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EWL submission to the Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on Strengthening the Role of Women in Society

(Brussels 12 September) The Union for the Mediterranean held the third gathering of Ministers in charge of women’s affairs and gender equality from the 43 UfM Member States in Paris this September.

The event was co-chaired by the Union for the Mediterranean’s co-presidency, the European External Action Service and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and hosted by HE Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women’s Rights of the Republic of France.

According to statements published on the UfM website, following the commitments from the 2006 Istanbul and 2009 Marrakech Ministerial Conferences on Strengthening the Role of Women in Society, the Paris Ministerial Conference aimed to further support women and girls of the Euro-Mediterranean region in their quest for empowerment and equality. Acknowledging the important role women have played in the on-going changes in the region, the Ministers aimed to effectively contribute to their stronger participation in the political, economic, civil and social development of the region. The Paris Conference was expected to further contribute to a positive change in attitude and behaviour towards women and girls in the region, strongly condemning all forms of violence and discrimination against them.

The EWL prepared a submission for the ministerial conference.

The EWL calls on the 2013 Mediterranean Ministerial Conference to ensure that women’s rights and gender equality are prioritized in all countries and put at the core of democratization processes. The EWL insists that states promote secularism as a constitutional principle and thus avoid religious or cultural relativism in relation to women’s human rights. Only an egalitarian and secular constitution will allow each country to respect women’s rights and gender equality.

Women are key for democratic change in all countries around the Mediterranean, but they are facing huge challenges. The situation of women is deteriorating, despite their active participation in the pro-democracy movements, in those countries currently undergoing a process of transition. We call on Ministers to commit to ensuring women’s equal participation in political, civil, economic and public life, including through parity rules/ mandatory quotas. It is also essential that women’s associations are supported and given full independence without any restriction.

The EWLwould also like to stress that the current crisis and austerity measures are having a particularly detrimental impacts on women in Europe and beyond. The budgetary cuts that threaten to destroy gender equality policies, institutional mechanisms and the existence of women´s organisations need to stop. Furthermore, aid should be made conditional on commitments and action to promote de jure and de facto, equality between women and men as well as effective institutional mechanisms for gender equality with the required resources, as stipulated by international instruments, in particular CEDAW.

There is not a single country in the world where women are free from male violence, and there is not a single area in any woman’s life where she is not exposed to the threat or realisation of acts of violence. Women across the MENA region have been subjected to high levels of gender-based violence committed by militia, soldiers and police (even demonstrators), specifically sexual violence and rape. We call on Ministers from all countries to commit to ending all forms of male violence against women and to ensure the protection of and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, by adopting and implementing national and regional legal frameworks against violence against women and to support the establishment of rehabilitation programmes for victims of sexual violence. Ministers should also commit to ensuring that women have full access to justice, including the provision of free legal services and establishing appropriate complaint mechanisms.

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