EWL News

EWL Director of Observatory on Violence against Women Colette De Troy retires

[Brussels, 5 June 2015] Last Saturday, the European Women’s Lobby Secretariat and members gave a joyful and moving farewell to the wonderful Colette De Troy who is retiring after 17 years incredible contribution to the work of the European Women’s Lobby in her capacity as Director of the Observatory on Violence against Women.

Read here an interview with her and be inspired!

Who are your favourite feminists?

There are so many feminists around the world who inspire me! I certainly first become more articulated when I read Simone de Beauvoir. As a teenager, I devoured the 2 volumes of "The Second Sex" and it definitively changed my world’s view. Virginia Woolf (A room of one’s own) was another inspiring reading at that time, as well as Flora Tristan who travelled the world to fight for her own rights, wrote books and became activist, linking women’s and class exploitation, as did also Louise Michel both int he 19th century, Rosa Luxemburg, and more recently Angela Davis. I also love the suffragettes actions, (go to see the movie "Iron Jawed Angels", if you haven’t seen it yet).

I also had the chance to meet Gloria Steinem, who is able to translate our issues into poetry and writings, Eve Ensler touching people with theater, great political women like Shirin Ebadi and many others. During my journey with the EWL, I’ve been so lucky to work closely with incredibly bright feminists like Denise Fuchs, former EWL President; Grainne Healy vice-president of the EWL and chair of the observatory for long time, Barbara Helfferich and Mary Mc Phail, former EWL Secretary Generals; colleagues such as Malin Bjork, now MEP and Selmin Calışkan, currently Secretary General of Amnesty International, and many others, with whom I had fantastic discussions, helping me to clarify and better understand women’s rights and gender equality issues. I also want to mention the experts of the Observatory on violence against women, who are involved in a daily work supporting women victims of all forms of male violence and in collective engagement. Their conviction, analysis and strenght, despite facing often difficult conditions of work, truly inspired me.

What have been the greatest successes of feminists in Europe & worldwide, including or especially on the work on Violence Against Women (VAW)?

To give new meaning to the word "feminism" as a political issue. This is particularly true for the work on VAW. The work of feminists involved in VAW has succeeded to highlight that what was seen as individual cases related to private matters, often stereotyped (happening in poor families, being only some faits-divers), is now recognised as a political and structural issue, at the core of inequalities and patriarchy. Still a lot to do but at least, no state now dares to ignore or oppose that male violence against women is a serious structural issue and the need to act against it. Sexual rights and freedom of choice has been another major success of feminists. Women’s bodies belong to women, and we have seen many progresses, although the present threats show how these are fragile and we have to keep to be vigilant.

What is your best memory of your time at EWL?

Again, I have many. But certainly one of the most striking moment was the Afghan Women Summit in Brussels. In the middle of the Taliban regime (2001), we succeeded to organise, in 2 months, a summit gathering over 40 grassroots Afghan women leaders, from all parts of the world including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the Central Asian Republics, US, Canada and Europe, to discuss their involvement in decision-making over the future of their country. Activists from 16 countries met in a parallel session during the Summit to formulate support strategies for the women of Afghanistan. The EWL was part of the coalition with Equality Now, V-Day, the Centre for the Strategic Initiatives of Women, and The Feminist Majority which decided to organise the summit at the request of women from Afghanistan for support. As the organiser in Brussels, we had to face the burden of diplomatic obstacles (notably to get visas for some who even did not have passports) and communication difficulties, much stress and a real challenge to do that in 2 months! But we did it and it was an extraordinary moment of solidarity and common work, proving the ability of the EWL to move quickly and get the impossible when we are together.

What advice would you give to young women regarding career, life and the women’s movement?

Should I give advice to young women ? My experience with interns coming to the EWL is that they are so creative, well aware of their rights but also of the backlash women face. They are at the beginning of their career, which is certainly more difficult than in my time long ago but they are strong and empowered! While life’s and career’s choices are individual, the way society is structured by patriarchy still retrains these choices and the women’s movement is more than ever necessary to change it. This is the only thing I would say: be part of the women’s movement, it can change the world!

How do you see the EWL in 25 years?

Progress is on its way and, although we experience backlash everywhere, women will never give up and go back to their status of no rights/second class citizens. It will take time to achieve full equality and the EWL will still have a major role to play in 25 years, being even more inclusive, with huge active and diverse membership and partners around the world.

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Loud and United to end violence against women and girls, European Women’s Lobby Conference, 6 December 2017, Brussels.

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