Gender equality is an urgent issue in order to insure peace, democracy and human rights in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The "Euro-Mediterranean Regional Dialogue on Advocacy in the Field of Gender Equality" held in Casablanca from the 24th to the 26th of October 2017 enabled 50 organizations committed to women’s rights to exchange their practices of implementation and monitoring of equality policies. This dialogue was organized by the Euro-Mediterranean Women’s Foundation (FFEM), the Federation of Women’s Rights Leagues (FLDF) and the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) thanks to the support of the European Union and as part of the CSO WINS project. For 3 days, the associations debated with academics, media and representatives of institutions such as the European Union, UN Women and States such as Morocco and France, on the measures to be taken to correct gender inequalities at the political, professional, legal or family levels among others.
Their reflections helped build a common vision, assess current challenges and make recommendations to policy makers. These learnings are particularly important on the eve of the Fourth Conference of Ministers Responsible for Women’s Issues of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) to be held in Cairo on the 27th of November, 2017. Until the complete synthesis of the exchanges, here are some ideas that emerged from the work carried out by the associations present at the Regional Dialogue and active in 12 different countries.
While several constitutions of Southern Mediterranean countries recognize parity, behaviors are struggling to change: there are still few elected officials in local and national governments, women underestimate their leadership abilities and public opinion takes a negative look at those who embark on a political career. Affirmative action measures are needed to accelerate women’s access to positions of responsibility. Thus, the percentage of women in decision-making bodies of political parties, associations and trade unions must be determined by law and binding measures must be put in place.
Inequalities in economic rights and the status of women affect their political commitment, which is why governments must promote the employment of women. Furthermore, violence against women will not be effectively combated as long as there is so much socio-economic precariousness, because it is the root of new forms of violence and forced marriages.
The use of "conscious and conceptualized" language (for instance the use of the term "child marriages" instead of "early marriages") and the popularization of existing protective laws that are unknown to perpetrators and potential victims are some of the ways that could make these policies more effective. Actions should be launched as a priority against rape, which is becoming commonplace and increasing everywhere in the Mediterranean. Protecting migrant women and children who accompany them against sexual violence in countries in conflict, transit and exile - like Syria or Libya - is also an emergency.
Other suggestions have been identified in this area: conducting campaigns tailored to the general public -including poorly educated populations- on the impact of unwanted pregnancies, and unifying advocacy discourses at the level of the countries in the region that justify certain forms of violence in the name of religious texts or "customs". As for countries that do not yet have framework laws against violence, it’s in their best interest to draw inspiration from the Tunisian law adopted in 2017 and considered as an advanced legal framework.
Finally, economic empowerment is the big project that needs to be tackled again and again in order to translate feminist struggles into results. Women’s access to remunerative sectors is an unfinished but promising task. To achieve this, women’s economic empowerment requires affirmative action measures in taxation and access to credit, working for equal representation of women and men in decision-making bodies of companies, encouraging women to invest in new forms of sustainable economy and involve local authorities in the support programs for women entrepreneurs.
In a transversal way, local associations are close to the reality on the ground. Through them, unique data is collected on the implementation of national and regional plans and policies for equality. International institutions and platforms must recognize the role of democratic vigilance exercised by associations, their expertise and must support them with financial means because they are the ones preventing the non-regression of acquired rights. In addition, the actors of the Regional Dialogue on advocacy have claimed the joint work between institutions of different natures (academic, political, operational ...) to obtain a stronger impact from a legal, but above all social, point of view. There must be a shared understanding between the efforts of these associations and the political will in order to create a feminist diplomacy. The fight against violence against women in particular requires the commitment of all political actors and those at the highest levels of power.
This platform is part of the Axis 1 “Strengthening the capacities of equality actors” of the Priority Solidarity Fund “Women for the future in the Mediterranean” funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women’s Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.