The issue of gender equality and women`s rights is increasingly understood as an issue of human rights. On the just passed International Women Day 8 March, many activists as well as analysts claimed that there was a firm link, worldwide, between women`s rights and human rights in general.
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) is monitoring freedom understood from a liberal perspective in 30 countries of Europe and Central Asia. Freedom is measured through its three main aspects: political freedom, rule of law and economic freedom, while rule of law is measured through independence of judiciary, fight against corruption and respect for human rights. In the annual reports Freedom Barometer Europe Edition, FNF has commented on numerous developments that had shaped the current state of women`s rights in the monitored countries. Some of those were:
- Domestic violence
Women (as well as children, or disabled) are often victims of physical violence by husbands or other members of the family. For instance, estimates in Armenia are that 60% of women sometime in their life suffer from domestic violence. Elsewhere, situation is similar. Yet, the legislators often neglect the problem. Moreover, attempts to retraditionalise family relations, visible in Russia and an increasing number of CIS countries influenced by Moscow, usually go hand in hand with softened approach to domestic violence. In Balkan countries, situation varies. However those entrenched old customs are strong and home violence widespread, there is, mainly under influence of the European Union, a growing awareness about them and concrete efforts to eradicate them.
- Sexual harassment
Sex slavery and trafficking are the most visible tips of the iceberg of sexual harassment and inequality that women still suffer in spite of more than a century of struggle to implement their legal equality as human beings in a real life. Recent FNF research has shown advance in – at least willingness to be - fighting sex trafficking in the countries of origin, whereby further improving of social conditions, establishment of reliable safe houses and better protection of witnesses could prove as crucial remedies. The focus of struggle against sexual harassment of women in Europe is gradually shifting towards everyday harassment in the workplace or other public space, including verbal, which most women experience almost daily. Additionally, the misuse of various authority for sexual exploitation is a practice that is spread far more than trafficking for the sake of forced prostitution. Under the influence of the Mee Too movement in the United States, quite recently in many European countries a debate was launched on how women could protect themselves from the misuse of authority for sexual exploitation or other degradation. On the shorter run, cultural changes are needed, whereby both freedom of speech and the dignity of all human beings should be protected. On the longer run, equal participation of women in political and economic decision making is the key to this problem as well.
- Presence in politics
Except in Nordic countries, women, who comprise half of all mankind, are drastically under-represented in politics, or in the highest echelons of business community. Quotas for the share of women on electoral tickets have in numerous countries provided for a third of women in the repsentative bodies. Yet, that slowly translates into more executive posts. Besides, the quotas, as in essence a discriminatory and illiberal practice, could, at best, be just a temporary solution. Recently, there were breakthroughs in South Eastern Europe. Serbia, despite its setbacks in some other aspects of freedom, at least showed a drastic improvement in the participation of women at the highest political posts: women became the PM and a Deputy PM, the Speaker of the Parliament, the Governor of the Central Bank, etc. In the neighboring Croatia, a woman was elected as the President. At one time or another during the last decade women have taken the highest political posts in Slovenia, Kosovo, Romania or elsewhere in this part of Europe. Those examples show way to thousands of other women who dream of taking an equal share in the decision making in politics, economy, culture or other areas of social life.
FNF Freedom Barometer will continue to monitor, evaluate and comment on the state of human rights in Europe and Central Asia. More on this could be found on the website: www.freedombarometer.org