For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

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Women more present in words than actions when EU assesses its Neighbourhood Policy

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Last year’s new European Neighbourhood Policy meant an increased commitment from the European Union to support human rights when aiding its neighbouring countries. But women’s rights are still very much missing in the formal documents, and thereby also in the actions taken and planned. This although the official words spoken are underlining equality.

In May 2011 the European Union revised its Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in, as the European Commission (EC) describes it, ”a rapid respons to the changes taking place in particular in the Southern Mediterranean but also in Eastern Europe”.  This new strategy was adopted to show Europe’s support to the peoples of the Arab Spring and to their struggle for freedom, democracy and safety. A year on the EC has made an assessment of the implementation of this new policy so far, and the result is presented in the report Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy.

When presenting the report, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Commission Vice-President (HR/VP), Catherine Ashton, was optimistic:

- We have seen great progress in some countries. In others, we need to encourage the political leadership to take bold steps down the path to reform. I have always said that we will be judged on our work with our immediate neighbours, and I am convinced that we are moving in the right direction. We will continue to help our partners in their efforts to embed fundamental values and reinforce the economic reforms which are necessary to create what I call ‘deep democracy’, she said.

Women’s rights not in writing

The ENP defines deep and sustainable democracy as ”including free and fair elections, freedom of association, expression and assembly, the rule of law administered by an independent judiciary” etc, but there is no mentioning of women’s rights to equal participation in decision-making.

Since history has shown us that when women’s rights are not spelled out in basic documents (and sometimes even when they are) they won’t appear in reality, this could be seen as very unfortunate. Especially since Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy states that it ”is based on new features, including…a recognition of the special role of women in reshaping both politics and society”. A statement further endorsed by Catherine Ashton:

- I’ve been very privileged to meet women in countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia. We need to ensure that women play their full part in society, in the political and economic life of their countries, not just because of course it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes economic and political sense. I would argue women should be at the heart of all the transformations that follow.

Actions for women through the ENP

So the question is: How have these EU statements on women’s rights been transformed into actions concerning the neighbouring countries during the past year, and what are the plans within this area for the years to come?

Delivering on a new European Neighbourhood Policy has only one paragraph mentioning women’s rights. It states that building sustainable democracy also means ensuring gender equality and increasing the participation of women in political and economic life. But after that the paragraph just goes on observing that some of the countries last year tried to set up legislation to ensure a more balanced composition of parliaments, but that they have encountered resistance and therefore this action has not had the desired effect.

But in the accompanying document Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity: Report on activities in 2011 and Roadmap for future action, there is a list of actions taken within the ENP to establish full participation of women in society when it comes to the Southern Neighbourhood. This includes:

  • A high level meeting in New York in September that ”drew international attention to the need to ensure that women play an active part in political processes worldwide”.
  • The HR/VP during the Women’s Rights Forum in Libya in November announcing the launch of a programme for women’s empowerment, including capacity building and education in the region.
  • A regional campaign on women’s political participation in the Middle East and North Africa launched in December, together with ”concrete projects in this field”.
  • In Tunisia: promoting gender senstitive institutional and judicial reforms and women’s participation in elections.
  • In Egypt: addressing women’s participation in political life through a cultural initiative called the Spirit of Tahrir.
  • In Jordan: having two ”Village Business Incubators” promoting rural women’s right to participate in the labour market.

Actions to come

For the upcoming period of 2012-2013 the actions specifically mentioning women are:

  • The programme Political and economic empowerment of women in Southern Mediterranean region, aiming to help marginalised women gaining access to economic and public life.
  • Increased funding to the Anna Lindh Foundation and its programme Civil Society for Dialogue, targeting youth and women.

The equivalent document for the Eastern Neighbourhood – Eastern Partnership: A Roadmap to the autumn 2013 Summit – has no mention of women’s rights or participation whatsoever.

The new ENP entailed the principle of ”more for more”, meaning that the more a partner country makes progress and implements reforms, the more support it will recieve from the EU. In separete country progress reports these reforms are stated as actions that EU ”invites” the country to take. Four of the ones for 2012 mention women or gender:

Armenia invitations contain ”adopting a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, including further steps leading to the harmonisation of legislation with the EU acquis in the areas of gender equality and non-discrimination.”

Jordan invitations contain ”increase efforts to eradicate violence against women and to promote their integration in politics, socio-economic life through promoting women entrepreneurs, women’s participation in the labour market and in education, in line with the recommendations listed in the preliminary report issued in October by the UN Special Rapporteur on discrimination against women”.

