believe it is one of the main reasons for the government’s financial and vocal support of LBGT projects such as Pride marches in Tel Aviv and other financial support.  Many members of the international LBGT movement fear that this policy may be damaging to LBGT issues

Final: This House Believes that "I was just following orders" is a legitimate defence in cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity



The outrounds looked like this:

Semi Final 1:
OG: Duncan Crowe and Bas Tönissen (Duncanon)
OO: Senna Maatoug and Tomas Beerthuis (Cow and Chicken)
CG: Danique van Koppenhagen and Benjamin Dory (I've got 99 problems but a bid ain't one)
CO: Ary Ferreira da Cunha and Calin Muresanu (BBU/Porto)

Panel: Bionda Merckens (chair), Jennie Hope, Gigi Gil, Daan Welling and Henk van Zuilen

Semi Final 2:
OG: Amy Bakx and Menno Schellekens (BS)
OO: Anne Valkering and Rogier  Baart (Dinosaur)
CG: Uche Odikanwa and Rob Honig (Rob was adopted)
CO: Arielle Dundas and Alex Klein (UDS A)

Panel: Tom Moran (chair), Karin Merckens, Simon Tunnicliffe, Sarah Rust and Veronica Baas


Novice Final:
OG: Naud Berkhuizen and Roel Bos (UCU BB)
OO: Simone Landman and Jordy van Rijsingen (Swing A)
CG: Emma Lucas and Simon Touissant (DSDC Simma)
CO: Eva Rouwmaat and Xiao Xu (UDS C)

Panel: Anna England-Kerr (chair), Andrea Bos, Lia Verbaas, Ruairidh Macintosh and Ybo Buruma

Final:
OG: Anne Valkering and Rogier Baart
OO: Senna Maatoug and Tomas Beerthuis
CG: Danique van Koppenhagen and Benjamin Dory
CO: Uche Odikanwa and Rob Honig

Panel: Andrea Bos (chair), Bionda Merckens, Jennie Hope, Daan Welling and Ruairidh Macintosh

Friday, 13 September 2013

Syria is our generation's Rwanda moment

Onee of the saddest facts of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is that we all saw it coming. The West knew about (and was in some ways responsible for) the historical legacy that created the ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis. We had witnessed the Rwandan Civil War and heard worrying reports about the rise of Hutu Power. The genocide was openly discussed in cabinet meetings, hate speech was printed in media and expressed on radio programs, Hutus and Tutsis were made to wear cards identifying their ethnicity and evidence was delivered by UN Lieutenant General Daillare to the international community that an ethnic cleansing was forthcoming. And while peacekeeper troops were stationed, the UN refused to ever give them the mandate to try and stop the genocide, even while it was happening in front of the eyes of the world. In fact, the amount of troops was brought down to a pitiable 512, 512 people who had to watch helplessly as around them hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in a whipped-up fit of frenzy, anger and fear.
Naturally, the UN afterwards considered its involvement in Rwanda an utter failure, developed a doctrine of "Responsibility To Protect" and international organisations, UN member states and academia developed a consensus that promoted military intervention as a just and necessary response to stop war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All those big lofty words may have helped somewhat in Libya; they may certainly have aided the inhabitants of Kosovo; they were however mostly forgotten when we had a window of opportunity in Syria, and the world now watches idly as the country marches to an everlasting civil war and the creation of a failed state.

The media consensus on intervention in Syria is clear and correct: while it would be good to try and stop the horrors in Syria, an intervention is currently fool-hardy, would only escalate the conflict, draw out regional actors, create an (further) anti-Western sentiment amongst extremist rebels and would create a power vacuum that will not be filled peacefully. The angle that the media hasn't spun is that the Syria war has not been an unavoidable path to this bleak endgame, but that in the past different actions could've led to better consequences. Alas, the West stood idly by.

The West didn't intervene during the uprisings in Egypt in 2011, as the army at the time decided on the crucial moments to join the protesters and overthrow the Mubarak regime. The West did intervene when Qaddafi decided to shoot at the protesters in Libya and create a civil war. When the Libyan government threatened to sack Benghazi the West intervened and aided the rebels in their fight to topple the regime and create a new peaceful society. Many moments that could've sparked similar actions in Syria can be pointed to: in late April 2011 Assad sent out the army to quell protesters across villages and cities. In June Rastan and Talbiseh were besieged, and later the Free Syrian Army would launch its first offensive against Assad there. On the 3rd of July tanks drove to Hama in an action mirroring the impending siege of Benghazi in Libya. Meanwhile the UN hoped for a peace plan that never seemed likely to emerge, and UN officials merely flocked to Syria's borders to give out emergency aid to the millions of international refugees and internally displaced people.

