The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already existing social inequalities, including, of course, gender-based inequalities. Women, especially the most vulnerable (migrants, and those with limited resources or mental health problems) have suffered severely from the consequences of the pandemic. In this context, it is important for international agendas, such as the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goal number 5, specifically dedicated to gender inequalities, to serve as frameworks of action to promote effective responses to the crisis. Similarly, civil society organizations (CSOs) have emerged as leading actors when it comes to combating gender-based violence, which has greatly worsened since the signs of the pandemic. Thus, the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the Euro-Mediterranean Women’s Foundation (EMWF), through its digital platform and various projects on the ground together with local associations in southern countries, works to tackle gender-based violence using a specific cross-cutting and multidisciplinary approach.
Like every country, city, neighbourhood and community in the world, the Euro-Mediterranean region has also keenly felt the effects of Covid-19. Its present is shaped by the multilayered consequences of a pandemic that is not gender-neutral; a pandemic that will continue to play an important role in the everyday lives of the inhabitants of the Mediterranean space and will also have an impact on the tailoring of its states’ policies.
As in any situation marked by a crisis, Euro-Mediterranean societies have come to see the pandemic as a window to rethink themselves. In such a retrospective exercise, all sorts of inequalities have risen to the surface, including gender-based ones. Coinciding with the feminist momentum that the region is experiencing, all throughout the pandemic, activists, civil society movements, research centres and public institutions produced an array of publications to delve into its impacts from a gender perspective. Such publications consider not only the intricacies of the socioeconomic sphere but also and most importantly the rise of different types of gender-based violence (including cyber violence) tied to the pandemic and the lockdown that it triggered.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, gender disparities have widened, touching upon gender roles, as women, more than men, have been responsible for care work. Women, to a much greater extent than men, have been at the forefront of the pandemic, their presence bigger in those sectors most exposed to the virus. Furthermore, those women in situations of vulnerability (migrant women, women with functional diversity or with mental health disorders) have seen their hardships worsen. International agendas, such as the Agenda 2030 and its gender-oriented Sustainable Development Goal number 5, are important frameworks of joint action that pave the way to tailoring responses to emergency situations, such as the one triggered by Covid-19. In this respect, the United Nations Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was and continues to be an important milestone in highlighting the collective will to transform societies, paying attention to the gender disparities criss-crossing them.
International agendas, such as the Agenda 2030 and its gender-oriented Sustainable Development Goal number 5, are important frameworks of joint action that pave the way to tailoring responses to emergency situations
However, inasmuch as international policyoriented initiatives are pivotal – such as the CEDAW, the Istanbul Convention or the G7 Gender Coalition –, the pandemic has also proven the importance and strength of grassroots movements. Civil society organizations (CSOs) have taken the lead in giving immediate responses to the negative toll of the pandemic, being an important actor there where state-led responses were fragile. At a time when tackling the economic downturn of the pandemic became a priority, feminist-oriented CSOs kept implementing strategies that had the fight against gender-based violence at their core.
Instruments and Objectives to Overcome the Challenges
Ever since its foundation, the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) has opted for a two-fold approach that, on the one hand, contributes to the establishment of transmediterranean alliances and, on the other, supports local initiatives that have another kind of effect in the region. In 2014, the IEMed became one of the founding members and the headquarters of the Euro-Mediterranean Women’s Foundation (EMWF), a network of networks bringing together more than 500 members from 35 countries in the Mediterranean space.
The Foundation aims to contribute to the fight for equal rights for all the inhabitants of the region, seeking advancements in the political, economic, civil and social spheres. The eradication of all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls is one of its pillars. To that end, it also works towards the transformation of gender-biased imaginaries, which touch upon the whole of society.
Today, the Foundation pursues its goals thanks to a trilingual platform (available in English, Arabic and French) and through several communication tools. The platform gathers news, calls, resources and information on events that revolve around gender issues in the EuroMediterranean region; events and news that bespeak the agency of the members belonging to the network. The Foundation’s platform seeks to be a meeting point where these initiatives can be shared so that they can be replicated and echoed throughout the region. The networking approach of the Foundation is reinforced by its will to be closely linked to the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), which comprises the 28 EU member states and 15 Mediterranean Partner Countries, through a multi-issue and multi-actor approach.
The virtual platform of the EMWF also provides access to an online documentation cen- tre bringing together knowledge on women’s rights and gender in the Euro-Mediterranean region (legal texts, papers, educational guides, thematic dossiers, policy briefs and so on), including successful practices at the local level, and complementing them with record-summaries. Both the Foundation and the IEMed firmly believe in the importance of knowledge production and knowledge circulation, as a means towards social transformation. The virtual platform is, thus, a space to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
The IEMed teamed up with local associations in the target countries and the platform of the Foundation was used as a tool to create energies and disseminate the results of the projects Apart from disseminating knowledge generated by other stakeholders, the IEMed and the Foundation have also been important actors in the production of relevant publications on gender issues. Between 2014 and 2018, the IEMed and the EMWF co-published numerous field diagnoses that shed light on the intricacies of the economic empowerment and the political participation of women in the region, on the fight against climate change and against gender-based violence and gender stereotypes. These publications are the result of two EUfunded projects that, led by the IEMed, sought to make an impact on the local and transnational tissue of the region, with a particular focus on the southern shore. Both projects were built upon the two-fold approach cited above, combining the importance of policy-making activities and of fieldwork.
The IEMed teamed up with local associations in the target countries and the platform of the Foundation was used as a tool to create energies and disseminate the results of the projects. The project CSO WINS – Capacity-building in the Southern Mediterranean to Open policy dialogue and monitoring for Women IN Society aimed to reinforce the capacity of CSOs from the Southern Neighbourhood countries to take part in policy dialogue and to monitor progress in the role of women in society at national and Euro-Mediterranean level.
