Perspektiver på Ligestillingsarbejdet i EU

Malin Björk, European Women’s Lobby

Related to this morning discussions, I will try to speak about the EWL as an example of how one can try to link political organisations and projects on the local level, national level and the European level. Then for the second part I will talk about what we want in the EWL in terms of content of EU.

The EWL is the largest coalition of non-governmental women’s organisations in the European Union and conducts lobbying activities in all areas of interest to women, taking into consideration the European-level political agenda. The vision of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is a Europe of solidarity, democracy and gender equality. In this context, the EWL aims to achieve equality of women and men and to ensure that gender equality and women’s rights are taken into consideration in all European Union policies.

Basically, what we do are two kind of activities: on the one hand we do lobby work and provide information to decision-makers concerning women’s rights. Doing lobby-work in the EU is simply to try to do there what we also do at a national level. Further, it is not a one-way process where we only ask the politicians to talk to us; it is them calling us for assistance and information. The other key activity is to simply provide information on issues concerning gender equality and women’s rights our member organisations and beyond so that women’s groups can take action themselves in relation to EU policy-making.

Some of the main focuses of the EWL are
- The legislative work,
- Parity of men and women in decision-making
- Employment and social policy, which links up to the construction of the European social model or women-friendly welfare state
- Women’s rights and violence against women
- The enlargement of the EU

We also use this platform to work at the international level beyond the EU. We have advisory status to the UN ECOSOC. At the latest General Assembly we put forward two motions.

I will briefly go through the structure of the EWL:
We have two types of full Member ship: National members ad European members. The national members are platforms of women’s NGOs, such as our Danish members - the Danish Women’s Council.. It is not a network organisation with quite classical organisation in the sense that it has representative and transparent structures. We have also corresponding members in order for women’s organisations who want to keep up-dated on the issues that we work with. Finally, we have an individual membership, that is a new category for supporting members, women or men.

In the context of today, I find it important to say, that I did not know anything about the EU when I came down to Brussels to work. I knew nothing of the technical matters or about how EU works. But that is also not what matters. What matters is the content you bring, the commitment you have, and the mobilisation we can create together.

If I do not have anyone behind me, I cannot do any work. Sitting in the EWL secretariat in Brussels I think that is one of the main problems; the difficulty to make links between local feminist activities and concerns and the agenda at EU level. There is a lack of mobilisation of women who address themselves to the EU saying "you’re not doing what we are expecting you to do" and making proposals and demonstrations.

Going back to our work, we conduct activities on all issues that we find relevant for women’s rights and equality between women and men. We take into consideration what is on the agenda, but we also try to bring some issues on the agenda, which are not already there.

As we work in many areas, we actually work with mainstreaming. There is much to say about mainstreaming, I think. But most of all, I think the political will is the determining factor.

In terms of legislation, we follow all legislative work with an impact on women’s right. Obviously, in this the revision of the Treaties is an important moment. In relation to the convention on the future of Europe, which is now taking place, we have forwarded a set of recommendations. Our principal demands in this revision of the Treaty is:

Firstly, that the right to equality of women and men is established as one of ultimate aims of the European Union and as a fundamental pre-requisite for European democracy. This should be written into the preamble of the Treaty. Looking at the preliminary draft, there is not a single reference to gender equality, so we have some work to do. It is not complicated; it is a question of being strong now in our mobilisation and pressure.

Secondly, we call for the introduction of a new provision in the Treaty with the direct effect of prohibiting discrimination based on sex, based on the same model as the current provision which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality. This will be a stronger provision than the existing one, Article 13, which is already prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex, race etc. We want it strengthened.

Thirdly, we want to strengthen the possibility to develop EU policies in the field of Equality between women and men. To develop policies you have to have a basis in the Treaty and then you can design actions and policies, which correspond to the articles under the title. Today we have one article here and one article there. So we are calling for a new comprehensive title which will be specifically for gender equality and which will make it easier to develop gender equality policies. We want this title also to include violence against women.

I will now speak about our activities in relation to employment and social policies. We push for the development of a European welfare state. Doing that involves asking the EU to make closer links between what has been the core of the European Union, meaning economic cooperation and competition policies, and the social and the employment policies that are more recent fields of EU cooperation. Since the Amsterdam Treaty, social and employment policies have been developed in the European Union but with a much weaker position than the economic policies. We have to bring the issues of care of the elderly, childcare, the fight against social exclusion, women’s employments and rights to economic independence to a level equal to that of competition policies. Otherwise we will not have equality between men and women.

Finally, on violence against women. It is not an EU-competence as such. So when there is action it is based on something else in the Treaty which enables the EU to develop policies. EWL has worked a lot on different kinds of violence, such as domestic violence, women asylum seekers and trafficking and prostitution. Our view on prostitution is that it is not very useful to speak about force or free choice because these are relative concepts. Power asymmetries are always at play. On the basis of this EWL has taken a stand to say that prostitution is a form of violence against women. In order to address this, one should obviously address the demand side of the sex market.. In this context, EWL supports the Swedish law which criminalizes the buyers in prostitution. The approach focusing on the demand-side of the prostitution system is especially important today because trafficking is on the agenda in all EU-countries. Rather than treating the problem as primarily a human rights issue, governments and decision-makers treats it almost only as an issue of organised crime and illegal immigration. But it is a violation of human rights of women and children destined to sexual exploitation by western European men in the West. We cannot just say to the so called sending countries "you should do this and that". We must look at our own backyard where the demand for women and children to be trafficked is located.

We need a strong feminist movement in Europe to change the EU. In this context the joining of ten new states is a challenge and I am very optimistic about that it will strengthen us, and the feminist pressure we can gather togheter.