“Due to the lack of media representation of women, more lobbying and campaigning should be undertaken in order to help women participate in political and societal activities.” – Manel Mselmi
The last decades show considerable progress towards gender equality and empowerment of women, yet this can mostly be observed in the developed world. Women from around the world have carried the struggle of equal rights for centuries, and still have to face it even in the 21st century. Taking into consideration the global stage, it can be argued that while many societies have achieved high equality indexes, the situation is not the same within the developing world, and most particularly within conflict zones. In order to discuss this discrepancy, the objective of the event was not only to present the (generally) harsh conditions which women in conflict zones have to face daily, but to raise awareness on the different positive initiatives meant to empower them.
List of speakers:
- Europe: Dr Olena Prystayko – Executive Director, Ukrainian Think Thanks Liaison Office in Brussels
- South Asia: Priya Esselborn – Regional Coordinator South Asia, DW Akademie
- Africa: Manel Msalmi – Researcher & Author, Expert at African Diaspora Network in Europe
The event was opened by WSF Community Officer Neringa Tumenaite, who highlighted the fact that the gender gap seems to be getting tighter, as the so-called gender-mainstreaming and gender-dimension are currently embedded in a vast amount of project requirements for development by international bodies such as the United Nations, World Bank or the European Commission. Even so, when referring to women empowerment in conflict zones we enter a dimension which requires a certain amount of sensitivity and consideration as many factors come into play.
Focusing on the conflict in Ukraine, Dr. Prystayko spoke about the role of the women in the country’s society, about their participation in the EuroMaidan and about the Anti-terrorist operation in the East of the country. She argued that while equal rights for men and women are guaranteed by law, they are not always implemented because of the lack of political will and public discourse on women discrimination. Women of Ukraine have equally, actively and voluntarily participated in the fight for freedom and independence, yet they were still facing discrimination due to the absence of efficient mechanisms for enforcing gender equality or the inconsistent gender standards within the Armed Forces. Though controversial, women’s involvement in this armed conflict is, in this case, involvement in a fight for independence. In fact, no woman or man should have to choose between living in fear or fighting for freedom – but, unfortunately, they do.
Moving to South Asia, Mrs. Esselborn presented the diverse conflicts background of the region. The conflicts can be within the countries (Pakistan – Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA or India – North-East insurgency, the Maoist threat) or interstate (Kashmir – the yet unresolved issue between Pakistan and India). Two other post conflict countries were added to the list – Nepal and Sri Lanka (civil war Nepal 1996-2006, Sri Lanka 1983 – 2009). Establishing that the overall impacts of conflicts are directly affecting women (as they are more vulnerable due to poverty, isolation, hunger, fear of existence), Mrs. Esselborn argues that, given the threats (sometimes fatal) to women’s physical and sexual integrity, women in South Asia suffer trauma, severe physical and psychological challenges, isolation and stigmatisation. Nonetheless, women empowerment in the region is becoming very active, and she provided four examples . (See Below)
Covering Maghreb and the Middle East, Ms. Msalmi discussed the raising political involvement of women in the post-Arab Spring period and the importance of women activism. The Arab Spring has undoubtedly brought about a set of tremendous challenges to the region, but it also created some hope for women’s political empowerment. Having seen the results of the great efforts shown by Tunisia in incorporating more women in the political scene, more local States in the region are now taking this success model into consideration. Ms. Msalmi argues that in order to change the society’s mindset and fight for gender equality, we need to integrate examples of women writers, leaders and changemakers into the curriculum. Giving examples of different women activists, she elaborates on what an impact their words and actions would bring to women empowerment if they became available to a broader audience.
- ‘My word is free/ I am those who are free and never fear/ I am the streets that never die/ I am the voice of those who would never give in/ I am the meaning amid the chaos.’ (Song by Emal Mathloouthi, Tunisia)
- Mona Prince ‘s book “My Name Is Revolution” describes the journey of resistance of a young woman fighting against prejudices in the streets of Egypt. It is a testimony of the role of women and their participation in the democratic process of their country.
Conclusions were similar for all regions discussed: due to the negligence of media or the poorly organised educational curricula, women are still not seen as equal to men around the world, particularly in conflict zones. Proposals to push towards a better integration of men in the feminist agenda have been brought forward, as well as an educational curricula on gender equality being introduced worldwide. Women empowerment should not be seen as a burden, but rather as an ideal to be achieved by both men and women.