|Round-table "The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and Women's Rights"|
13 March 2006 - 14 March 2006
A EuroMeSCo round table on the EMP and women’s rights, organised by the Institute for Strategic and International Studies (IEEI), was held on 13 and 14 of March 2006, in Lisbon. The objective of this event was to discuss the topics to be addressed in a EuroMeSCo report, which in turn will be presented at the upcoming Euro-Med Ministerial Meeting on Women (November 2006).
Women’s rights specialists gathered with Álvaro de Vasconcelos, Director of the IEEI, and Tobias Schumacher, Deputy Manager of the EuroMeSCo Secretariat, to analyse the potential topics for debate and draft relevant recommendations for the EMP. The starting point of this round table was the acknowledgement that the Barcelona process has greatly neglected the issue of women by narrowing their role to the area of economic development. This vision circumvents the principle of interdependency and indivisibility of all human rights enshrined in several international instruments, which the participants in the round table recognised to be paramount in this area.
Furthermore, attention was paid to a positive trend in some southern Mediterranean partner countries in the past years that has lead to specific advances in the legal status of women. The participants noted, however, that the new laws adopted amount to a very small advancement for women and are often of limited applicability, benefiting mostly an elite of urban professional women while the bulk of the population remains unaccounted for.
The participants also addressed the distinction between Islam and political Islamism, recognising that southern Mediterranean countries face internal challenges to the advancement of women’s rights stemming from political parties anchored in conservative religious interpretations. Note was taken, however, of the varying points of view supported by these groups, some of which are positive (e.g. in the area of political rights) and of the possible window of opportunity for additional reforms. Importantly, it was pointed out that the main challenge in the area of women’s rights is patriarchy and an embedded socio-cultural discrimination that limits women’s role in society, rather than religious or political conservatism.
As for women’s role in political reform, advancement of women was linked to democratization to the effect that democracy can only be attained if women are fully respected as citizens and given equal rights as men.
Based on the previous analysis, the participants recommended that the EMP mainstream women’s rights in all its activities, while categorically rejecting the concept of cultural relativism. This new approach must be implemented through a number of activities which will be spelled out in the forthcoming EuroMeSco report.