WIDE+ participated in EU-CELAC Seminar on Gender Equality and Women’s economic Empowerment, 7-8 March 2016

Written by Gea Meijers

To read this article as PDF: WIDEatEUCELACSEMINAR_2016

As part of the ongoing exchange between the European Union member states and countries in the Caribbean and Latin-America, a seminar was held around international women’s day to share information and experiences on how to economically empower women.

The seminar was hosted by the European Commission in Brussels and brought together government representatives, including those from embassies. Some representatives of civil society organisations, international organisations, and gender experts took part. Gea Meijers participated on behalf of WIDE+ in what proved to be a rich discussion pinpointing to key tasks ahead.

The seminar has been organized in application of Chapter 7 of the EU-CELAC Action Plan 2013-2015, which brought the theme of Gender into the agenda. It focuses on three dimensions: political participation of women, violence against women, and economic empowerment of women. The first EU-CELAC exchange concerning gender was on femicide in 2013; this year centres on women’s economic empowerment.

Not only did the seminar provide a space for networking and sharing of experiences, it also aimed to make recommendations on follow-up activities, including proposals that could be included in bi-regional cooperation actions. Concrete action points were not formulated or selected at the event itself but surely the seminar will feed into the ongoing dialogue that follows after it.

Women are essential for development

In the opening session Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, welcomed the discussion on barriers to women’s economic empowerment. He concluded: “If it is without women, it is not development”.

Maria Teresa Kralikas, Under-Secretary for Foreign Policy for the Republic of Argentina that is a coordinating partner in the EU-CELAC exchange, echoed his point of view: “a holistic, integrated approach is needed that facilitates freedom, equality and dignity which are the conditions to women’s autonomy”.

Ronald Schäfer, acting Managing Director for the Americas, European External Action Service, noted that the theme of gender equality in the EU-CELAC action plan improves the agenda as a whole.

Sonia Margarita Diaz Pérez, Deputy Minister for Equality Policies for the Dominican Republic that is currently presiding for CELAC, called on all states and stakeholders to speed up the process of women’s economic empowerment: “while women are now better educated in tertiary education, there remains a gender gap in terms of economic participation and payment”.

In the opening session everybody also took a minute of silence to remember Berta Cáceres, the Honduran women leader who fought against extractive industries who was assassinated the week before.

Dialogue between women’s rights groups and governments

Sonia Margarita Diaz Pérez was also part of the closing session together with Jolita Butkeviciene, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean within the DG for International Cooperation and Development, and Dra. Gabriela Agosto, Executive Secretary of the National Council for Coordination of Social Policies at the Republic of Argentina.

Margatrita Diaz Pérez concluded that the seminar reached the end of a first thinking session in which a lot of experience was shared including many best practices. While these are valuable they tend to be fragmented within government structures. Gender equality should be part of the overall government policy and a lot of financial resources should be allocated through national equality plans. She also called on governments and feminists to work together. Both have a specific role to play in fostering women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Redistribution of responsibilities between men and women, state and private actors

The seminar had three key topics that were addressed in topical sessions that included three or more key note speeches and plenary discussions: participation of women in the paid economy/labour market, men’s and women’s shared responsibility for care work and a final session that included civil society, experts, and international associations that brought in a holistic view on policy measures.

In the first session, policies to stimulate the growth of women’s entrepreneurs and of companies adopting gender equality plans were discussed. Marta Melgarejo, Director-General for Equality and Non-Discrimination Policies in Paraguay talked about specific loans and investments intended to promote rural women’s autonomy. She stressed that entrepreneurship should go hand in hand with promoting personal empowerment, which includes increasing the awareness of women’s rights and ensuring more access to social protection.

Moderator Ledy Moreno Cruz, Coordinator of the National System for Substantive Equality (ISDEMU), El Salvador, took among the main points from this session that we need to rethink the productive and reproductive economies and go beyond initiatives that support micro-business developments for women. She also concluded that ministries responsible for economic policy should be included in government processes to enhance gender equality.

The second panel focused on men’s and women’s shared responsibility for care work, and discussed extending parental leave for fathers and the use of time-use surveys. The overall conclusion was that there needs to be a redistribution of care responsibilities between women and men, as well as the state and private actors, which should enable more women to do paid work.

In this session, Ana Laura Pineda Manriquez, Director-General for Evaluation and Statistical Development (INMUJERES), Mexico, laid out the development of time use surveys in Mexico, which now for the first time measures time use of indigenous women and men. Their research concluded that unpaid work makes up 23 % of the GDP in 2014, of which 18 % is provided by women. She also reported on great developments in the region, with over 15 countries now conducting time use surveys. There is regional collaboration, though no unified methodology is used that could enable easy comparison between countries.

Women’s empowerment needs major reform in labour and economic policy

The third session provided an exchange with experts, government specialists, international organizations and women’s rights networks. The work of Flora Tristán (Peruvian Women’s centre), Mesa de Economia feminista de Bogotá (Colombia) and Mujeres en Desarrollo Dominicana (MUDE) was explained. It showed, amongst others, how violence against women and peace processes interact with women’s empowerment. Judith Litjens, policy offices at DG justice D.2. Gender Equality explained how the EC is encouraging member states to do more, for example in improving the work-life balance.

Joanna Maycock, Secretary General at the European Women’s Lobby highlighted how in the past ten year the EU has stopped to advance gender equality, for which the Gender Equality Index developed by the EIGE provides a good indicator.

Dagmar Schumacher, Director of UN Women Brussels office announced the first UN High Level Panel on Women’s economic Empowerment that will be inaugurated at the Commission of Status of Women (CSW) and will also include regional meetings. The Co-Chairs of the Panel are Luis Guillermo Solis, President of Costa Rica, and Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of IKEA Switzerland.

Gea Meijers of WIDE+ asked how UN Women engages in dialogues with companies, because although they might be part of the solution, there are many who are clearly part of the problem. Dagmar Schumacher responded that they engaged with companies that have convinced UN Women of having a track record in promoting gender equality. There was no room for further reflection on this dialogue, though it is certainly a topic for the feminist movement to engage in. In comparison, spaces for women’s rights Civil Society are shrinking at the UN (for example at the CSW), while private companies are brought in, for example in this high level process, and given a more prominent role it seems.

Corina Rodríguez Enríquez, principal Researcher at CIEPP in Argentina concluded that the impact of the macro-economic context on micro-initiatives for women’s empowerment is key: it can make them a success or a failure. Thus, economic policies such as bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, tax policy and laws that make it harder for women to become landowners, need to be addressed when promoting women’s economic empowerment.

Ana Ferigra Stefanovic, Programme Officer at ECLAC, Gender Affairs Division, stressed the need for an integrated approach, including gender in all policy fields, especially macro-economic policy. Gea Meijers asked her about the relationship between micro- and macro initiatives. She explained that while projects such as micro-credit for women entrepeneuring are beneficial as entry point for women into the paid economy, we need to also engage on the macro level of policies, such as making sure women’s rights are protecting in trade agreements. We need to take on a two-track approach.