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Promoting women's rights within the Eastern Partnership: key to successful cooperation

Jean-Luc Feixa
13/12/2016 - 08:53
Women saying "Stop"

The success of the Eastern Partnership also depends on greater equality between men and women

Everywhere in the world, whether in public or private spaces, women and girls are victims of abuse and discrimination. Working on improving their rights to improve societies is a challenge and could be a tremendous diplomatic asset for the European Union and its partners.

This could be all the more true in the 6 countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine) with which the EU has established the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and where women's rights could be improved in many ways.

Indeed, since 2009, when this partnership was created, the two sides have worked hand-in-hand to improve the stabilisation of the area to ensure security, peace, stability and prosperity for all. At the EPP Group, we truly believe that this objective can be reached if respect for women's rights and gender equality are really taken into account. 

Increasing the participation of women in politics

Representing, on average, only 14% of ministers and 16% of parliamentarians, women still face difficulties in entering political life in the EaP countries.

As Mariya Gabriel, Vice-Chairwoman of the EPP Group and Rapporteur on a report on women’s rights within the Eastern Partnership to be voted this week in plenary, explains: “It is crucial for these countries to increase the participation of women in political life and in democratisation processes, especially because they can contribute to the renewal of the political class and thus to the ongoing political transitions.”

It is crucial to increase the participation of women in political life and in democratisation processes, because they can contribute to the renewal of the political class and thus to the ongoing political transitions Mariya Gabriel

It is often said that political staff should reflect society; the participation of more women would be a clear sign of openness. In the EPP Group, we have always promoted parity in our ranks and we call on the political parties of the EaP to set an example.

Other initiatives can also help, notably the development of parliamentary cooperation (through the Euronest Assembly), or through the development of action by civil society organisations or NGOs.

Women must engage in politics, and everybody must be mobilised.

Improving women’s professional situation

Statistics show that women are generally more educated than men and yet they represent only 10% of members of governing bodies of employer organisations.

The gender pay gap is also dramatic in EaP countries and women are forced to accept underpaid or even unregistered jobs, particularly in rural areas. Or they turn to self-employed activities where they also face important structural barriers. Like you, we don't believe this situation is normal.

The gender pay gap is dramatic in EaP countries and forces women to accept underpaid or even unregistered jobs

“The priority for EaP countries should be to develop women’s economic participation in their societies. But certain educational paths and professions are still banned for women,” states Mariya Gabriel in explanation of the situation.

The solution? Investing in education and allowing women to develop their skills. On this matter, “a broader association of partner countries with EU agencies and programmes such as Horizon 2020, Creative Europe, COSME and Erasmus+ could concretely help the Eastern Partnership countries.”

Combatting violence against women

Whether at home, in public places or on social media, violence against women is a scourge that strikes thousands of victims. As in the EU, EaP countries are not immune to this terrible situation, which concerns between 7% and 25% of women (depending on the country). This figure often does not reflect reality because most cases remain unreported.

We strongly encourage the EaP countries to dedicate more resources, and amend legal instruments such as laws, to addressing all forms of violence and to establish adequate penalties for perpetrators

Living in a climate of fear is unacceptable. It is a disgrace to society as a whole and at the EPP Group we strongly encourage the EaP countries to dedicate more resources, and amend legal instruments such as laws, to addressing all forms of violence (physical, sexual, psychological, economic) and to establish adequate penalties for perpetrators.

Moreover, they should sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women as soon as possible, since none of the countries concerned have ratified it.

Considering the transnational nature of human trafficking and that EU Member States are often destination countries of victims, we must cooperate closer to prevent it

Last but not the least, EaP countries are often the origin of or transit countries on the map of human trafficking. This is more difficult to detect but equally terrifying. As Mariya Gabriel says: “Considering the transnational nature of human trafficking and that EU Member States are often destination countries of victims, we must cooperate closer to prevent it.”

women in conflict areas

Some EaP countries, such as Ukraine, have recently been affected by terrible conflicts, in which women have paid a hefty price. We truly believe that they need special attention.

They must benefit from specific protection, as should girls seeking asylum, as they all are particularly vulnerable and may be fleeing gender-based violence

“Firstly, they must benefit from specific protection, as should girls seeking asylum, as they all are particularly vulnerable and may be fleeing gender-based violence. Secondly, we have to take into account the role they can play in conflict resolution and reconciliation,” explains Gabriel.

Gender stereotypes not only prevent greater inclusion of women in the labour market and their participation in political life, but also support social acceptance of gender-based and unreported domestic violence

Gender stereotypes not only prevent greater inclusion of women in the labour market and their participation in political life, but also support social acceptance of gender-based and unreported domestic violence.

"Women’s rights and equality between men and women must not only be seen as a cross-cutting issue of European Neighbourhood Policy. It must also be the subject of an actual commitment by the EU and the EaP states, a prerequisite to fully meeting the objectives and basic principles of this partnership. This also forms part of the EPP Group's commitment to a successful partnership with our Eastern neighbours,” concludes Mariya Gabriel.

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