In May 2018, after very detailed consideration, the WCPT Executive Board announced the decision to hold congress 2021 in Dubai, hosted by the Emirates Physiotherapy Society (EPS). Between May 2018 and May 2019, we responded to questions from three of our more than 100 member organisations on the rationale for the decision. At the General Meeting in May 2019, we were aware of concerns being discussed. However, no formal motions were presented by our member organisations about the decision to go to Dubai for congress in 2021. At that same meeting, WCPT presented our new Diversity and Inclusion Policy, which was unanimously approved. We recently announced the members of our Congress Programme Committee.
I, and others, have been asked the question, how can we host a congress in Dubai and hold fast to our values of diversity and inclusion? Questions have been raised about personal security, safety for members of our LGBTQI+ community, labour rights. There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about travelling to Dubai and we have provided some visitor information here.
How do we make a decision about the location of congress?
Following any call for expressions of interest to host the WCPT congress, there is a very detailed review of the expressions submitted by our member organisations, as well as one-to-one meetings and site visits. The call in March 2017 specifically asked for bids from the Gulf/Middle East and South America as we have never held a congress in those parts of the world.
We also investigate the experiences of organisations similar to WCPT, which have hosted conferences in the proposed destinations and draw on our extensive network within the professional community to gather relevant information. Thereafter, a detailed report is prepared for consideration by the WCPT Board that highlights professional, organisational, logistical, financial and political strengths and challenges for each bid, as well as a risk analysis.
WCPT does not make a rushed decision. If the Board requires more detail, it is sought and provided and a final decision is only made after the Board is fully informed. All of the issues raised by member organisations and individual physiotherapists were discussed with the EPS and the Dubai Business Events before the decision was made to hold WCPT Congress 2021 in Dubai, and we continue to liaise with these organisations, recognising situations change and evolve.
But what about diversity and inclusion?
WCPT has 120 member organisations across the world. We exist in a political world even though we are an international non-governmental organisation. We acknowledge that there are challenges to hosting congress and other meetings in places where the prevailing culture, religion and/or approach to human rights may be different to the experiences of the Board members. Nonetheless, the Board members weigh up the many different perspectives and always strive to make the best decision possible, recognizing that it may not be ‘perfect’ or feel comfortable.
If we only hear voices like mine, give platforms to faces like mine, and to physiotherapists who share my liberal beliefs and values, then we are not truly a global organisation. We must consider in our deliberations the extent to which physiotherapists, particularly in the Global South, will be able to travel to different countries and share knowledge and insights with their colleagues in the global physiotherapy community. If we only hold congresses in the Global North, then we will not hear from and include the Global South. That is neither diversity or inclusion – that is the opposite – it is uniformity, homogeneity and exclusivity. Patterns of advantage and disadvantage are different across the globe, and it is sometimes easier to spot the patterns in other countries than those in our own.
Our member organisations, like the EPS, are not government representatives, we and they may not agree with the stated political stance of their current government or leaders or their laws. WCPT’s role is to host a congress and in so doing we can shine a light on some of the issues that have been raised in communications with me. We have done this in the past and we will continue to do so in the future.
Our presence in countries where we visit, work and host congresses allows us to articulate and discuss what we believe to be best professional and ethical practice. In considering Dubai as a location for congress, our move towards topics such as the health needs of the LGBTQI+ community, indigenous people, migrant health, diversity and inclusion was highlighted to the local authorities and we were reassured that such topics were not problematic for WCPT Congress 2021.
The content of congress is a matter for the Congress Programme Committee and, of course, the wider global community through the call for focused symposia, abstracts, pre and post congress courses. You get to shape the programme.
Leading in a complex, nuanced global community is exciting and challenging. There is a constant need to hold ambiguity and dissonance. Living the diversity and inclusion message requires intense listening, and deep reflection. We at WCPT will continue to do it to the best of our ability recognising that we are on a journey and participating, engaging and shining a light is how we make change happen.