EWL News

The Europe we want? A Feminist Europe!

[Statement of the European Women’s Lobby, Brussels, 28 June 2016] At the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), we are shocked and dismayed by the outcome of the UK Referendum. British women’s rights activists were part of founding our organization and have been at the forefront of successfully demanding a better deal for women in the EU for the past 25 years.

Five decades of EU action have most certainly advanced gender equality on our continent. With pressure from EWL, our members and allies, the EU has put in place laws guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, equality in the workplace and minimum rights to maternity leave. However, despite the progress there is still a long way to go in achieving equality, as we saw in the results of the 2014 Gender Equality Index.

Whilst the EU is far from perfect it is an essential international framework providing legislation, funding and opportunities for feminists to connect and innovate. The EU provides an crucial international space for women’s organisations to address inequality and discrimination against women. Future progress towards equality for all women in the EU and beyond can only be achieved through the combined efforts of activists, decision makers and institutions within the EU.

Men and women across Europe are suffering as a result of inequality, austerity and globalization, which has left them feeling angry and powerless. Austerity has been a disaster for Europe, and an even greater disaster for women who have been doubly impacted by cuts to public services such as schools and access to health services, precarious part time work and unemployment. The situation is even worse for migrant and ethnic minority women; for disabled women; for LGBT women and for younger women.

What is more, women were practically absent from the conversation preceding the referendum as they are also sidelined in the discussion about the kind of Europe we are building. It is not for nothing that women voted in equal numbers to leave the EU in the UK referendum: they could no longer see what the EU – or their own government - was doing to make their lives better, and no one was putting forward that case either. Women’s place in a post-Brexit economy needs to be central. We need a conversation about the impact on women of austerity and cuts to public sector jobs, which tend to be mainly held by women.

We are seeing that women who have the courage to speak out: activists, journalists, politicians are being silenced with violence and threats of rape and violence. Jo Cox was murdered for what she believed in. The debate preceding the referendum has bread a climate of fear, hate and violence. Racist attacks have increased since the results were announced. Mainstream parties have tried to neutralise the populists by copying their rhetoric. This has in turn served only to pull the debate further to the extremists, contributing to a terrifying level of racism and hatred of others.

This is not the Europe we want, and we think it is not the kind of Europe most people in Britain want either. It is time for all progressives to stand up and be counted; to unite in fighting for the Europe we want.

EWL is taking action. We are launching an initiative to map the far right political parties and movements across Europe to better understand and expose the misogynist and violent core of their messages and intent. We want to draw from that proposals for actions to counter that, with our progressive allies.

We will work towards our vision for a Europe based on well-being, equality, social justice. We envision a society in which women’s contribution to all aspects of life is recognized, rewarded and celebrated - in leadership, in care and in production; all women have freedom of choice, and freedom from exploitation; and no woman has been left behind. We want a Europe built on the understanding that - as Jo Cox said in her maiden speech - “We have more in common than divides us”.

We stand ready to fight for this vision of Europe, including the UK!

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