As the President of the European Instruments for Human Rights and Democracy and in respect of the EESC EIDHR mission to Tunisia next week, I attended this event at the European Parliament as an observer.
The room was full will many observers standing to listen to the high representative speeches and especially the concerns expressed by the women both in the EU Parliament and the Arab states.
The conference "Spring forward for women", co-organised by UN women and the European Commission was hosted by the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee of the European Parliament. The conference brought together women parliamentarians from the Arab States and members of the European Parliament to foster expertise, experience sharing and networking around key issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment in both the European Union and the Arab States.
The delegation of women parliamentarians from the Arab States region included representatives from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and from the Arab Parliament.
The Spring Forward for Women Conference takes places at a historic moment in time, in the lead up to the Beijing+20 review in 2015, where UN Member States will come together to deliberate on the status of women 20 years since the Fourth World Conference in Beijing. The 1995 Conference produced the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted by 189 governments, and considered the most comprehensive affirmation of women’s rights and empowerment, which remains only partially fulfilled today.
President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz : “The European Parliament wanst to bring together parliamentarians from Arab and European Countries. I believe it will be extremely useful and interesting to learn from each other's experiences and to work together towards the common goal of achieving full equality. As UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson reminded us in her remarkable speech on gender equality and women's rights, "No country in the world can yet say that they have achieved gender equality. These rights I consider human rights". I fully agree with her. We still have a long way to go.”
Mr Schulz supported the fight for equality as a politician but also as a father . He said he was ashamed that he knew his daughter would grow up disadvantaged. He also reminded the audience that it will be 81 years before gender equality reached if we continue in the same way as we are doing today.
Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. : "This Conference takes place at a historic juncture, as we embark on the global review of the Beijing Platform for Action, and as the nations of the world come together to define, by 2015, a new global development framework with a specific goal to attain gender equality and empower women everywhere. Parliamentarians will play a key role in this context to advance gender equality at the local, national and global levels. Half of the people parliamentarians represent are women and girls. Their hopes and dreams are in the hands of those who from day to day make sure that laws are living and fully relevant instruments, and who represent them in the many difficult negotiations in international bodies.”
The Director reminded us that this was a Wake Up Call as it will be 2095 before gender equality is reached . It is Time to change the narrative
She highlighted that improvements were being made in Politics, more women were in the system, but the process was still too slow with less than 1 in 5 parliamentarians despite the Beijiing Declaration. EU had achieved 35% an increase since 1979. But for Ecomonic participation there was a 60% gap globally and in Health there was greater access, but still a huge shortfall.
Under performance is entranced in the system - and now there is a serious need to advance the representation. Women already in the policy making arenas will have increased pressure but they are the ones who can help make greater change. When women participate in decision making the impact is on lives of society and lives of women of the future.
In line with many opinions of the EESC figures were quoted on the impact on GDP growth is increased by increasing gender balance, the benefits of increasing the number of women on boards and the increase of transparency and decrease of corruption where women were in the decision making process. More than 100 countries have legislation to promote gender equality but implementation is often the challenge. She called on Parliamentarians and civil society to be key to policy and implementation
European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn: "Gender equality is a key issue in the EU's Southern Neighbourhood region. It is key for political reforms, justice and economic development. I am confident this conference is one more step in our endeavor to empower women at the political level both in the southern partner countries and here in the EU."
Mr Hahn stated that Women are without doubt an important aspect of social life , but still lack inclusion in political and economic life . Democracy without women is incomplete
European Commission Special Representative for Human Rights Stavoros Lambridinis gave an excellent speech presenting a question as to why extremists fear SMART girls – Taliban shot Malala , Boko Haram abducting 200 girls - His answer was that smart girls become educated women and then work to change politics and status quo – hence smart women are feared.
He said boys and men need to be equally educated to understand values of an equal and inclusive society . Domestic action in every country was needed and no one was getting it right, including the EU .
Despite the fact that we have educated women it still allows for
- Domestic violence
- Lack of access to land /funding for economic activity
- Lack of access to inheritance
- Lack of access to political decision making
- Rape in war - a most inhumane and serious crime
Hence Post 2015 the Sustainable Development Goals of the EU was a stand alone goal – Gender equality , plus additionally human rights
Involving civil society in process is paramount and his recommendations were :
- All party women groups
- Exchange good practices across states
- Political parties to make all structural levels have measures to include women ( does not need a constitutional change as from within a party)
- Encourage women to vote !
- Include women can engage in protests/rallies/campaigns which challenge inequality aspects of society
He pointed out that underpinning everything was the Universality of Human Rights – everyone is afforded human rights irrespective of culture , place in the world, situation in society. Universal language of the powerless against the relativism of the powerful. ( A female victim of DV will never say it is against her culture for you to intervene on her behalf,. Her husband doing the beating will object that it is a violation of their culture for you to intervene )
All the sessions were chaired by the FEMM President Iratxe García Pérez . The second session and subsequent sessions of the day included many debates and statements from Arab State Female Parliamentarians sharing their recommendation, pleas for the EU to help , and their concerns for the future. Many highlighted how their rights were dependent on the ruling parties and religion.
The Brussels Conference will feed into the global review and will use the opportunity to reaffirm gender equality and women’s rights as essential means for achieving peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. The Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee of the European Parliament is hosting the plenary session day. On the second day, women parliamentarians from the Arab States will participate in the meetings of the European Parliament Delegations working on the Arab States and exchange experiences and perspectives with fellow parliamentarians on the situation in their respective regions and countries.
I found the conference very valuable in the context of our EESC work in SOC, REX , SDO and EIDHR