Strengthening the capacity of the actors working for equality sought to support the monitoring of public policies on women and gender equality at local and decentralised levels, whilst increasing access and knowledge production on equality, women and gender through a networking approach between equality actors at local, national and Middle East and North Africa (MENA)/EU regional levels. In both cases, gender-based violence was a central topic that was tackled by mapping the needs of every context in which the projects were implemented. These projects thus contributed to a better understanding of genderbased violence in Oran, in Marrakech-Safi; to analyse the issue of prostitution and trafficking in women in the eastern suburbs of Beirut, and to shed light on women’s perceptions and local mobilisations against domestic violence in Alexandria.
The Way Forward
Analysing the needs and concerns of local associations, collecting gender-disaggregated data and establishing collaborative working dynamics in view of producing policy-oriented actions and maintaining transregional dialogues is also the agenda for another project that the IEMed, teamed up with the Foundation, began to implement in 2021. This is also the same approach that guides the UfM-led Ministerial Conferences on the Role of Women in Society. Having taken place in 2006 (Paris), in 2009 (Marrakech), in 2013 (Paris) and in 2017 (Cairo), these meetings serve to identity common goals and challenges in procuring a safer, more equitable Mediterranean. In this respect, combating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls has always been an objective for all the participant states, an objective to be attained through a series of measures that have to do with addressing prevention mechanisms, offering services to support the victims, promoting education to enact change in patriarchal imaginaries, and strengthening the role of CSOs.
Only through this bottom-up approach – which is attentive to the multi-layered contexts of the Mediterranean – does it become possible to tailor effective policies that can truly develop the transformations that the region needs
The Declarations resulting from these encounters attest to the commitment of the ministers of the Euro-Mediterranean space and set the working agenda to be implemented in the near future. Following the “Women Mediterranean Conference 2020: Accelerating gender equality in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic”, put together by the UfM together with relevant stakeholders of the region, the UfM Secretariat created an ad-hoc working group in order to prepare the 2022 ministerial gathering. The IEMed-EMWF pairing is part of this group, which highlights their willingness to remain a loudspeaker for gender equality, by bringing together the voices of CSOs so that they can refer to their own needs.
Only through this bottom-up approach – which is attentive to the multi-layered contexts of the Mediterranean – does it become possible to tailor effective policies that can truly develop the transformations that the region needs. Governments have the responsibility to be attuned to the problems of their populations, and also to the solutions that emerge in their neighbourhoods, cities and regions. Establishing clear and continuous channels of communication between policy-makers and civil society is, thus, key. The participants of the ministerial gatherings also agree on the importance of implementing follow-up mechanisms so as to make sure that the commitments reached are overseen and ultimately enacted. The EMWF and the IEMed have contributed to monitoring such advancements, with two follow-up reports that consider a qualitative approach. By deepening the analysis of the realities experienced in certain territories in the Southern Mediterranean, these reports raise questions, point out obstacles and formulate ideas to amplify the rights and possibilities of women and vulnerable groups.
The second report, entitled The Expectations of Euro-Mediterranean Women: Civil Society Findings and Ministerial Commitments points towards a series of aspects to be taken into account to ensure solid transmediterranean alliances, namely: harmonising national laws with the constitutions and filling the legal gaps that still allow discriminatory practices against women; clearly stating that political, economic and educational barriers as well as gender-based violence are based on a patriarchal mentality that perpetuates discrimination against women; highlighting the need to train and sensitise the actors concerned to reduce the huge gaps between the legal provisions aimed at changing the mentalities and attitudes and behaviours of those responsible for applying these provisions, such as lawyers, police personnel, companies, educators, and mass media.
It is thus worth recalling that, despite the efforts made in recent years by states in terms of legal standards, there is still a lack of provisions, but also of resources, for these standards to be truly implemented in certain Euro-Mediterranean countries. It is also necessary to involve local governments, as well as associations for the defence of women’s rights acting on the ground, because they are well aware of the concrete situations, the problems and the aspirations to lead to more egalitarian societies on both shores of the Mediterranean. In addition, and as has been stated, civil society produces numerous studies and data, which are necessary additions to the work of public institutions. The EMWF and the IEMed continue to capitalise on these experiences. The analysis of the findings and data collected and discussed in a participatory manner allows a better application of the policies adopted at ministerial conferences by all stakeholders. If multiple problems persist, many practices and initiatives benefit from being disseminated, known, understood and shared throughout the region to achieve a change of mentalities that leads to the full realisation of the educational, political, economic and social rights of women. Gender-based violence remains a continuous threat in all of its territories. Analysing and understanding its varied roots is of paramount importance The Euro-Mediterranean space is fast changing and diverse.
Gender-based violence remains a continuous threat in all of its territories. Analysing and understanding its varied roots is of paramount importance
in order to eradicate its multiple ramifications, and this means paying attention to the specificities of each context to approach them with intersectional lenses. Adopting a human security point of view helps us to understand gender-based violence as a threat that, to this day, shapes the lives of many in the region, since it reshapes the notion of security – traditionally defined in connection with military forces – towards a more individual-centred perspective. In this regard, we can understand in what ways genderbased violence unfolds and intersects with other threats in the complex realities of the Mediterranean. International frameworks such as Women, Peace and Security (United Nations) can only be meaningful if they are truly built on in-depth societal analyses and also consider the resilience that, as proven in the pandemic scenario, guides our world and our region forward.