[Brussels, 30 September 2011] The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) was a partner of the 11th International Women’s Health Meeting (IWHM), which took place in Brussels from 13 to 17 September 2011. The IWHM targets the advocates of women’s health, the activists in the field, feminists, academics, financial institutions and other networks working on women’s health. It aims to provide a platform for exchange as well as to inform, to question and to act on policies and practices regarding women’s health and human rights, especially their sexual and reproductive rights. In Brussels, more than 300 people participated in the 5 days of discussions with movements around the world on women’s health, films, concerts, exhibitions, plenary sessions, workshops, and Do-It-Yourself events for and by women.
On Friday 16 September, the EWL hosted two panels, which gathered more than 30 people each to discuss two key issues related to women’s rights.
‘Systems of prostitution and advocacy strategies’
The morning panel ‘Systems of prostitution and advocacy strategies’ gathered speakers from various background who wanted to share their research about the issue of prostitution.
Jeanete Dsouza, from India, made a presentation about ‘Empowering migrant sex workers to claim their right to health’. She highlighted the great stigma faced by women in prostitution in India and the very difficult situation in accessing basic services such as health services, including sexual and reproductive health services.
Pierrette Pape, from the EWL, presented the EWL campaign ‘Together for a Europe Free from Prostitution’ (click here to see the PPT). Starting with facts and figures about prostitution and violence against women, she gave a concrete picture of the abolitionist movement in Europe now, which gathers EWL member organisations, partners and supportive decision-makers. She also presented the EWL campaign tools, such as the video clip ‘For a change of perspective’ and the EWL-CATW Briefing on the links between sex trafficking and prostitution.
Mériam Cheikh then talked about the importance and use of the concept ‘sex worker’ for Moroccan NGOs, based on her two years of research. She challenges the framing ‘sex work’ as a conceptual framing which does not correspond to the complexity of situations in reality.
Finally, Malin Björk, a Swedish activist, presented the Swedish feminist experience, which resulted in the 1999 law against prostitution, criminalising the purchase of sexual services. She demonstrated how laws carry a vision of society, as the Swedish law receives increasingly stronger support from the population. She stressed how conservative it is to pay for sex and the need to place the responsibility where it belongs: with prostitute-users, traffickers and pimps, and with societies which tolerate the system of prostitution.
Participants to the panel highlighted the situations in their countries: in Haiti, as in Turkey, prostitution is prevalent. The lack of sex education was highlighted as a key problem allowing for tolerance for prostitution and being an obstacle to women’s full enjoyment of their sexual and reproductive rights.
‘NGOs’ networks against violence against women: the Observatory’
The afternoon panel ‘NGOs’ networks against violence against women: the Observatory’ aimed at sharing experiences on NGO Observatories at different levels.
Josiane Coruzzi, Director of a shelter for women victims of violence in Belgium and former Belgian expert for the EWL Observatory, was chairing the panel. As an introduction, she explained how the EWL Observatory has been important for allowing exchanges between experts from different countries, all working on the same objective within various political and socio-economical contexts.
Colette De Troy, Director of the EWL Observatory on violence against women, presented the work of the EWL Observatory and its deliverables. The EWL Observatory’s main objectives are to identify critical and emerging issues in order to feed the policy work of the EWL to advocate for improved policies and service provision for prevention and support of women victims of male violence. It raises visibility of the phenomenon of violence against women and monitors the commitments at local, national and European level regarding violence against women. For this purpose, one of the tools developed with and used by experts of the Observatory is a set of indicators to monitor progress and gaps in policies to combat violence against women.
Karin Helweg-Larsen presented the Danish Observatory, which is composed of about 25 representatives of NGOs and institutes, covering all forms of violence against women. Its aim is to exchange experiences and collect information on violence against women, to take initiatives to prevent violence against women in Denmark, to ensure that government bodies meet national and international commitments and to serve as an expert group for The Women’s Council in Denmark. Karin Helweg-Larsen presented research on the effectiveness of National Action Plans: using examples from Denmark, Finland and Spain, she showed the reduction in women killed by male violence. The Danish National Observatory has been involved in the project working to establish an Arab Regional Observatory.
Zekia Chramo, from Morocco, informed participants about the current establishment of a Regional Observatory on violence against women in the countries of the Arabic-speaking world (click here to see her PPT). She explained the different steps already taken to gather women’s NGOs in various countries, who all feel the need to set up a Regional Observatory, based on the model of the EWL Observatory, the agreement on the principles and aims and announced the future website in preparation.
During the discussion following the presentations, many questions were raised, about the composition or the funding of the observatories. It was recalled that even without financing, the alliances and networking created by the observatories reinforce NGOs by avoiding competition, giving more visibility to the grassroots work and strengthening the recommendations to governments.