Gender and Security in Europe


Graphic Recording by Drawmore

Human Rights in Europe

I recently returned from Vienna having attended the 7th Fundamental Rights Platform on 10 and 11 April. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), a range of policy makers and over 200 civil society organizations took part in the annual event. The 3 key areas for discussion included freedom, justice and security. I participated in my capacity as a member of the Women’s Networking Hub in Birmingham, one of many active networks around the UK under the umbrella of the Women’s Resource Centre in London. I was invited to propose a workshop for a key segment of the event whereby civil society organisations have the opportunity to inform policy making on what changes require implementation in line with key developments in society. I proposed a session entitled ‘Security through a gender lens’, given my knowledge and experience in Gender and Security.

Start with what you know

Researching my workshop was very interesting in itself. I re-read a paper I had written for my MSc on women’s human rights, one that was particularly challenging, and I was now glad that it was coming in handy for my work. I also dug out my papers on human security, although by now most of this knowledge sits comfortably at the forefront of my mind. What quickly became clear to me is that my knowledge of Gender and Security is largely based on the global south; the ‘developing’ world. However I know that violence against women is a global issue so could be my area of focus. Before taking a firm decision on this I decided to contact a number of key international organisations based in London working in human rights, gender and development. I wanted to know what the key challenges were for women/men in Europe, regarding their security. To my surprise and disappointment, the high profile organisations I contacted (I won’t mention any names here) said they had no expertise in Europe but were focused on Africa and Asia. I returned to my plan of tackling violence against women. The fact that there is a clear lack of awareness of the scale of this problem in Europe does not surprise me, as we are focused on problems happening in other parts of the world (quite rightly), but somehow ignoring what is happening on our very own doorstep.

Violence Against Women

Gender equality is a major issue on a global scale, which is why it is why gender equality and the empowerment of women is one of the eight millennium development goals set out by the United Nations. The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Womensupports national and local action to address violence against women and girls. Since 1996, it has supported 304 programmes in 121 countries and territories with over US$50 million in grants. Why? Because women all over the world are beaten, mutilated, raped and sexually abused. Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender. It constitutes a breach of the fundamental right to life, liberty, security, dignity, equality between women and men, non-discrimination and physical and mental integrity. So of course men are victims of gender-based violence too, but not on the scale of women. For the purpose of my 60-minute session I focussed on violence against women. A recent report published by the European Commission revealed that in Europe: – One in 5 women have suffered physical violence – One in 10 women have suffered sexual violence – 500,000 women victims of female genital mutilation (Boosting Equality between men and women in the European Commission March 2014) The scale of physical, sexual, and psychological violence, harassment, and cyber-stalking requires renewed policy attention. Women make up half of the EUs population, yet violence against women does not currently have a political and policy focus of the same significance of other lesser crimes. FRA have recently published an extensive detailed research report, with some disturbing findings; 75% of women in senior management positions in the EU have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s absolutely unacceptable.

The personal is political

When we individually start to look at this issue in relation to the personal, i.e family and friends, I am sure that everyone reading this piece knows at least one person that has been affected by this issue. Just think, on your way to work in the morning at least one woman on the tube is a victim, at least one woman in your extended family is a victim, at least one woman at a wedding celebration you attend is a victim. It is everywhere all the time and unacceptable, as it is a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Awareness and visibility of the issue are a key problem:

-On average, every second woman in the EU is aware of existing legislation concerning protection and prevention with regard to domestic violence. Half of the women surveyed state either that there is no specific legislation about domestic violence in their country of residence or that they do not know if there is.

-Almost one in five women in the EU (19 %) is not aware of any of the support services for victims of violence against women.

-On average, 39 % of women in the EU indicate that they know of other women who are victims of ‘domestic violence’ in their circle of friends and family. More than one in five women (22 %) knows someone at her current or previous place of work or study who has been a victim of intimate partner violence.

(FRA Survey 2014)

Creative Solutions

I suggested a range of state and EU level solutions to tackle the problem. The EU must conduct more research and investment in reducing the action, as well as nursing the wounds of victims. It would not make sense to simply look at treating victims of disease, but prevention and elimination must be worked on as well. A policy review is required within the criminal justice system, victim support services need sustainable investment, awareness of the issue should be raised, and all developments should be carried out by men and women working together. The personal is political, so on a state level a key to raising awareness is making a connection on a human level. Education, employment and health services need to work together. The arts, media and culture have a huge role to play. I stressed the significance of working with the creative industries to educate and empower young people, communities, and vulnerable men and women. Using a range of mediums such as theatre, spoken word and visual art can often cut cross barriers created by culture, language and racial differences to communicate specific issues, creating an impact for social change. For policies to lead to change they must be implemented using a range of techniques, of which creative methods can have a high impact.

Men and women vs Gender based violence

It is critical that this does not become a women against men problem. Yes we need to ensure the world knows the depth and scale of the issue. We need to ensure women know where to get help. But we also need to consider that this issue affects men as well, they can be victims too, not only perpetrators. By inviting and including men at different stages of the process to eliminate the problem, we are more like to succeed in achieving changes in society. We need men and women talking about what is going wrong in their society so that they are educated and empowered to change it. Gender is often quickly equated to discussing feminism and women’s issues by women. There is definitely a time and place for this, I am not at all suggesting this should not happen. However a challenging, productive and, interesting conversation is to be had with members of both sexes in the room, to bring about sustainable changes in society.


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