Women and Men in Model UN: Is there Gender Bias in Model United Nations?

by Julia on March 23, 2015

Emma Watson and Ban-Ki Moon speak at UN Women #HeForShe. Photo Credit: UN Photo / Mark Garten

Emma Watson and Ban-Ki Moon speak at UN Women’s #HeForShe event. Photo Credit: UN Photo / Mark Garten

This is a somewhat controversial topic, but one that needs to be addressed.

We’ve spoken to numerous delegates, both male and female on high school and college circuits all over the world, to get their opinion.

We’re opening up the conversation –- and counting on you to join in.

Please sound off in the comment section to share your voice and your experience.


Do you believe there’s a gender divide in Model UN?

“There is certainly a gender divide in MUN, yet I don’t feel that it is one in which we see active, mean-spirited discrimination from MUNers based off of gender. Rather, I believe that we have created a MUN in which male and female delegates fall into roles that are felt to “suit” certain sexes. So, while delegates are not engaging in discrimination due to malice or personal prejudice, it is my opinion that we have allowed a system to flourish under which delegates fall too easily into the trap of ‘that’s a job for a girl’, or ‘I think that a guy would be more suited for that role’. While it would take a very naïve person to say that these are never effective decisions, gender should never be a reason to assign someone a certain task. All delegates should have the opportunity to fulfill roles based off of merit and merit alone.”

“I don’t believe that there is so much of a divide, rather than a greater amount of males than females. While I cannot really gauge the full ratio at conferences, my specific committees tend to have at least a majority made up of boys.”

“Yes, I do believe that, and unfortunately the more feminine the delegate dresses, the more this divide seems to appear.”

“There definitely is a gender divide in MUN – MUN requires skills that are typically associated with masculinity, and so I think that because of that, when women perform at an excellent level, they are not seen with the same worth — I don’t think that most guys in MUN are consciously sexist, but there is always an underlying tone of ‘you are a woman’, if that makes any sense.”

“No, I don’t believe in a gender divide in MUN. Mostly because around here [in the Middle East], MUNs are actually the platform for the most enlightened, highly-educated, well rounded individuals. It is the place where gender inequality is least seen in comparison to other places.”

“While I don’t have the facts to comment exactly on participation rates or the difference in weighted awards per capita between males and females, what I can say is that, having attended many Model UN conferences, a gender divide could exist, but it would be limited in its scope. In my personal opinion, a delegate’s gender doesn’t matter, and almost all delegates hold or at the very least purport to hold this view.”

“It depends on what you mean by gender divide. I think male delegates and female delegates garner the same amount of respect, especially at the collegiate level, and often times you see the female delegates being the best in the room. But, respect aside, sometimes I think men are revered for their MUN talents, while women with the same talents get labeled something else. They are respected the same, but their actions are perceived differently, which is disappointing. Also, what I don’t see is enough is female delegates participating in MUN, often times a male-dominated activity, which I want to see change, given some of the amazing women I’ve met on the circuit.”

Has your MUN experience been impacted by gender bias or stereotyping?

“As far as I know, my MUN experience has never been shaped positively or negatively by gender bias or stereotyping. Whether or not this is due to my gender, my personality, or any number of factors, I suppose that I might count myself as being one of the lucky ones.”

“My MUN experience has not been negatively impacted by gender stereotyping, however I definitely feel that I am treated less seriously than some of the boys. Furthermore, many boys who are in MUN and are passionate about it tend to be very strong-suited and confident, so they will not take threats or initiatives proposed by certain girls in the committee. There are some times where I feel that boys abuse their power over everyone, and not just girls. Additionally, I’ve been in committees where I feel that the boys are happy to have me there just so they have something to look at but don’t expect me to make any big moves.”

“My experience with MUN has been extremely positive over the last 5 years, and I’ve greatly enjoyed all of the success I’ve had. However, there are often comments that I get that are intended to compliment me but are really just offensive. For example: ‘you are so talented and not at all like other women — when I talk to you, I feel like I’m talking to a guy’. I hate this because it ultimately tells me that the only way to be successful is to separate myself from my gender and view other female delegates as my competition in a very different sense than the way I should view the male delegate as competition.”

“My MUN experience hasn’t been impacted very much. I think I do a good job of not stereotyping, treating all delegates equally, and I don’t tolerate delegates who do that stuff.”

“Sponsors (teacher advisors) many times are trying to control the way in which we (girls) dress. For example, my sponsor didn’t allowed us to use skirts. Actually, she still doesn’t allow girls to use skirts at conferences.”