Furthermore, serious attempts at creating a cohesive resistance movement were ignored by policy hawks. The resistance movement wasn't always a mess of overlapping (religious) extremists, foreign actors such as Hezbollah and the Iranian National Guard and shell-shocked war-weary civilians-turned-soldiers. Remember that in 2011 many fractions unified in the Syrian National Council, which took care to confirm to democratic aims and represented many minority groups, including Kurds, Christians and Alawites. This council was recognized by the Arab League, and immediatedly afterwards by countries such as France, Italy and after a month even by the United States as the (sole) legitimate representative of the Syrian people. If a military intervention had taken place it can be assumed that this body would've been instrumental in ushering in a transition government and representative elections.

An intervention would have been messy, but several options have been widely discussed (and some, allegedly, tried); air support for the Syrian rebels to take out the heavy artillery and tanks used by Assad's forces; creating a safe zone in rebel stronghold such as Homs in a move mirroring the protection of Benghazi; supplying the rebels with weaponry, specifically anti-tank or anti-aircraft weaponry that can't be used effectively for in-fighting with other rebel forces. Maybe even a limited attempt at "boots on the grounds" could have been feasible, once again aiming at creating a safe zone.

The goal would have been clear: create hope and an unified front for the rebel forces to prevent the in-fighting, fractioning and radicalisation that is so understandable after months of fighting an endless war. Deter civilian deaths and limit the offensive capacities of Assad's armies. Create safe zones for civilians where attempts at governing can be formed, creating the institutional experience and capacity required for a peaceful transition government.



International responses could have been curtailed. The Obama administration could argue, rightfully, that they were protecting national security interests or had to act on a duty to protect allies such as Turkey (enshrined under the treaty establishing NATO) and Israel. Critical support could have been gained in the General Assembly of the UN if Russia and China continued blocking any Security Council resolutions; deals could have been struck with Russia so it could maintain a military base in or near Syria. Russia would not be interested in middling with the conflict itself, refusing to take sides, and therefore any sanctions against the US and its "coalition of the willing" couldn't exceed to much more than pestering policies such as the ban on international adoption, or at worse a heightening of the energy prices in Europe - and I'd be happy to pay more for my winter heating in exchange for the safety of people caught up in a civil war.

Regrettably, at no point did this seem a feasible option. Probably because we were all "tired" of fighting (how tired are the Syrians?). Understandably we were concerned about the lives of the young men who had to risk their lives in the conflict. I personally know and have the deepest respect for a number of young Dutch recruits, and can understand the agonizing worry their parents must go through when they read about conflicts in the news.

Putting it in a larger perspective, it has never been a feasible option not because it was unfeasible, but because we made it so, in retoric and practice. That is a lesson that history books have thought us very well. Samantha Power, current US Permanent Representative to the UN, wrote a damning indictment of US foreign policy during genocide called " A Problem From Hell". She shows that countries that are called upon to intervene on humanitarian grounds (not the national security interests of Iraq and Afghanistan) always are reluctant to go in. One U.S. officer informed General Romeo Dallaire (commander of UNAMIR) that it would take 85,000 Rwandan lives to justify risking that of one American soldier. In times of genocide, the foreign policy of many western countries have always been hesitant to call a spade a spade, leading to one horrifying exchange with State Department Representative Shelly who, talking about Rwanda, insisted "acts of genocide" had occurred, but no actual genocide. 

This reluctance to intervene, this continuation of realist policies by countries who employ liberal retoric on the international stage, will regrettably continue to typecast the international departments of foreign policy and defence departments worldwide. The consequence is forseeable: no critical public mass is build up for an intervention and democratically-elected leaders deciding in self-interest that this would hurt (re-)election chances won't be willing to test the waters. Responses to conflicts therefore remain "too little, too later"  or even no response at all. A hastily scribbled memo citing "complications" in whether an intervention is allowed or would work are enough to dissuade even the hardiest of hawks.

