Following the Union for the Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on Women (12 September, Paris), on 18 September the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)'s plenary session held a debate with women's representatives from Tunisia, Lebanon and other Mediterranean countries on the economic and social situation of women in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
Henri Malosse, President of the EESC, said that "There has been a clear degradation of women's rights as developments in the various countries - such as Egypt, Tunisia and Syria - show. This trend is all the more paradoxical given that women were at the forefront of the Arab Spring. Any violation of the rights of women is a crime against human rights. The EESC, the voice of European civil society, feels compelled to address the urgent situation in the region, which is an issue of concern not just to women but to civil society as a whole."
Based on the debate, the EESC will produce concrete policy input, from civil society's point of view, on how to promote these rights. In the last year, the EESC has repeatedly denounced flagrant inequalities between men and women in the Mediterranean region and the violation of their basic rights (i.e. violence against women, discouragement of participation in public life, inequalities in pay and job quality, etc.). According to the EESC, there is worrying potential for a rapid reversal of women's rights and the overall situation of women in the region.
Jamal Hermes Gibril, President of the Lebanese Council of Women, said that "Women have long suffered from marginalisation and discrimination in our part of the world. After the Arab Spring, little has been accomplished. All countries are in chaos now and women are paying the highest price. Gender violence and abuse, terrorisation of women in public life… This is not the end result the West wanted to see, but it means that its policies have gone terribly wrong or have not helped.
National stakeholders and the EU have to work together to make things change. We have had enough broken dreams, enough broken bones and enough broken hearts. It is time that the international community talks to us and not for us.”
Esther Fouchier, President of the Mediterranean Women's Forum, said that "Women participated actively in the Arab Spring against dictatorships in their home countries. But women’s rights are unevenly defended and they still suffer discrimination. On the ground, the actions are useful but often dispersed. The institutions, social actors and means (human, technical and financial) are not sufficiently coordinated, and the lack of exchange of experience generates an important loss of effectiveness. Both de jure recognition of equality of rights for women and de facto economic independence of women are essential as they are the two pillars on which women's freedom rests.
How can we make progress in strengthening the position of women? Steps must be taken to ensure that international women’s rights are respected, centres for women victims of abuse are set up, the participation of women in the decision-making process is encouraged, and women have access to credit to facilitate their engagement in economic life. These are only a few examples of all the measures that need to be adopted urgently."
Salwa Kennou Sebei, President of the Association of Tunisian Women for Research on Development (AFTURD), said that “The key problem is not the lack of gender equality legislation alone but the failure to implement it. Even worse, in the case of Tunisia, international women’s rights are not even mentioned in the constitution. After nearly two years, the constitution has not yet changed. We need to improve the economic situation for women, and we need solidarity from other countries".