“No, I have been fortunate in this regard. However, this seems to be because I have been active enough during committees to force the males in the room to respect me regardless of their opinions of non-male delegates.”

“My personal MUN experience hasn’t. I’ve been on double-del teams with a female delegate in the GA at every conference I’ve been a delegate at, and I’ve never heard of them or anyone in those committees being treated differently or unfairly because of gender. That doesn’t take away from the people that it does happen to, though. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to ever personally see or deal with gender biasing, because I do know that it has happened, and still does. While a few people will always carry their unfair opinions, for the most part, the MUN world seems to be rallying with feminism.”

Do assertive female delegates face more criticism than assertive male delegates?

“I definitely think that assertive female delegates face more criticism than assertive male delegates. Having said this, however, I would also point out that this criticism does not come solely from male delegates. It is not infrequently that I hear a female delegate refer to another member of her sex as being ‘bossy’, meaning that these gender stereotypes are regrettably universal.”

“I do not believe that assertive male delegates face less criticism than female delegates, but they are usually more intimidating to the majority of people, boys and girls included. Whether there are personal conflicts or other roots of a problem, male delegates who are assertive seem to be more powerful than their female counterparts. I do believe in women’s equality obviously, and I think MUN is a great place to achieve that; however, many people see men as the power figures in real life and therefore the deserving power-wielders in their simulations.”

“I would again have to say yes, simply because it is so much easier to place ‘weaker’ qualities on women, and so when women are dominant in a situation such as Model UN, it is not at all how we are conditioned to understand women only in one way. This works for males as well,but within the MUN context, I think it’s a much larger issue for women because of what the environment demands.”

“I would say that they [women] are looked at more critically. Some people, especially men, might describe them as controlling, rather than leaders, as they might call a man.”

“Yes. Definitely yes. Female assertive delegates are more negatively viewed than male delegates with the same dispositions. It’s sort of a cause for… ridicule or silent stigma on a female. Never on a male.”

“This reason is in fact why I quit debate, because I was most certainly down-scored for my more ‘masculine’ speaking style. Thankfully the student-judged aspect of MUN has allowed me to freely use this speaking style without facing too much judgement from either fellow delegates or the conference staff.”

“In my experience, there is the occasional criticism of both assertive male and female delegates. As someone more often on the receiving end of this criticism than delivering it, it would be difficult to say whether or not the criticism these delegates receive is harsher solely based on their gender.”

“This is the one area of MUN that I do think needs a complete 180. When a male delegate and a female delegate are assertive, pushy, and prodding, the male delegate is commended for his talents as a negotiator, but often times a female delegate who should garner that same title gets labeled something else…This is extremely unfortunate, because as I’ve said, I have met some unbelievably talented women on the circuit, and they deserve to be loved for their talents like Kevin Durant, not hated for them like Lebron. Using this analogy, I don’t believe that it’s a respect issue here, but how people perceive that these talents are being used, and that perspective needs to change. Again, I’ve never seen this happen, but I have heard many stories of strong women in MUN who turn people away because they’re very strong, but these same delegates gravitate towards men with the same skillset. If there is a gender discrepancy in MUN, this is exactly it, and I want people to make a more conscious effort not to see men and women with the same assertive skill set be respected, but cast in a different light. They all should be revered just the same.”

Do you believe gender stereotypes are prevalent in specific committees?

“I would be unequivocal in saying that it is a fact there are gender stereotypes that exist for different bodies. One needn’t spend a great deal of time around fellow MUNers to hear comments referring to any social or environmental committee (women’s rights committees in particular) as being ‘a committee for girls’, comments often meant as slanders towards said bodies, or as jabs meant to dissuade fellow (often male) delegates from participating in them.”

“I do believe that boys gravitate towards war committees simply because they are more action-packed and a way to show off power, rather than a humanitarian committee where things are slow moving and the only thing that matters is if you have a good, innovative solution. I participated in a Chinese Civil War cabinet, with about 10 other boys and 2 girls, one of whom was held hostage for 2 committee sessions, leaving her of no use in the issue. The boys were all very well educated and I respected them, but they were definitely not cooperating perfectly with each other, making me see more and more that the whole conference is a hunt for power. Honestly, I think war and violent conflict committees are more fun for anyone who likes fast-paced events and are not only chosen by boys. While there is definitely change arising, as I previously stated, men are in power in the majority of real life positions, so that’s how delegates assume it will be; even if the most assertive person in the room is a girl, her ideas and opinions are probably not as seriously recognized as and by the males.”

“I do — I think men are afraid to join committees related to women’s rights, because they don’t want to be looked at strangely by others for wanting to do that.”

