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ewl feminist summer school

ICJW was one of the sponsors of a Young Feminist Summer School - Agora - organized by the European Women's Lobby - that took place in September 2015. 

Some 50 young women aged 18-29, all feminist activists, from all over Europe met in Brussels in September for a 4 day intensive brain storming to reinforce their fight in favour of women's rights.

On the opening evening I sat with them informally around a table, munching sandwiches. All of them greatly concerned about women's issues, but with different accents. Seen from Scotland or from Poland things are not the same, but with this stubborn reality of gender inequality.

In the event, they came from 25 countries, from old EU Member States, such as France and Germany, but also from countries not yet in the EU, such as Kosovo and Turkey. This as part of the Lobby's open and inclusive policy.

The main issues identified by the participants: migrant and minority women (Roma, refugees); violence against women (sexual violence, street harassment); sexism in culture and the media (using arts and culture as a tool to advance feminism); women in power (in politics, decision making); sexual and reproductive rights.

All issues which are the constant EWL concern over all the years, but with this new generation of young, enthusiastic and determined feminists bringing new vigour, new creative ideas, they will allow of fresh action.

But here in Europe the overwhelming refugee crisis overshadows every other consideration. And indeed the women who marched to the European Parliament, to meet two MEP's, Ulrike Lunacek, Vice-President of the Eur. Parliament, and Marie Arena, proudly held aloft a banner " REFUGEES WELCOME".

But Asylum is not gender neutral. It must be emphasized, as this reality is ignored by the media. Women and girls fleeing conflicts and war face various forms of male violence, as well as multiple discrimination due to widespread prejudice against women.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE: women are raped by officials, smugglers, other refugees, traffickers. Due to the prevalent patriarchal structures these cases are rarely reported.
In the journey fleeing war and conflicts, women are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and prostitution.

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: According to UNICEF 12% of women arriving in Macedonia are pregnant. Due to lack of drinking water, pregnant and breastfeeding women suffer from kidney problems. There is a lack of proper sanitation, no separation between men and women.

The European Women's Lobby has written an open letter to the EU Commissioners, EU Heads of State and EU Ministers responsible for migration, to demand:
1) That asylum procedures comply with UNHRC guidelines on gender-related persecution. In particular, that persons raising gender-related refugee claims are given a supportive environment, and confidentiality to overcome the feelings of shame that make them reluctant to testify.
2) Asylum officials should inform women that gender-based violence and discrimination may constitute a valid basis for a refugee claim.

This open letter was timed to be presented to the European Council meeting on 15 to 16 October which will be addressing issues of migration and asylum. More than ever, women's rights need to be protected within the massive refugee crisis in Europe.