EWL press coverage

It’s very important that women care about Europe, says Cécile Gréboval

Una Purdie
WVoN co-editor

As the Euro-zone crisis unfurls, any positive, progressive voices coming from Europe are hard to hear over the shrill cries of the Euro-sceptics.

Opponents of the European Union have seized upon the ongoing financial problems to decry pan-European action on pretty much any issue.

In this political climate, ensuring women’s rights and equality issues remain on the agenda of Europe’s leaders is a tough task; but with over 20 years’ experience successfully defending women’s interests, the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is well up to the challenge.

Cécile Gréboval, the Secretary General of the European Women’s Lobby, spoke to Women’s Views on News about their work, and explained why it is now more important than ever for women’s groups to stand together.

Can you tell us a bit about what the Women’s European Lobby does?

We are an umbrella organisation of women’s groups across 30 countries in Europe. We work together to promote women’s rights and gender equality with the European institutions.

Broadly speaking the themes that we work on are violence against women, the equal representation of women and men in decision making, all the European legislation related to gender equality and social economic policies for women.

On top of this we also tackle issues of migration or health, for example.

You represent more than 2500 organisations to the various European institutions. It must be a massive task to co-ordinate that?

It is, yes, and it means that sometimes our processes can be lengthy. Because what is very important for us is that we do have consensus … we put together a common position and then we are able to go to the European Commission or the European Parliament and say on a topic such as, say, maternity leave, this is the position that we represent and this is what we would like you to do.

How easy do you find it to get women’s voices heard at a European level?

It is mostly heard, in most cases, but not always listened to.

I think there’s been some progress in the last years. I think it becomes less and less acceptable, for example, to have very few women in political decision making.

It becomes less and less acceptable to see violence against women as a private matter.

At the same time, there are topics where the advances are really slow.

I mean, the European Union is not more than the sum of all our governments. So if the EU does not advance on some topics it’s because basically our ministers do not want to advance on some topics.

What are your big priority issues at the moment?

We are trying to get the European Union to do more on violence against women.

We would like, for example, to have a European year against violence against women, and common legislation.

We would like to see the same level of protection and quite a strong gendered approach to violence.

We also have quite a big campaign on prostitution. That’s been going on for the last two years.

The second priority is really about women in decision making.

We have been pushing since the lobby was created for measures to ensure the equal representation of women and men in the European Institutions, which still hasn’t happened.

That means there are no quotas or parity measures for the European Commission or for the European Parliament, so we are looking at that situation.

The European Commission is looking at quotas for women in board rooms; do you support this?

I know this is a big debate in the UK right now!

We are supporting this and also trying to see what accompanying measures work, because if you want this to happen then the private sector needs to be on board and positive towards it.

So we are looking at what happened in Norway, for example, to make the legislation successful. This includes databases, mentoring programmes, awareness raising within companies and a whole lot of measures that can make this happen without too much difficulty.

Can you tell us about some of the achievements of the European Women’s Lobby over the years?

A big success was in 1997-1999. We had a big campaign for the integration of equality between women and men in the European Treaty, and this was included in the Treaty.

It may seem like a detail, or something really theoretical, but I think it’s very important that the founding text of our common Europe includes a strong reference which says that in all its activities the EU should promote equality between women and men. That’s quite a strong position.

And then I think the simple fact that violence against women, parity and issues like this is not seen only as an issue for member states, but also something of common concern – even if not much is done about it – is also a good thing. We’ve been pushing very much to have this put on the political agenda.

We’re also working quite a lot to make sure that the diversity of women’s needs are integrated in our policies, and are more represented at European level. In this context we very strongly supported a European network of migrant women.

Has the current financial crisis affected progress on women’s rights issues?

Typically, in relation to women’s rights, what we see happening now is that, of course, the crisis and the money argument is put forward to block some of the advances.

There is a very strong focus on growth without looking at investment in social issues and investment in fundamental rights.

To some extent as well there is a lack of political will to look at some of the questions that are important for us in relation to women’s rights, such as having common policies on violence against women or being stronger on the issue of sexual and reproductive rights.

So yes it’s really very important, especially now, to be quite vigilant about what’s going on – and to be present.

I think it’s very important that women care about Europe.

Do you find it difficult to get positive media coverage for the issues you promote?

It’s not easy.

It’s quite challenging to get a lot of media coverage, because we actually work on two topics that are not seen as particularly sexy by media – namely women and Europe – so can you imagine?

I’ve learned that even for journalists who are friendly and willing it’s not very easy for them to sell the topics to their bosses.

The new Chair of the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee is a man, Mikael Gustafsson. Do you think it is an important step to get more involvement of men in women’s rights issues?

In practice we are working with men every day, so for us, it’s important that we have feminists that support our views.

We’ll see, we’ll put him to the test. We’ve heard he’s a feminist so we hope so.

We do miss Eva-Britt Svensson [the former chair]. She was a strong feminist but she was also able to mobilise the whole of the European Parliament behind our issues because of her personality, because of her experience, so we’ll miss her for sure.

But we’ll see what happens with the new chair.

Are you hopeful then for the future for gender equality in Europe?

If we weren’t we would just not continue the job! So I think we have to be, but I think we also have to be vigilant in terms of women’s rights continuing to be supported and to be funded.

Yes I think things are changing – too slowly for my liking – but we need to continue, and I think importantly we need to continue together.

So it’s a question of European solidarity.

It’s a question also of solidarity with the women’s movement beyond Europe as well.

Latest video

EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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