[Brussels, 16 May 2014] Since March, every week, the European Women’s Lobby explains the demands of its Manifesto "Act now for her future, commit to gender equality!". The eighth and last demand of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union, is credible EU policies on gender equality at international level.
The EU: a key player in international issues
The European Union (UE) is now a key player in international issues: it is present at high-level meetings, including global and United Nations (UN) gatherings, and brings the voice of the 28 Member States that it represents. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, Ms Catherine Ashton, leads the diplomatic work of the EU and supervises the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the 139 EU delegations and offices throughout the world. The external action of the EU materialises through policies on many different issues towards third-countries, including trade and enlargement, but also development, aid, and human rights.
Moreover, since 2012, the EU counts a new position: the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, whose role is to enhance the effectiveness and visibility of EU human rights policy. More importantly for women’s organisations, the EU participates every year in the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
The EWL regrets however that the issue of women’s rights and gender equality is not an integral part of the external work of the EU. It calls on all EU policies to include a women’s rights perspective, especially on aid, development and human rights and the mandate of the EUSR for Human rights.
Regarding the participation of the EU to international and UN meetings, the EWL wants to see women’s rights representatives as full EU and national delegation members. It is part of democratic processes for national delegations to include representatives of civil society for such international meetings. However, many delegations ‘forget’ to include women’s organisations or don’t support them for attending international meetings such as CSW. The EWL therefore wants to see a genuine democratic collaboration at UN and international levels through the inclusion of women’s organisations, including in the EU delegation.
The EU framework on women’s rights in external action
Protecting and promoting women’s rights at international level is part of the EU international work on human rights. In 2008, the EU adopted Guidelines to guide its external work on women’s rights: the Guidelines on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them promote gender equality, put in place effective, coordinated strategies, and address the impunity of those who have perpetrated violence against women. The document also prioritises women’s rights within the EU human rights policy towards third countries and sets out a strategy for dealing with individual cases of human rights violations.
Since 2010, the EU has an EU plan of action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development 2010-2015. Under the action plan, gender equality is systematically included in political and policy dialogues with partner countries to raise awareness and encourage change. It also proposes training on gender equality for staff in the EEAS and relevant Commission services, including all Heads of EU Delegations.
Another priority of the EU is the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325, which reaffirms the important role played by women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian responses and post-conflict reconstruction. It also stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. The EU has adopted two documents on women, peace and security: a Comprehensive EU Approach to the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and 1820 and Implementation of SCR 1325 as reinforced by 1820 in the context of European Security and Defence Policy.
However, the EU is often more vocal about women’s rights outside of its borders and the EU external policies in terms of gender equality are not consistent with the EU internal policies on this matter. For example, the EU is quite strong when it comes to violence against women and the respect for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in its development work. While the EU member states agreed on a strong definition of violence against women in the Guidelines, they are not able to agree on an internal EU strategy to end all forms of violence against women. In December 2013, the European Parliament did not succeed in voting collectively on a resolution on SRHR which would have reiterated the EU member states’ commitment to international human rights text such as the International Conference on Population and Development, which constitutes the reference instrument for SRHR.
The EWL therefore calls for consistency between EU internal and external policies, including at UN level and in the post-2015 development framework. In its February 2013 Communication ‘A Decent Life for All’, the EU asserts that the post-2015 framework should include the empowerment of women and gender equality as vital components for inclusive and sustainable development, as well as important values in their own right. The EWL wants to see such statement being materialised through a strong position and action of the EU and its member states on the international scene, while the post-2015 agenda is still being discussed, and in allEU activities on the post-2015 agenda (including the EU Year on Development 2015). Peace, security, dignity, justice and development won’t be realised as long as the realisation of women’s rights and gender equality is not at the core of the global development agenda.
Women and girls are half of Europe’s population, and are entitled to the same rights as men and boys. Achieving substantive equality between women and men, promoting women’s rights and empowering women should be a priority of the European Union and its Member States. Gender equality is an essential part of democracy, social justice, human rights and dignity. Our Manifesto "Act now for her future, commit to gender equality!" develops our vision of a Europe committed to the realization of equality between women and men.
We urge all candidates to the European elections to endorse it!