talks to Malgorzata Bratkrajc, iKnow Politics writer volunteer, about her successful career in development sector, the reasons behind joining European Women’s Lobby, and the challenges lying ahead of the association in the years to come. Find out more about European Women’s Lobby on their website: http://www.womenlobby.org
Ms Maycock, some of the readers of iKnow Politics may not know the European Women’s Lobby. Could you please describe the organization and tell us about its mission, Members and activities?
The European Women's Lobby is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Currently, it has 31 Member Organisations present in all 28 Member States and in the accession countries, such as Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey and 19 European wide networks. Those organisations represent women's sections of the European trade unions, International Women's Council, European Disability Forum. Altogether, that represents approximately 2000 women's organisations in Europe. We try to lobby the European Institutions and the European Member States, for a feminist Europe.
We work on various areas. While contributing to EU policies on gender equality, we support immigration and integration, encourage European social policy and employment, campaign for women in decision-making, and combat violence against women. Moreover, we focus on persisting issues in Europe, such as empowering women from ethnic minorities, encouraging diversity and antidiscrimination, and contributing to the debate on women in the media. Finally, we represent European Women’s voice in the debates on the international level.
With 20 years of professional experience in senior leadership and governance in the European and International Development NGO sector, your career is very successful. Why and when did you decide to start working for international NGOs and commit to international development? What advice would you give to iKnow Politics readers willing to follow in your footsteps?
My first work concerned migration and, in particular, I worked on migrant women's issues and trafficking women. Therefore, I would say I was always working on women's rights and gender equality in every job. I have always been a feminist and I have always put that at the centre of what I am doing. I felt myself drawn more and more to the issue of global justice and international development but also to the role of civil society. Therefore, I was lucky enough to join Action Aid. I worked with them for 12 years in many different jobs, such as building our capacity and aid effectiveness, organisational development and governance, and building of a global federation. Whereas I worked in Brussels for 20 years, I have actually not worked on EU topics all the time and I think it is quite an advantage.
Before your nomination for Secretary General role in the European Women Lobby, you held the position of Director in Action Aid in Brussels and President of CONCORD. Coming from the European and international aid and development fields, what brings you to the women’s rights and gender equality field?
In fact, Action Aid has always been putting a very strong emphasis on women's rights in development. Its objective was to spread the idea that women are not a vulnerable group of victims but they are an oppressed majority. While working there we tried to unleash women’s power and skills into the world on all levels, in communities, leadership, and education. I think that this has been a very influential time for me personally, as there was a lot of investment in young women leaders within Action Aid.
While working on the international development sector, as a feminist, very quickly, I realised the current financial and economic system is not working for the people, neither for the planet nor for the women. I realised that we need a different kind of leadership, with a feminist approach to the economy. Therefore, the opportunity to work more in a feminist organisation is very exciting at this time in my career.
Many people think that women’s rights in Europe are a real role model. You have just mentioned that Europe has not achieved real equality yet. Could you tell us about the most shocking breaches of women’s rights in Europe?
We have long way to go still. The rest of the world might think that Europe has already achieved equality. Unfortunately, we have not.
When I started working for the European Women’s Lobby, there were some issues, which really shocked me. Firstly, it was the situation of women's organisations including our members in Hungary. In 2014, women’s organisations in Hungary were targeted as part of wider clamped down of civil society, including being raided by the police.
What also shocked me was the limited space for women's organisations in Central and Eastern Europe, in the Balkans and the Baltic states.
Finally, there is the pension gap of 40%, which means that women receive 40% less pension than men. In my opinion, we are looking at a real time bomb in terms of older women in poverty, who are unable to access to care.
You are successfully managing EWL activities for approximately 8 months now. What were the biggest challenges in 2014 for the EWL and you?
The challenges are also the opportunities. When arriving in a new organisation and coming from a different sector, you undoubtedly have a lot to learn. For me, everything was completely different from the development world including the members, the staff, the partners, and the institutional setting.
I arrived in the European Women’s Lobby during the week of the European elections, when there was a huge shift in the entire institutional setting, both at the Parliament and in the Commission. Personally, nothing that happened there really surprised me. I came into this job thinking that we were not going to have a very progressive setting in the Parliament or the Commission; you could see that coming.
In the years to come, the European Women’s Lobby will need to think progressively and strategically about working with the current European Institutions. The challenge is to balance the engagement with allies and non-allies within the institutional setting, to mobilise the national level, and to try to find the way to bring the voice of the women's movement into the institutional setting.
In 2015, the EWL celebrates its 25 years anniversary. In this special year, what are the strategic EWL policy and advocacy goals? What are the biggest challenges laying ahead?
It is not only our 25th anniversary but also the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Conference, which we are going to celebrate throughout 2015. We have already produced and published in October 2014 a report looking at where we believe the progress in Europe is made and where we believe are persisting gaps. This report will give us the basis for our work during the year and every month in 2015 we will focus on one area of the Beijing Platform for Action. Finally, we will also link it with the European Year of Development following the same issues each month.
This month [in January 2015] our focus will be on women's economic empowerment. We are launching a report with country’s case studies and short academic articles looking at the impact of austerity on women. In February, we are doing a launch event of our report on women on boards in Europe.
Overall, our priority is to pass a political message that although a lot of progress has been made since the Beijing Conference, there is still a long way to go in Europe and in the world before we achieve real gender equality. We want to ensure strong recommitment to Beijing that feeds into the new sustainable development goals in the new post-2015 framework.