Lebanon invitations contain ”pay special attention to enhancing the role of women in both public and economy sectors respectively”.

Ukraine invitations contain ”address in good time issues raised in the area of justice and home affairs, notably on combating trafficking in human beings taking into account a gender and human rights perspective”.

These are all of course good examples, but in comparison to the points on various measures regarding trade that are taking up several pages of the different documents, it is not much. Especially when accompanied by a floating language that uses non-specific words like ”leading to”, ”harmonisation”, ”pay special attention to” etc.

In other words: it remains to be seen how the EU’s bold statements on the importance of gender equality  will actually be followed through in its practical dealings with the neighbouring countries the upcoming years.

Successful work for local equality in Serbia

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Aneta Dukic, Fenomena, shake hands with Krajelvo mayor Ljubisa Simovic, holding the signed European Charter for Equality of Men and Women in Local Life. Photo: Bojana Minovic/Fenomena.

After several years of hard work the women’s rights organization Fenomena celebrated last Friday, when the mayor of their town Kraljevo in Serbia, signed the European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life.
- We want to use the significance of this document and the organization behind it, CEMR, as the means for gender mainstreaming in our town, says Aneta Dukic, project coordinator at Fenomena.

The European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life was launched in 2006 by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR). CEMR is an organization working to promote a united Europe based on local and regional self government and democracy. At present it has over 50 national associations of towns, municipalities and regions, from 40 countries, as members. With the charter CEMR wants its members to ”commit themselves to use their powers and partnerships to achieve greater equality for their people”.

Law not implemented

Serbia already has a national law on gender equality and every municipality is obliged to set up a local council for equality. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that these issues are being sufficiently delt with.

- Implementation is a big problem in general, and especially at local level. The councils are more of a formal construction, and can be put into question from many different points of view. There are no local action plans for gender equality improvement in Kraljevo and such is the situation in most of the cities and municipalities in Serbia, says Aneta Dukic.

Project with three other cities

With funding from the European Commission and The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, Fenomena started a project toghether with three other organizations, one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, one in Montenegro and another one in Serbia. The organizations have involved their local governments and they are now all exchanging ideas on how to work with gender equality. The aim is for all the local governments in the project to sign the charter, and on May 4th Kraljevo became the first. Signing means that the city government makes itself morally and politically obliged to adopt a local action plan for the improvement of gender equality, within two years from the date of the signing. And Fenomena is already on the next step.

- We have applied and got a formal decision issued by the mayor for creating a local action plan, and we also have one member in the working team. Now we are collecting gender sensitive data, which will be used to define priorities, aims, activities and budget. And when it’s finished, the local action plan will be submitted to the local parliament for adoption, says Aneta Dukic.

The six fundamental principles of the European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life:

  • Equality of women and men is a fundamental right
  • In order to ensure the equality of women and men, multiple discriminations based on ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, religion, socio economic status… must also be addressed
  • The balanced participation of women and men in decision making is necessary for a democratic society
  • Gender stereotypes and the attitudes and assumptions that arise from them must be eliminated
  • A gender perspective must be taken into account in all activities of local and regional government
  • Properly resourced action plans need to be drawn up and implemented

EU and UN Women increase cooperation on gender equality

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Improve women’s role in political and economical decision-making and enhance the fight against perpetrators of sexual violence walking free. These are the main points of a new partnership on gender equality between EU and UN Women.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs for EU and Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet for UN Women, during EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit in Brussels, Belgium on April 16th.

EU and UN Women has a long history of working together, for example in the Increasing Accountability in Financing for Gender Equality Progamme created to help governments, donors and civil society in 15 countries to improve their work on gender equality.  But the Memorandum “ensures closer collaboration”, writes the European Commission in a press release.

Fight discrimination

- Discrimination against women and girls remains the most pervasive and persistent form of inequality. Together with UN Women we will work to improve the role of women in political and economic decision-making. We will also fight impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence, ensure better protection of women and improve their access to justice. These are issues that need our full attention and this new partnership enhances our ability to work even harder to reach these goals, commented Catherine Ashton.

According to the press release the partnership will involve the two organisations working together on policies and programmes on gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as them regularly sharing relevant information, analysis and strategic assessments in order to improve collaboration. How these efforts will manifest themselves in practice has not yet been presented.