By Bettina Corke, Womens Feature Service
Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (EU), recently stated that the citizens of the new Europe are seeing the results of a "failed diplomacy". There are failures all around. On December 6, 2008, youth riots broke out in eight cities of Greece, after the death of a 15-year-old protester. A Greek journalist, Valia Kamaki, wrote in the 'Le Monde Diplomatique' (January 2009), "Greece is going through a profound political crisis. Both systemic and moral; it suffers from the duplicity of political parties and of personalities, which have broken all trust in state institutions.. For the young, the political system and parties who represent it have no legitimacy".
This feeling of political "emptiness" pervades Europe. What one can be sure about is a "stay-put" leadership. For example, in Greece three political families have reigned over Greek politics since the 1950s. In Italy, the Christian Democrats were in control for 40 years. This false sharing of power in the name of democracy is in fact "regimented democracy". Over the last 10 years there has been an attempt to have gender equality not in the form in which women wish to have it, that is, under social and economic justice, but as a form of "regimented gender", to be included under the existing form of "regimented democracy". Living through the height of this financial crisis, one knows that this "regimented form of democracy" is very limited because it excludes social justice and social development.
The great and exciting challenge for women is to actively confront this "stay put" leadership situation and push hard and long at all levels of society to bring about social and political change. These changes are desperately needed right now - more so for women - when attempts are being made to overturn reproductive health rights (most recently by Poland's Ministry of Health); and when there are fewer protections for workers in the informal and service sectors - the main sectors where women work.
Is it realistic to expect feminists to change this? The leaders of the 5050 Campaign believe that they can. (The "50/50 Campaign for Democracy", led by the European Women's Lobby, seeks to ensure the equal representation of women and men in the European Parliament to be elected in June 2009 and in the upcoming European Commission.) These leaders cite the history of the women's movement and their struggles to obtain the vote. They believe that women, if given the chance, can help build a more modern democracy through gender equality. "A representative democracy without gender equality is a contradiction in terms. It is a question of listening and attending to the needs of all persons living in Europe; it is a question of democracy," states Margot Wallstrom - Vice-President of the European Commission.
Women are well-trained because the International Women's Movement has, for the last 60 years or so, been quietly working to create a democratic plan based on the full and equal participation of women in society. Now, in 2009, women are beginning to see that a plan for a democratic future is needed, not only for the full emancipation of women but also in order to bring about modern democracy in Europe and to bring about the aims and objectives of the UN Charter.
New legislation for the new Europe is being proposed so there is an opportunity for women to play a much more important role in policy making if they can be elected to the 2009 European Parliament. Some women would claim that they, and only they, have a model pointing to a future world of social and economic justice. This model began to take shape in the 1970s. The idea of the need for women's equality in education, in political and social life began, of course, much earlier. It began in the 1920s, when the Commission on the Status of Women was set up under the League of Nations. The theory of the urgent need for women's equality began to be put into practice at the United Nations with the First UN World Conference on Women that was held in Mexico City in 1975. It was to be followed by a second UN World Conference in Copenhagen in 1980, a third in Nairobi in 1985, and a fourth UN Conference on Women in Beijing, in 1995.
At the first UN Conference, women established criteria, legal instruments and guidelines on how best to develop national and international mechanisms to promote women's advancement. At the same time, they were debating within a wider context the aims and objectives of the UN itself to achieve a better standard of living for all peoples, including, of course, women in trade and commerce, new technologies and communications. Plans were drawn up to create a UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Additional research requirements were identified and an Institute for the Research and Training of Women (INSTRAW) was established. A Decade for Women (1976 - 1985) under the themes of Equality, Peace and Development was declared and legal studies and work began to be undertaken to establish a Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
By the end of the decade in 1986, women felt confident enough to take up the challenge of achieving the earmarked themes. They helped to create legal instruments to bring about social, economic and economic justice. So, it comes as no surprise to those of who have been following the pattern of the international women's movement that in the coming year women in Europe are attempting to influence legislation and the direction of democracy.
Three gender and democracy building equality campaigns are being planned this year. The first, '50 -50 Campaign - No modern European Democracy without Gender Equality'; the second, "Females in the Front"; and the March 2009 UN Commission on the Status of Women Meeting on Gender Equality to be held in New York. American poet Marianne Moore once said, "What we call good fortune is not good fortune at all... it is what happens... when opportunity, experience and confidence come together." It seems that feminists in the 27-member European Union have internalised this message.
Womens Feature Service covers developmental, political, social and economic issues in India and around the globe. To get these articles for your publication, contact WFS at the www.wfsnews.org website.