EWL News

EWL meets women’s delegation from Northern Ireland

(Brussels, 23 April 2013) On Tuesday the 23rd of April 2013, at the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels, the EWL had the pleasure to meet a delegation of feminist activists from Northern Ireland. The delegation came to Brussels on a study tour to meet key stakeholders at European Level. This bilateral fruitful exchange of information and opinions will, it is hoped, pave the way for more efficient cooperation between EU-level advocacy work on women’s rights and gender equality and grassroots organizations.

The delegation visit was organized by the Belfast based “Training for Women Network” (TWN), Northern Ireland’s leading network for the promotion of women’s training and development, through policy, training, networking and education. Norma Shearer, TWN’s Chief Executive Officer pointed that women’s rights organizations are very active in ensuring that gender equality remains high on the political agenda. Ms Shearer added that women intend to play an ever larger role in influencing social and economic policy in the region, and that they also would like to better integrate a European dimension to their advocacy work.

Women’s organizations from Northern Ireland represented cross-community constituencies and those from different political and religious traditions: “Women into Politics”,Shankill Women’s Centre”, “Falls Women’s Centre”, “Kilcooley Women’s Centre”, “Short Strand Community Forum”, “Foyle Women’s Information Network”, “Hurt” and “Women’s Aid NI”.

ok 2During the meeting, European Lobby policy officers had the opportunity to learn about women’s rights-related issues that are specific to the context in Northern Ireland and need to be brought to the European agenda, whereas for the delegation it was a great possibility to get to know the lobbying work at EU level in practice and discuss to what extend it can influence regional and national authorities. “It was an unique opportunity to hear directly from grassroots organizations about the region specific problems they have to face in their everyday work on the promotion of women’s rights” stated Karima Zahi EWL Policy Officer and Project Coordinator On anti-discrimination, migration and asylum issues from a gender perspective.

EWL got to know a wide range of actions that delegation members have consistently worked on including increasing women’s representation in decision-making, promoting education and employability skills, raising awareness on health issues, combating violence against women and poverty and promoting peace and reconciliation in the region.
During the meeting, the delegation highlighted their concerns about the growing deficit in democracy and governance when it comes to the participation of women in decision-making at both local and European level. As representatives of civil society, their role is to inform on and to advocate for women’s rights towards policy makers. However, it seems that their voices are constantly ignored at regional and national level. A substantial decrease in the funding for NGOs defending women’s rights puts into question the representation of half of Northern Irish society and therefore undermines that core European value: democracy.

ok34“As women’s rights organizations, we get 82 times less money than any other NGO representing the interest of civil society in Northern Ireland” said Norma Shearer. Even if they manage to establish a dialogue with policy makers, there is little to no follow up on decisions taken by the politicians. Women’s rights representatives feel that their political representatives fail to recognize the value of their sustained work to improve economic stability and social cohesion, as well as to advance women’s rights. “They can’t hear us” complains Norma Shearer, “or maybe they just don’t want to listen to us”.

Getting their voices heard in Brussels is another task, equally arduous task. More cooperation with MEPs and better opportunities for civil society representatives to engage in constructive dialogue with their European representatives are necessary. It is not always obvious to see the relevance of policy work at EU level, although many were well aware of the existing policy and legal framework at the EU and UN level. The delegation was therefore particularly keen to improve knowledge on how to contribute to and influence European policy on gender equality. After a discussion on several region-specific problems, members of the delegation brought EWL’s attention to the Northern Ireland strategy on domestic and sexual violence. Its gender -blind character results from the general definition of a “victim of violence” as broadly discussed by post conflict Northern Irish society. The delegation also regretted the very low representation of women among the MEPs from Northern Ireland, citing women’s lack of confidence and the mistaken belief that they are not capable of being a decisive part of the decision making process at any level of public and private life.

Tackling the problems of women’s participation in decision making and all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), the delegation whole heartedly supported the EWL initiative “Make my year”, advocating a European Year against VAWG and the introduction of an EU legal framework to address VAWG. EWL strongly supports women’s organizations in Northern Ireland and looks forward to strengthening its cooperation with them in the near future.

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