In December 2006, the 1st Euromed Ministerial Meeting was held in Istanbul under the motto Strengthening the Role of Women in Society. The Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures (ALF) was asked to conduct a preliminary study with the notable participation of the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) in collaboration with the main associations of Mediterranean women. This study resulted in the document Culture and Communication. Key Factors for Changing Mentalities and Societies and the dossier included in issue 7 of this journal entitled Women in the Mediterranean Mirror.
In March 2010, Barcelona hosted the 1st Anna Lindh Forum, in which, after five years of existence, the ALF consolidated itself as a network of civil society networks thanks to the participation of a large number of associations from the 43 Euromed countries. Moreover, from 4th to 7th April 2013 Marseilles will hold the 2nd Anna Lindh Forum and this time the IEMed and the Forum Femmes Méditerranée (FFM) have decided to give a key role to the words and actions of women. Communicators, artists, academics and writers will meet to share their views on women’s contribution to dialogue and social change in the Mediterranean area.
From 22nd to 25th November 2012 in Casablanca, the ALF held a preparatory meeting on the role of women and their point of view within the framework of the new ALF strategy that emphasises its four pillars: dialogue, democracy, development and diversity. This meeting prior to the Marseilles Forum was organised in close cooperation with the ALF Moroccan national network, the French national network and the Spanish national network: the Centre International de Coopération Sud Nord (CICSN), the FFM and the IEMed.
The Casablanca seminar enabled the exchange of experiences, discussion of persistent forms of discrimination and gender violence as well as specific advances and good practices that strengthen citizen participation. The aim was to make recommendations and suggest new programmes, activities and projects that go beyond the ALF missions.
The sessions devoted to creativity and the social approach to diversity noted that art is an excellent way of promoting women’s skills, making them visible and valuing them. Art was emphasised as a means of communication and intercultural dialogue but does art have a gender? How can we contribute to changing the social media? How can we help women to use these media in the best way?
Creative women play a leading role that must be strengthened and made more visible. Based on cultural initiatives in all artistic disciplines, the ALF will be able to optimise women’s place in intercultural dialogue and their role in society, acknowledging their artistic skills, capacities and qualities while strengthening their presence in the public sphere through their creativity and commitment.
However, the main challenges women are facing on their way to becoming agents of cultural change in a socioeconomic situation of crisis are their poor representation in the labour market, the difference in income between women and men, the low level of women’s entrepreneurship, the difficulty of combining family and professional life and discrimination within the family between men and women.
The MENA region is far behind all the regions of the world in terms of sexual equality, especially in the economic and political field. The main challenges were examined, making clear the difficulties women find in a socioeconomic context of crisis. The rate of employment in the MPCs is the lowest in the world: only one inhabitant in four among the 180 million inhabitants of these countries has a job, which yields a dependence ratio of 3 to 1. The main factor that explains this situation is that the rate of female participation in the labour market is the lowest in the world: only one woman in four of working age is in the labour market and an average of 20% of these are unemployed. This means de facto exclusion in the labour market of 85% of women of working age in the region. The resulting loss in terms of educational investment is enormous, not to mention the consequent restriction imposed on their rights to economic and social emancipation.
However, the level of schooling and the role of women who have studied and are gradually opening new horizons and influencing their societies is an aspect that cannot be denied. Women’s associations together with human rights associations have battled fiercely over the last ten years to change the personal status laws, changing mentalities.
The Mediterranean through Women is the dossier we are presenting, in which around thirty contributions bring together voices of great diversity, both in terms of the origins of the authors and the themes and reflections. It was also important for us to give a voice to the young women bloggers and journalists who are actively demonstrating in the so-called Arab Springs, as well as the veteran female militants in associations and academics who for years have fully participated in the generational changes and changes of mentalities.
Under the headings Creativity and Stereotypes, Change and Economic Development and Valuing Women’s Voices for Democracy, we have reproduced the main themes covered in the meetings and debates in Casablanca. Some of the participants have contributed to this issue but we also include other texts we have considered of great interest. Two decades ago, the southern Mediterranean countries saw the emergence of a prefigurative culture, to use a classical anthropological concept, in which young women have grown up with communication and information technologies unimaginable for their elders. Although the main analysts talk of the birth of a generation of female activist citizen journalists and bloggers, we only have to observe the practices to see that the young are in search of greater substance and freedom, but not always far removed from the values shared with their elders.
Diversity is hard to manage but brings an added creativity which is very necessary in these critical times. Strengthening the role of women, seeing their works, listening to their emotions, needs and longings, and recognising their achievements can help to value the good practices in Europe and the Mediterranean countries in both an inter/transcultural and specific way. For this reason, we have recovered some texts such as that unpublished of the great writer Doris Lessing when she was in Barcelona in 1999. Lessing, who experienced difficult times in diverse places, speaks to us of literature and communication but warns that wherever we look in any ambit of human activity the same thing happens: there is a multiplication of dangers and possibilities, of fear and hope. And nowhere, neither in the past nor the future, can anyone more immediately see these hopes than here, on the shores of the Mediterranean.