It was not a typical Monday in the Brussels bubble. It was a day with the members of the European Women's Lobby. That’s how I started this week in Brussels; by attending a meeting where I was the only man in a room filled with devoted female activists and proud feminists who gathered in the Belgian capital to develop a common strategy to confront the backlashes and to enhance the headways related to women plights in Europe. What a way to kick off the week.
Seating alone in the back of the room, I saliently listened to the speeches, the worries, the perspectives and the proposals uttered by dynamic and outspoken women from Turkey, from the Balkans, Central and Northern Europe committed to advancing women rights and gender equality; if they were the soldiers of an all female army, I’d say they are bent on achievning world peace and universal rights. Their charisma, passion and determination left no doubts in me that these women, if given the opportunity for change, they would make it happen.
Led by a captivating and energizing Joanna Maycock in partnershio with the association Kvinna till Kvinna, these women sounded like they knew very well what they wanted to achieve, however they lack the unity factor. «Today» said Joanna «it is harder and harder to influence policy makers. We need to be political and transformative, and do a better job in strengthening women’s movements, and creating alliances with other organizations. We need to understand power: the power within ourselves, the power of others, and the power to change. We also need to coordinate efforts, have more leadership from our members, and more collective voices.»
The new international security regime made of laws and regulations aiming at maintaining national security is curbing human rights. The result has been the consistent marginalization of women’s issues. The spaces for women rights organizations is shrinking everywhere. What keeps me optimistic is the solidarity among women. Solidarity is beyond borders.
The state of the art is mixed. European women's rights movements have reasons to be satisfied by the progress made in some areas, but they are still concerned about the backwards direction some gender issues are heading towards. The EWL is rightly proud about France's recent decision to adopt a law targeting prostitution, by recognizing prostitution as a form of violence against women, and providing support for persons in prostitution. Areas where progress in being made include the mounting presence of more women as heads of big companies, in organizations boards, in decision-making positions.
In areas like gender budgeting though, women’s organizations claim they are losing ground. The EU austerity measures are affecting everything that involves economic issues like equal pay. Nationalistic, conservative and right wings movements are contesting gender ideologies, and keeping gender issues of out the public and institutional discourse.
No matter what is going on in the EU, women rights issues are been underestimated and put aside. Women in the Balkans are used to facing any sort of obstacles. We do not get discouraged easily. We will continue the same efforts in lobbying for what we think is important, because women's rights improvements affect society as a whole.