Frankly, in the best case scenario an intervention in Syria would have been testy. But we owe it to the people in Syria, who risk their lives fighting an unjust war, to have seriously considered the possibility at an appropriate time.
As it happened we have done no better than when dealing with ethnic cleansings or State collapses in the 20th century. A century of hard-learned lessons have gone down the drain.


In a few years time, when Syria has become the Somalia of the Middle Eastern region (if we're that lucky), this may be a narrative that finally hits the media and popular academic thought. We will have looked at how telling the signs were that the shooting of peaceful protesters would lead to a civil war. And we can only conclude that the international community has failed again to put the interest of innocents at heart. We can only call this our generation's Rwanda moment.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Why Israel outperforms the Netherlands

This post has been created after a very enjoyable and thought-provoking conversation with WUDC/EUDC-finalist Alon van Dam. All opinions and misrepresentations are my own.

Israel and The Netherlands are two of the giants of ESL debate. From 2002 to 2013, a team from each of these countries has spoken in the ESL final of EUDC (except for 2010, where only The Netherlands was represented by a team from Groningen). But even though the Netherlands has won the competition more recently (2012 was for the Netherlands, while Israel took the title in 2011), we now see a gradual shift towards more Israeli success. There are consistently more Israeli teams in the break: So consistently, that betting on more Israeli teams in the break would net you almost no return in the EUDC betting pool. Moreover, while some old and proud Dutch institutions such as UCU and Bonaparte were not present at Manchester EUDC, Israel was represented by 9 institutions. To top it off, 5 Israeli teams reached the quarters versus 2 Dutch teams.

The Dutch have amazing advantages for fostering debate; travel in the Netherlands is extremely cheap (or even free) for students, a lot of debating societies practice 45 minutes away from each other and for less than 100 euros we can travel to the UK and regularly compete and learn from the strongest speakers in Europe. In contrast, Israel has to almost completely rely on people and knowledge within its own circuit. Given that difference, you might imagine that The Netherlands would dominate the ESL circuit even more than they do know!

With those burning questions, it was luck that Alon van Dam from RRIS was in The Netherlands to visit family and friends. He was able to give some invaluable insights into debating in Israel; insights that we may use here to make debating even better...

A compelling duty to judge

I don't think that I have ever visited a Dutch competition were people didn't complain about the judges. Sometimes, this was unfounded - there have been some competitions were 2 experienced Dutch judges adjudicated nearly every room. Regrettably, in a lot of other competitions the good judges flocked around the top rooms and the other rooms were judged by novice judges. The majority of societies have problems fulfilling N-1, and usually fulfill them by sending freshers or late sign-ups. Rotation around the tab is often limited, and the CA-team perches in the best rooms, leading the strongest independent judges to continuously have to judge middle and lower rooms. Judging breaks can be conservative, and the symbolic promotion to chair in the outround is rarely given to judges who weren't in the CA-team. While I admire the effort that Dutch CA-teams and judges put in making a competition great, there are still many things we could do better.
(Full disclosure: Last year, I judged at Roosevelt Open, Leiden Open and Nationals. I spoke at Cicero and UCU, and wasn't present at other competitions as I was judging or speaking abroad, or visiting family or my girlfriend. As registration officer for Leiden I also failed to provide an adequate number of judges to DTU and BP Rotterdam. In Leiden a rule exists on how we will break up teams if competitions press us for N-1, and I think we'd happily oblige if competitions would pressure us)

In Israel, the norm to judge is really important. Many older debaters and world-class judges such as Anat and Michael Shapira, Yoni Cohen-Idov, Omer and Sella Nevo, etc. still judge at a very large amount of competitions, even though many of them are less active in debating or have to balance debate and demanding jobs. Furthermore, there is a very high norm against competing in a tournament you have already won. So while in The Netherlands some speakers regularly compete in tournaments they may have won once or twice already, in Israel most active speakers will come back next year at the same competition to judge.

More interestingly, Israeli debate competitions have build in numerous incentives to encourage younger debaters to judge regularly. Many competitions have a team cap for institutions that can only be increased when institutions send judges. And not just any judge; Israeli judges are ranked as 'novice', 'experienced', or 'break-level'. As an institution you should send not only novice judges, but also experienced judges if you want to send more teams. The consequence is that Israeli institutions encourage their freshers to not only speak, but also judge.

