MILIEU conference 2023 “Gender, Disability and Social Change”

Who says that nothing exciting happens during the winter time? The recently concluded “Gender, Disability, and Social Change” international conference, organized by the MILIEU project team and the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, hosted a variety of fascinating talks and discussions. Looking back on this dynamic interdisciplinary event which was hosted in Sofia, Bulgaria between 24-26 November, we are happy to conclude that it achieved its goal of producing valuable insights into the processes involved in advocating for women’s rights, championing the disability movement, and empowering LGBTQI+ communities. 

At MILIEU we believe in embracing transformative movements, but we are aware of the existing challenges that accompany them (including, but not limited to, right-wing actors that oppose or ridicule the kinds of changes we would like to promote). That is why our conference, with its diverse strands, delved into the evolving landscapes of social change and the various attempts to overturn progressive policies, initiatives and practices. There were several main strands of exploration, from arts and media to social policies and legislation, case studies, activism, and backlash against movements and policies. 

Some of our participants examined the profound impact of the arts, including visual arts, literature, theater, and music, as powerful tools for challenging stereotypes and fostering inclusion. Celebrating the contributions of artists with disabilities and those of diverse gender identities in shaping culture was a recurring theme. Other discussions analyzed the influential role of pop culture, film, television, streaming platforms, and social media in reshaping perceptions of gender and disability. Engaging conversations took place regarding the media’s role in promoting or hindering social change and inclusivity. The conference also evaluated existing social policies and legislation impacting individuals with disabilities and those from marginalized gender groups. Attendees explored opportunities for policy reform to better support these communities. Certain talks highlighted successful initiatives and best practices in advancing gender and disability rights. Case studies of organizations and individuals making a significant impact were featured prominently. Activists and advocates at the forefront of gender and disability movements shared their experiences. Discussions centered around the challenges, successes, and future directions of these transformative movements. Last but not least, we all spoke about various forms of backlash and organized mobilization against movements, policies, practices, arts, and pop-culture advocating for social change and empowerment of marginalized communities. Together, we had deep discussions about the role political and religious opportunism and populism play in creating a hostile environment for social change.

Our event witnessed the active engagement of researchers, activists, artists, policymakers, and all interested parties who shared their insights, research findings, success stories, and creative expressions. The presentations contributed significantly to the ongoing conversation surrounding gender, disability, and social change. In conclusion, the “Gender, Disability, and Social Change” International Conference served as a vital platform for unveiling transformations, fostering inclusivity, and amplifying the voices that drive gender, disability, and social change. The shared experiences and the ideas exchanged during this event will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on future discussions and endeavors in these crucial areas.