“Yes. Unfortunately, HRC in the models I joined was sometimes seen, and I quote, as a ‘fluffy’ council. However, with the correct strategy set by following generations’ executive teams, this view changed. GA3 replaced HRC, and you soon discover it is the chairs that make up the reputation of a committee. That’s just my opinion.”

“Yes and no. There are certain delegates who do better in specific committees (e.g. GAs as opposed to crisis), and while this can relate to gender, the advantages possessed by these people aren’t necessarily gender specific.”

“I don’t think so. I’ve staffed a lot of conferences as well, and in crisis is actually where I’ve seen almost the best 50/50 split gender-wise at MUN. If anything, I would say that the GAs actually have a tougher time recruiting female delegates, because it’s already such a male-dominated room, and it gets very competitive and passive-aggressive amongst delegates, and for people who don’t already compete in MUN and see their talents as lining up with the GA, they wouldn’t want to participate there.”


Model United Nations should provide equal opportunity for all delegates to thrive and utilize their skills, regardless of gender or preconceived stereotypes.

Every delegate may have a different experience on the circuit, but it’s important to ensure that they are treated justly and not discriminated against based on gender biases, stereotypes, or double standards.

Although the issues addressed above cannot be changed overnight, nor do they reflect the experiences of each individual delegate, we encourage all delegates to break down the barriers of gender bias and do their part to lead by example in their next committee session.

If delegates are capable of addressing issues like equality on an international scale, they should be well-equipped to practice what they preach in committee.

Thank you to the following BD team members and alumni, as well as delegates currently on the circuit, for sharing their insight to help open up the conversation on Gender and MUN:

Adam Kouri (Appleby College), Nabila Elassar (Media Chair, Middle East), Aleksei Wan (Upper Canada College), Skylar Cotnam (St. Francis Xavier), Sashka Avanyan (McGill University), Caroline Cosovich (Best Delegate Alumni), Erik Leiden (BD Partnerships Manager), James Coady (Upper Canada College), Prathm Juneja (Media Chair, US Mid-Atlantic), Mel Bauer (University of Toronto), Stevan Tempesta (McGill University) and Natalia Dazo Niño (USG Latin America).

What are your experiences with gender and Model United Nations? Leave a comment below.

  • PowerDelegate

    I’d like to see some transparency on the part of conferences (probably not going to happen) on their male-female ratios in overall attendance and then in awards. I’m willing to bet there would be a dishearteningly large gap.

    • WinDork

      I a

  • MUNGirl

    As a female MUN participant of one year, I have felt that in smaller rooms of <100 people, my gender has not hurt me at all. I do feel that aggression is frowned upon for both male and female delegates, although people tend to go easier on the male. I do consider myself to be a "power delegate", but my personality in unmods for the most part if friendly and casual so I think that outweighs my outspokenness (potentially perceived bossiness) in committee. When I competed at NAIMUN, I worked in a group with mainly male delegates and was a main sponsor alongside one other double delegation. I didn't feel overshadowed for any gender based reasons. I think subtly there are gender divisions, but for the most part our generation has become very open to working amongst one another with no bias.

  • disqus_dsoTAJVr3B

    As a competitive female MUNer for 2 years I have experienced gender biasing on numerous occasions. I have sat in committee and had fellow delegates primarily male ones dismiss my ideas. In my last committee one delegate would not listen when any female delegate pitched an idea. In the end I won best delegate and he didn’t 🙂 Karma’s great! Back on topic, many times have I watched my chairs and fellow delegates dismiss female delegate’s ideas, resolutions, and not call on them. Even my best friend (male) turned against me and the few female delegates when we chaired a committee last month. One delegate he liked ignored the female delegates in the committee, while one female delegate included everyone. He accused me of being biased towards female delegates. My friend who calls himself a feminist says I am biased towards female delegates, while he appears biased towards male delegates. I am tired of seeing this trend. Whether its advisors or schools, we have to teach our delegates both female and male not to be biased toward the other gender. The only way to do this would be changing the common idea that males are the power gender and are the only ones who can peacefully resolve international conflict. The entire MUN community must work together to end this trend.

    • Julia

      I wholeheartedly agree with you, disqus_dsoTAJVr3B! I was inspired to write this article after one too many experiences in committee where I was discriminated against based on my gender. We were in a war-based crisis committee and all of the male delegates dismissed any female battle plans (similarly to your story, these gentlemen did not receive best delegate). Enough is enough. It’s a difficult to shake these preconceived biases to genders, both in real life and in committee. The important thing is that we are aware of what is happening – the more conscious we are of gender biases, the more we can consciously stop ourselves using them.

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