Moreover, strong Israeli judges are promoted to CA-teams at a more rapid speed than the Netherlands. Dutch Nationals last year received a lot of bad rep, even within its own CA-team, about a number of the people selected to be part of that team. This would be far less common on the Israeli debate scene.
Also, Israeli CA-teams put far more emphasis on rotating judges, even the CA-team, around the tab, and take care to promote strong judges to out-rounds and chairing the finals.

One of the strongest gestures of the Manchester EUDC CA-team was that they judged little to no outrounds, as they felt they could trust the judging pool they had at their disposal. Similarly, I loved the way that the Roosevelt Open handled their judging break last year, placing people who had judged strongly on the semi-final panels, even if this was their first time judging. This could be a fantastic boost to the morale of people who come and judge at competitions; they feel like judging well will be recognized, and it incentivizes people to care about judging.

Creating such a strong culture of respect for judging and desire to continue judging during and after ones speaking career is superbly important for developing a debate scene. Younger people can get fantastic feedback (I loved the Novice competition I attended, where every round multiple WUDC/EUDC-breaking judges gave me feedback) and people who reach their platform as a speaker usually develop themselves further after they judged a few competitions.

A very active debating league with many tournaments

This part mirrors recommendations I have made earlier here and here.

The amount of Israeli competitions are incredible. There are about 15 active Israeli debating societies, and the majority of them organise 2 or more competitions in one year. Compare this to The Netherlands, where 8 open competitions, 1 novice competition and 2 veteran competitions were organised last year, with only Leiden organising more than 1 tournament (I am not counting Eloquentia, as this is a format totally unlike competitive debate). Competitions cost about 8-10 euros to attend and are fully catered.
Added to the amount of competitions that they organise, the Israeli debate scene also takes pride in their yearly pro-am and novice competitions. Novices is one of the best-judged competitions per year, and world champions actively train their freshers into amazing speakers so they can shine at their pro-am tournament.

The benefits are obvious: Israeli speakers rank up far more debate rounds in a year than Dutch speakers, will thus familiarise themselves with more motions and have more opportunities to practice their strategy. There is also more opportunity to judge, so judging doesn't feel as such a sacrifice to your speaking career.

Of course, having more active societies means that its easier to organise competitions, and I have heard that many societies have difficulty booking rooms at their uni. I maintain, however, that following the Leiden Novices model of booking rooms during the opening times of a uni building, asking people to bring their own food and having a final in a bar means that you can run a competition with almost no preparation necessary, at which people can still have loads of fun. We could perhaps make the running of these competitions more attractive by labelling them as "Mini's" (to differentiate them from their "Debattoernooi" or "Open" counterparts) and ranking the tabs of different Mini's so that we have our own Dutch Debating Competition with a winner at the end of the year.

Conclusion

Of course, the Israeli debating scene is not perfect. They too have to actively work to prevent problems of inclusion, for instance. But there are two tricks to the Israeli debating scene that we could easily master: more attention to superb judging in all rooms of a competition, and more opportunities to debate as a whole.
If we learn those two lessons and link them to our unique benefits, our proximity to each other and the UK and our burgeoning Schools league, we should be able to reverse the trend in no time and continue Dutch hegemony at the top of ESL debate.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Thoughts on Female Inclusivity in Dutch Debating

I am heavily indebted for this post to Bionda Merckens, Karin Merckens and Gigi Gil, with whom I
Kathrine Schwitzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon
shared several conversations on this topic while at Euros and before; Rebecca Meredith for compiling her report on sexism in debating; the people who compiled the statistics for male and female participation at Euros; and the many excellent contributions made by various people at the EUDC Women's Forum this year.
In many ways I am just the messenger, not the author of this article.


Last March in Glasgow two female debaters were heckled and booed in a final by members of the audience simply for the sake of their gender. The offenders did not make any attempt at an apology afterwards.
Two years before, a male speaker in an outround of a Dutch competition made a sexist remark at the start of his speech, for which he immediatedly apologized afterwards. While these examples highlight a different approach towards offensive gendered remarks, and in some ways we can hope that the Dutch circuit is a safe haven for female participants, we are far from perfect yet.

