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Women’s Rights in Turbulent Times

November 16th 2017

2017 Commission Colloquium on Fundamental Rights

On 20-21 November 2017 the European Commission hosts its Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights. This year’s theme is ’Women’s Rights in Turbulent Times’. The recent media attention on harassment in particular, and women’s rights in general, has highlighted that there are still many challenges to achieving gender equality in our societies, making this year’s Colloquium particularly topical. Women are still underrepresented in decision-making positions, both in politics and the business world; women still earn 16% less than men on average across the EU; and violence against women is still widespread. On 25 November, the European Commission will also mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The wide range of topics for discussion will include the link between misogyny in society and the violation of the fundamental rights of women; women’s economic and political empowerment and the key obstacles to gender equality; the international women’s movement and the shrinking space for civil society; violence against women and links to other forms of violence in society; gender stereotypes, culture, and attitudes.

The Colloquium will be a chance to discuss the Commission’s ongoing work and new initiatives on a number of these issues, notably the Commission proposal to improve the work-life balance of families in April 2017 and work in the context of 2017 as the year for the fight against violence against women (more information).

Fundamental Rights Colloquium

The Colloquium is hosted by Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová. The event will bring together European and national politicians, activists and representatives from civil society, business, trade unions, and international organisations to discuss how to improve and promote women’s rights.
A Eurobarometer survey on the perception of gender equality in the European Union was published during the event.

Equinet Participation

Equinet Chair Tena Šimonović Einwalter  (Click to enlarge picture)

Equinet will be represented by some of the Executive Board members, equality bodies and Secretariat Staff. They will be highlighting some key points:

The Commission is usefully concerned to ’counteract anti-gender mobilisation and backsliding of women’s rights in the political and public sphere’. These are difficult times when the very ambition of gender equality comes under contention. We are challenged to go beyond reacting to this mobilisation and merely defending our position for gender equality. These are times that demand new ways of pursuing gender equality. At its heart, this is a challenge to European values of dignity and equality, so we need to better equip ourselves to more effectively engage more people with these values of dignity and equality.

We need leadership, support and investment from the European Commission in framing and communicating a new and positive values-based narrative about gender equality as a goal for and a value of the European Union. This requires developing new forms of communication about gender equality that call up what remains a shared value and enables people to give some priority and expression to this value. We need to invent and disseminate new communication tools to engage with people at the level of values, and to build the skills and create the partnerships to do so coherently and effectively across all the different sectors that are concerned for gender equality. An action plan for building a popular prioritisation across the EU of the values of dignity and equality is required. This could usefully be prioritised by the European Commission on foot of the Colloquium.

The European Commission could usefully strengthen the equality infrastructure in Europe working to promote the values, practice and achievement of gender equality. This could take the form of channeling substantive support to the work of all actors promoting equality for women, in particular women’s rights defenders and national equality bodies, women’s associations and partnership structures. Enabling equality bodies to tackle all issues relevant to women’s rights was also stressed by the FRA paper ’Challenges to women’s human rights in the EU’. A step in this direction, and toward ensuring implementation of the EU gender equality acquis, would be to set European standards for national equality bodies ensuring their independence, resources and effectiveness so they can fulfill their role of making rights a reality for all women on the ground and fulfill their potential of supporting the impact of equality infrastructure to meaningfully advance gender equality.

Challenges to women’s human rights in the EU: Background Reading

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has published a contribution to the Colloquium entitled: Challenges to women’s human rights in the EU. Gender discrimination, sexist hate speech and gender-based violence against women and girls. The paper suggests a number of ways that could help improve gender equality and change how society treats women and girls. These include:

  1. Creating a safer online environment to counter the growing use of the internet and social media to abuse women and girls
  2. Breaking gender stereotypes from an early age through promoting gender equality in education and lifelong learning;
  3. Introducing gender quotas to compensate for the lack of women at higher levels of politics and business, for example;
  4. Incorporating gender equality across all EU socio-economic policies to help Member States meet their gender equality commitments;
  5. Enabling national equality bodies to tackle all issues that impact women’s rights, from gender equality to violence against women
  6. Improving data collection and the sharing of knowledge on all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls to help decision makers better assess the impact of their laws and policies.

P.23 Empowering Equality Bodies
The Istanbul Convention calls on states to set up "official bodies responsible for the coordination, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and measures to prevent and combat all forms of violence" against women. According to the convention, these bodies should be responsible for data collection and analysis, as well as the dissemination of research findings.
All EU Member States have set up equality bodies that handle cases of gender discrimination in a range of areas of life. Under EU law, these bodies are competent to conduct research and awareness raising campaigns. Where this is not already the case, the competence of these bodies could be extended to cover violence against women. In any case, for equality bodies to accomplish their tasks, they would need to be adequately staffed and resourced. [See our paper on Developing Standards for Equality Bodies for more details.]

Further information

More information on the Colloquium is available here. The links to live streaming are available there as well.
A short video presenting the Colloquium is available here.

Via European Commission Press Release