In many countries in Europe and Central Asia, gender equality policies are hindered by initiatives that mislead people into blaming equal rights activism for the destruction of the family. For instance in Romania, a recent petition signed by parents and religious organizations asked Ministry of Education to ban all educational material on gender equality. In many countries like Bulgaria, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, one of the strongest existing tools in fighting violence against women, is blocked because it refers to gender inequality as the root cause of violence. Measures for protecting women from violence are not improving undef the excuse of resisting “gender propaganda”.
Women’s rights are a recent achievement, not yet fully completed in many societies, and misleading messages emphasizing irrational fears can reinforce obstacles in women and girls’ rights, especially in communities where male-domination is still regarded as the norm. ‘In school, we learn very little about women’s accomplishments in any field – history, literature, science- as if they’ve been erased. We miss female role models and we miss information. For example, we didn’t know that Romanian women got the right to vote less than 100 years ago. We’ve learnt about this at a gender equality workshop organized by A.L.E.G.’, says Denisa, one of the girls on the project team at A.L.E.G.
To better understand the impact of this gender backlash on girls, A.L.E.G. and the Women’s Resource Center Armenia started a joint project entitled “Who’s Afraid of Gender Equality and What Does This Mean for Girls?” They involved the girls on their teams in a research to collect data from women and girls’ NGOs in Europe and Central Asia about recent developments in terms of attitudes towards gender equality and women’s rights activism. 41 organizations answered the questionnaire proposed by the project team. The results showed that 68% of the respondents face negative consequences for working on women and girls rights. Many activists said that they became the target of smear campaigns and the 46% of the organizations feel that the development in the last 5 years related to cooperation with state and reporting obligations is negative and only 27% see improvements taking place. The recommendations of the study focus on improving safety for activists by better communication and cross-sector NGO solidarity, investing in girl leadership and educating youth on women’s rights history.
The results of this study were presented during the Regional Girls’ Forum which took place on 23 April in Bucharest. Participants from Romania, Armenia, Ukraine, Serbia, Germany and Austria shared experiences from their work and established joint strategies to defend their rights and to inform young people about the benefits of equality between women and men. The presentations included the youth activities implemented by WAVE network in the Step Up campaign on violence against women, the girls empowerment club running in Women’ Resource Center Armenia since 15 years ago where girls learn that they are somebody before they are somebody’s, the peer education program on reproductive health pioneered by Youth for Youth in Romania, as well as the Gender Equality Festival organized yearly by A.L.E.G. since 2004 to challenge stereotypes about men and women. New initiatives like Girl Up Romania and Scena 9 presented their work. Girl Up is a girls organization in Bucharest that advocates in high schools to show that when girls gain their rights, boys don’t loose anything. “Equality is not like a pie from which you get less if someone next to you takes a slice. We all have something to gain” was one of the thoughts shared by the Girl Up representatives during the forum.
Next, forum participants will be supported to do follow-up activities jointly or in their respective communities like an ABC of gender equality for youth or equal rights sessions for girls in rural areas.
The project is funded by Empower and supported by With and For Girls Award, as both A.L.E.G., and Women’s Resource Center Armenia are winners of WFGA. Credits for the project logo: Dan Perjovschi.