If you'd ask me on the spot if the Dutch circuit was free from sexism, my honest reply would be "I don't know". We have never attempted to compile a report such as this shocking compilation of responses gathered by Rebecca Meredith, Matt Hezell and Clara Spera. We have never had an equity complaint lodged at a Dutch competition, mostly because we have never had an equity officer at a Dutch national competition. The only thing I can go by is anecdote; and I have plenty of anecdotes of (older) male debaters harassing female freshers and (hopefully) unintended chauvinistic remarks. I have heard admissions of some girls that they found themselves unwelcome in male-dominated societies. Obviously, as I am blessed with male privilege, I am not privy to all of these remarks. And also, regrettably, these stories are similar to stories I have heard from non-debate friends. But the fact that there remains persistent misogynism in wider society doesn't excuse us from not challenging it as much as possible.

Sexism, however, is only one symptom of a much wider problem we are now paying attention to on the international circuit; the problem of not being inclusive. Sexism, just like other more entrenched and persistent social conceptions, such as gendered expectations and the acceptance of sexist language, is one of the factors that may contribute to less female debaters existing and participating in our community, and participating with less pleasure than they could've.

The main purpose of this article, for me, is to attract debate about inclusivity in Dutch debating. Yet there are still a lot of (influential) people in Dutch debate who don't believe that we have an inclusivity problem. So we may need data that supports my claim that Dutch debating can be more inclusive. Luckily, that is what I have compiled.

Ratio of Male and Female participation rates in national Dutch competitions

I have compiled data of all national Dutch university competitions in the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 academic years. As this data should portray a picture of Dutch debating, I have not collected data on any competition at which international teams were present (e.g. UCU, Leiden and Roosevelt). Nor have I collected data on competitions that weren't open to all (the Mace and the Masters).
The data has been compiled in roughly the same manner as the data that has been compiled for the EUDC gender breakdown. This means that I have went with the assumption that a boy's name means a boy, and vice versa. In cases of doubt (names such as Anne, Kim or Renee) I have tried to track down the person on Facebook to confirm his/her sex. In the cases of a dummy, this speaker has been omitted if no name was given, or ranked only once if this dummy spoke by his/herself.
I have colour-coded all the tabs so as to give a good oversight, but will only be publishing the results as to protect people's privacy.

I suggest that we treat any result where the participation of one gender is less than 40% as worrying, as this would indicate that the other gender is represented by more than 3/5ths, and this is a sufficiently high bar that the result, when randomised, would happen very infrequently.
Moreover, statistics like these need to be interpreted by social research that examines causes, not just figures. Plenty of data and research suggests that lower female participation rates are due to (gendered) social barriers or active sexism, in both fields of sport and labour. Even if, as some data from CBS suggests, women are less inclined to spend time and money on hobbies, are less politically engaged and read less news media, the causations for those statistics may be gendered preconceptions; it also may mean that if those are the causes for fewer female participation, we should seek to "sell" our activity in a way that may overcome these initial barriers.

The Data


TournamentNumbers MaleNumbers FemaleTotal NumbersPercentage MalePercentage FemalePercentage Total
Kalliope 201340165671,43%28,57%100,00%
NK Debatteren 2013683210068,00%32,00%100,00%
DTU 201348247266,67%33,33%100,00%
BP-toernooi 201347257265,28%34,72%100,00%
Leiden Novices 201241226365,08%34,92%100,00%
Cicero Toernooi 201246287462,16%37,84%100,00%
NK debatteren 2012835313661,03%38,97%100,00%
DTU 201266309668,75%31,25%100,00%
BDT 201246348057,50%42,50%100,00%
BP-toernooi 201248328060,00%40,00%100,00%
Leiden Novices 201137205764,91%35,09%100,00%
Cicero Toernooi 201137256259,68%40,32%100,00%
Total 2012/201329014743766,36%33,64%100,00%
Total 2011/201231719451162,04%37,96%100,00%
Total60734194864,03%35,97%100,00%

Discussion

Out of the 12 tournaments, only 3 had a higher female participation rate than 40%, and at no tournaments did more women than men compete. This indicates a structural lack of female competitors.
Over the course of the two seasons ranked, female participation actually slightly decreased, both over the two years as well as near the end of each years.