For us this year is also a moment of reflection. We are looking back, taking stock of what has been done and looking forward. We have been working with our Members to reflect on EWL history and to decide on our strategy in the next 5 to 10 years to build a feminist Europe. We will launch our new organisational strategy towards the end of 2015.
One of the big questions in 2015 will be how we can reach out to younger feminists more effectively and how other organisations tackle racism, disability, migration and women's rights.
The recent gender audit carried out by EWL shows that genuine commitment to women’s rights is lacking in the European Parliament Party’s manifestos. Why is that? What would you suggest to increase the EWL influence on European policy-makers?
We carried out the audit based on the existing manifestos. What we found out was, for example, that at least one of the existing manifestos did not mention women's rights at all. We also saw a direct relation between the percentage of women elected and the amount of reprises on women's rights in the manifestos.
In the last election to the European Parliament (EP), there was a slight increase in the number of women elected, which is 37%. It means that there are still 200 more men in the European Parliament than women. Nevertheless, the pressure of our campaign to have more women in the EP had a positive impact on the number of women Committee Chairs and the number of women Vice Presidents.
We also felt that the number of women Commissioners dominated the discussion on the new Commission. This was rather surprising and it would not have happened 10 year ago. Yet, we need to continue discussing what the long term pipeline is, how we can address the barriers to women in leadership, how we are building the policies and quotas to support more access to power for women.
We believe that EWL needs to work already from 2015 towards the next European elections. We need to start working with European level parties to understand better what they do to support women to succeed in their political parties at national level.
What are the concrete actions EWL will undertake in 2015 in working with European Institutions?
We have a close working relationship with the Committee on Women's Rights in the European Parliament. Twice a year we organise a joint strategic meeting with its political coordinators and the Chair to discuss the mid-term approach, joint actions or joint work. One example of our activities is trainings for women MEPs. More concretely in terms of the politics and the issues that we are working on, we try to influence the Directive on women's on boards, and we will try to keep the maternity leave directive on the table.
We are very pleased that there is a gender equality Commissioner, a position which had never existed before. We are welcoming this nomination and we have already had our first meeting with Commissioner Jourová. We are looking forward to working with her on the new gender equality strategy, and on a European Union action plan to tackle the violence against women.
We are also part of an NGO group that meets with Commission Vice President Timmermans to discuss human rights and fundamental rights agenda in the European Union including gender equality as well as disability rights.
We will be also working with the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which is based in Vilnius. This year, EIGE will launch a gender equality index. The last index was released about 3 years ago and it will be exciting to see where the progress is.
Could you please elaborate on the European women participation in political, social and economic dimensions? Is it satisfactory? What are the bottlenecks and drawbacks? Is there any improvement in women’s situation since the beginning of the EWL operations?
Thanks to the work of the European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE) we are now able to track the data and statistics to know what the situation of women and men is, and understand how the change is happening. For the last 25 years, we have not had that piece of information in Europe. During those years, many changes have taken place. There are more women elected into politics, the gender pay gap has decreased, there is more awareness about the impact of violence against women, there is more legislation around combating violence again.
When the EIGE gender equality index is released this year, we will know more about the changes that have taken place recently. What we know already is that 25% of Members of Parliaments in Europe are women, and roughly, only 10% are women on boards. Women are much more likely to be in low-paid part-time jobs and certain professions, which are predominantly for women, tend to be low-paid, such as nurses. We also know that there is a persisting pay gap, and there is a pension gap.
The fundamental rights agency of the European Union (FRA) produced a survey in 2014 on violence against women, according to which 30% of women in the EU have experienced some forms of violence, 20% of women have experienced sexual violence and 10% of women have been raped. Those issues in Europe are still a big challenge.
What makes me optimistic is that now approximately 60% of all university graduates are women. It means that women are accessing higher education and we will have more than ever many highly educated women across the EU. In the future, those women will demand equality, equal pay, and will be successful in all kinds of professions.
Yet, we still need to fight the old fights. I do not underestimate the challenges that remain whether it is about violence, sexism, stereotypes, the nature of advertising and capitalism, co-modifications of women's bodies, new forms of violence like harassment online.
Ms Maycock, is there anything I did not ask that you would like the iKnow Politics readers to know?
I think that feminists across the world need to engage with each other but also need to engage across different sectors. I believe we need to engage with other social movements, such as development, environment, trade unions, and other sectors to make sure that we are thinking more globally about gender equality.
In EWL, we will need to understand how the threats of climate change, global poverty and hunger, labor rights and decent work, impact on women and men rights in the discourse about the global economy. EWL needs to be more integrated in these discourses, which will help us to be more political as well. We need to learn from all the incredible work that the generations of feminists have achieved but also to recognise that are new struggles. For us it will be a question on how we connect effectively with younger feminist activists. In 2015, we are launching first ever 'Feminist Summer School' to which we are going to invite approximately 40 participants from across Europe. We aim at women under the age of 30 who have been engaged in feminist activism to share their campaigns, struggles, challenges, successes, learning experience.
Finally, we need to help to connect the generations of women's rights activists and feminists. It means an inter-generational collaboration between the older and younger women leaders through which we will connect the struggles of younger women. In Europe, those struggles are particularly around unemployment and poverty.