The day after International Women’s Day (9 March) is my friend’s first day at her new place of work. A talented graphic designer in her early 50s, she was unemployed for seven months. She scanned vacancies daily, sent out thousands of resumes and did not get even one response. Finally she got a reply from her current employer – a manufacturer. Women in Latvia are still facing multiple discrimination.
On 9 March, the Latvian Coordination of European Women’s Lobby and the Latvian Anti Poverty Platform sent bread and roses – International Women’ s Day symbols – to our Prime Minister and the Chair of the Latvian Parliament. The message attached said: Listen up, women in Latvia are still victims of violence, human trafficking and prostitution; there is a gender pay gap, and women need economic independence.
Over 10 years after the 2004 enlargement of the EU, the European Women’s Lobby questions the extent to which EU membership has contributed to increasing gender equality in East Central European, Baltic and Balkan states. Challenges related to the gender pay gap, women’s political participation, violence against women and the lack of political space for women’s organisations persist and, in some cases, are growing. Religion, nationalism, racism, anti-LGBT sentiment and patriarchism are becoming stronger and more organized, and are receiving strategic funding. Conservative ideas are shared by the state in some cases. This has a significant impact on the women’s movement and women’s status in our societies. Women’s NGOs in the region will work together in a task force to strengthen joint strategies for advancing gender equality.
On 9 March we held our annual award ceremony to celebrate female NGO leaders in Latvia who promote human rights for women, and guard children, women and young people in their communities. The award, depicting a woman holding a torch and guarding other women, was crafted by two female designers and called ‘The Flame’. In my eyes, it is important to recognise the contributions of female leaders, and the month of March, given its place in the UN and the EYD2015 calendars, is the ideal time to do so.
On the same day, thousands of miles across the ocean in New York, a political declaration was adopted by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The declaration was watery, very weak and gave little weight to women’s organisations. Women’s NGOs demanded a declaration that “recognizes the critical and unequivocal role women’s organizations, feminist organizations and women human rights defenders have played in pushing for gender equality, the human rights and empowerment of women and girls. Without feminist organizations, there would be no Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, nor progress in its implementation.“
The third thematic month of the European Year for Development (EYD2015) focuses on the girls and women. On 2 March, the Women’s Empowerment Conference of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU took place in Riga. For me, it was stories like the old told by SPINNA that were the most inspiring. Rupa Ganguli launched SPINNA as a unique foundation that has since run several programmes aimed at the economic empowerment of women through trade and business development in the fashion and textiles sectors. The European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, named himself “the most vocal male feminist in the European Commission” but sadly at the press conference he couldn’t promise additional funds for NGOs to work on gender equality. The answer was that there will not be a single instrument for that purpose.
In recruiting for a consultant post at the European Women’s Lobby, we received 70 impressive C.V.s which, according to Secretary General Joanna Maycock, is a testament to the feminist talent and commitment across the region. The women’s movement needs new blood and energy. Looking at LinkedIn I can see a number of skilled female professionals stating that they would like to join the not-for-profit sector or provide pro-bono consulting. Dear friends, March 2015 is the right time to do that. Contact platforms and networks like European Women’s Lobby, European Disability Forum, European Anti-Poverty Network and Volunteurope to find out how you can get involved.
The NGO Homo ecos and the Latvian Platform for Development Cooperation (LAPAS) are running an initiative called European Year for Development Resolutions. I see a lot of resolutions and commitments to work on women’s human rights. My resolution is to lobby for 2016 to be the European Year to End Violence Against Women and Girls.
What will each of us do in 2015 to improve the lives of women and girls? Tweet me your resolutions @edipsi @European Women.