This dataset is limited by no currently existing data on participating judges or organizers. Numbers from EUDC seem to suggest that for the Netherlands our participation rate is evened out somewhat by a higher ratio of female-to-male judges.
However, even if it were the case that there are more female than male judges, this may mean that more women are hesitant to speak. Given that we give most praise to speakers and speakers are at the centre of our activity, this may already be cause for concern.

Furthermore, we may need information on how many female versus male speakers there are on the school circuit, to see when a gender gap arises. We also may need data on the amount of male and female members of the debating societies in the Netherlands, to see if this gap is created due to women being hesitant to attend competitions or due to failing recruitment policies.

This dataset also doesn't rank how well female speakers do vis-a-vis male speakers. Anecdotally, I noticed while compiling this report that there are often more men in the top 20, as well as at the bottom of the tab. This remark has also been made by someone else in a discussion on the Irish Debating FB-group on a discussion of participation rates in Ireland.
Compiling data on average speaks for men and women may be a useful further research to note if there is a potential bias in evaluating speeches given by women, or a lack of training efforts aimed at women.

Obviously, we don't only have a problem with representation of women; anecdotally, ethnic and religious minorities are also vastly underrepresented. The underrepresentation of women may well be worse, however, as in contrast to those minorities, women currently make up the majority of university students. This is not to scapegoat these other issues, and I do believe we should earnestly try to tackle problems of discrimination and racial bias as well. Curently a survey is circling Facebook asking people to report any incidences of discrimination they may have encountered. I wholeheartedly recommend anyone who ever had the misfortune to be victim of discrimination on the circuit to report this. The compilers will allow you complete anonymity.
Collecting data on racial issues is however more complicated than the tab analysis I have just done, as you can't just go by names or FB profile photo's: it would require individuals to self-identify as an ethnic or religious minority, and thus would require a data gathering project over a longer period of time.

Suggestions to address this issue

As can be followed from the discussion, we don't have enough information yet to determine the exact causes of lower female participation in the Netherlands. However, by speculating on a few likely causes we may come to some useful suggestions. Of course, suggestions from the wider community are more than welcome. Here are three easy fixes:

If the problem is sexism in a broad sense, we may need an equity team
Scratch that: even if there is no sexism problem, we still need an equity team. Equity is about making individuals feel safe and have a place where they can go with their concerns. It is a fantastically important safeguard for all kind of vicious behaviour, and I wonder why we haven't had any before.
Karin Merckens will be equity officer at the Roosevelt Open next October, and is already drafting a comprehensive policy for that competition. She has said that she is willing to share this document with other competitions in hope to make it a standard equity policy for the Netherlands.  Jennie Hope, Women's Officer for the UK debate circuit, has also drafted a standardised equity policy that she hopes to release soon. I hope more competitions in the Netherlands will follow and appoint an equity officer.

Police unfriendliness and nastiness within the societies
This recommendation may be especially helpful to female freshers, who for various reasons seem to be less likely to exist or more likely to drop out, but should be good advice as a whole. The first competitions in the Netherlands start after two months; before that, the atmosphere within societies can be a deal-breaker. Providing a friendly environment, and explicitly ensuring that there is someone within the society that people can go to for pastoral support is crucial.
I am personally pushing for a gentleman's agreement in our society that older debaters try not to actively hit on freshers during the first term. The power dynamics at play when an older member tries to "have his/her way" with a new member can be revolting and deeply unfair.

Increase female visibility in societies
Try to have female members at your recruitment stands, on your open evenings and during your novice workshops. Think about how you may want to sell debate; a German debating society noted that when they changed the description of debate from a "competitive activity" to a "problem-solving activity", female interest sparked. (MDR volume 9, p.16)
Linked to this is that you may want to try gently pushing your female speakers to attend competitions. In the fall term there are plenty of friendly one-day competitions such as Cicero and Leiden Novices, as well as two-day competitions at Roosevelt and UCU that may require a bit more effort for freshers to want to go to.

Conclusion

Preliminary data suggests that we suffer from a lack of female participation in the Dutch circuit. This means that we are missing out on great speakers, judges and human beings. The Dutch circuit, similar to other circuits such as Germany, the UK, Ireland as well as the international circuit, may want to look at ways to overcome this problem and increase female participation as a whole.