Meet'In EuroMed 16 - Dossier "Empowering Women III"

The new issue of our magazine "Meet'In EuroMed" here to download.

This year, it includes a dossier dedicated to the seminar "Empowering Women III" held in Paris in April written by Esther Gelabert, Youth Expert, Euro-Med region, Director of Belies Consulting.


Below you will find some more elements completing the dossier:

- Towards gender equality: A bottom up and top down process, interview with Laura Vinuela Suarez

- Summary of the Conference "Non-formal education, springboard for employment and the emancipation of women", organized by INJEP, the French National Institute of Youth and Popular Education

Empowering women -  Summer Camps for Young Feminists. FRANCE

- Women participation. Yda park strip PALESTINE

Employment - “ROZAFA” Social Business (Foundation) ALBANIA​

Female entrepreneurship - Center for women entrepreneurs MACEDONIA

Women empowerment - SOCIETY WITHOUT VIOLENCE NGO Armenia

Some participants feelings about the seminar

Interview: Towards gender equality: A bottom up and top down process 

Laura Vinuela Suarez, Director of Espora Gender consulting, addresses topics such as: what is the role of local authorities and NGOs in supporting gender equality; what keeps women from reaching the top; what are the similarities and differences between countries in addressing gender issues; what is the impact of the current economic crisis on women; the rise of new women movements and the role of non-formal education in supporting women who want to advance in public and entrepreneurial domains.

Interview with Laura Vinuela Suarez, 
Director of Espora Gender Consulting, Spain
Interview by Esther Gelabert, Paris, April 2013

What exactly is Espora Gender Consulting?
Espora is a professional-entrepreneurial life project set up in 2005. It aims to promote equal opportunities for women and men in the belief that this can only be achieved if we acknowledge the root causes of inequality and work to remove them. In a nutshell, I could say that Espora's goal is to change the world! How are we doing this? Through expertise and networking. Equal opportunities is a complex and wide field and requires expert knowledge and experience in a number of areas. Espora has set up a network of gender professionals who come together when their specific expertise is needed. Using this methodology, we do research, organize training courses, give lectures, create didactic materials, publish academic and press articles, run awareness-raising campaigns, take part in project design and development and consultancy. Usually, our clients (NGOs, Universities and public bodies) want to develop some kind of gender equality action but are not sure on how to do it: our job is to help them to reach their equality goal using our expertise and contacts. 

What is the role of local authorities in supporting gender equality?
I think they play a key role, as they are responsible for bringing to the field the policies and strategies that are promoted from above (for example, from the EU). Their actions directly affect people's lives and, as a result, they are also the best suited to evaluate the relevance of the policies and to propose new ideas. There is another thing that I would highlight when speaking about local authorities and gender mainstreaming: the people involved are usually very committed to their work, they carry out their projects despite resources that are often limited and they have a close contact with citizens. I think this is one of the reasons why their role is extremely valuable. 
I especially like the way equality bodies within local authorities are able to establish communication between different agents such as other departments of the local public administration, companies, trade unions, training institutions, NGOs and women themselves. The way they manage to involve and coordinate such diverse groups of people and entities is a wonderful proof of the commitment of their staff. 
There are several examples that come to mind in my home town, Gijón. One of them is the “Education for Equality” programme, which involves gender experts and schools (both primary and secondary) and includes several workshops on the prevention of gender violence, the sharing of domestic responsibilities, the establishment of equal relationships between girls and boys and equality in choosing a vocation. It has been veery successful and very enriching for all those involved. There is also the local Gender Equality Unit that brings together the local government, trade unions, business associations and companies to promote a culture of equality in the professional field. There are also initiatives aimed at raising awareness of gender issues and at spreading feminist knowledge, such as, again in Gijón, a programme of free workshops proposed to the women's commission within each Neighborhood Association.  In San Martín del Rey Aurelio, a small town in a mining area, they hold an annual "Summer Feminist School" and bring experts from the university, both young researchers and established professors, to share their knowledge with local men and women of all ages. I have participated several times and it is a wonderful experience. In the end, all these examples are ways of bringing gender equality to the local context on many different levels. 

Have you come across interesting actions in tackling inequality in employment led by NGOs and Associations?
It is hard to single out one concrete example. There are many NGOs working in this field, mostly offering support and training to groups of women who have special difficulties in accessing the labor market, such as female victims of gender violence, illiterate women or women with disabilities. They address mostly specific needs, which makes sense when we take into account that their scope and resources are usually small. On the other hand, I think that the efforts developed by business women associations are worth mentioning. For example, there is an association in my region, ASEM (Asociación Empresa Mujer), which has managed to bring together more than 1,500 women entrepreneurs and owners of small companies who have developed a very strong network. They have set up a virtual fair for selling products and a very interesting mentoring programme aiming at sharing knowledge, experience and supporting each other. Due to its high membership (the population in the whole region is around 1 million), ASEM has become a relevant reference for public authorities, trade unions and business associations within the region and therefore has a privileged role as promoter of equality in employment on many levels.

What keeps women from reaching the top? 
Of course, there is no simple answer to this question and a combination of several elements must be taken into account. On the one hand, there is the patriarchal system, that has established a hierarchy in which women are not (easily) allowed to reach power positions. Power is considered as masculine and the path to the top is very closely linked to the so-called "old boys’ network" from which women (and even many men) are excluded. The non-formal character of this network is what creates the phenomenon known as the "glass ceiling", which refers to an invisible barrier (invisible in the sense that it is hard to prove its existence with documented evidence) that prevents qualified women from reaching top positions, even if they are interested.
Together with this, women are socialized in values that are not compatible with what is expected of people in power positions, namely, complete time availability and the absence of personal emotions. Nowadays women still have to choose between professional and personal life (and I'm not talking necessarily about children, here, although it is a key issue for women), and many are not willing, nor expected, to give up their personal/family projects to fight in a professional environment that is not women-friendly. 
I think that the challenge we face as feminists is to change the top and the structure that produces such a situation. Sometimes it is thought that women must be trained, supported and empowered to be able to reach top positions, but this only creates the idea that it is women's fault that they are not there and assumes the desirability of a top position. If we rethink this, then it becomes clear, at least for me, that the top is organized to suit a specific group of people (mostly men, but again not all men) and that it is important to change that if we want power positions to be distributed in a more equal way. Of course, again, we are talking about changing the world here and this is something that will take time and combined efforts.

Espora collaborates with other countries such as Sweden, Germany or Turkey: what is your view of the similarities and differences in situation and strategies?
It´s amazing how little we know about each other and how similar we are in many ways. I have been collaborating with gender professionals from these three countries for almost two years now, within an EU funded project ( and it's been an eye-opening experience. One of our findings is that, although the situation of women varies from country to country depending on its history of women's rights movements and equality policies, the basic traits of inequality are the same for all. These include the unequal distribution of care work and domestic responsibilities or the different expectations for boys and girls regarding life and work preferences. We also share the sense that people are very unaware of the persistence of gender inequality and that implies a huge effort of information and awareness-raising for all of us who work in this field. This is very time-consuming and, at times, discouraging, but, at the same time, we all are extremely committed and enthusiastic about what we do and have a very clear sense of the importance and relevance of our work. Researching, thinking, communicating and learning from each other are definitely our biggest strengths in pursuing our goals and moving forward.

What is the impact of the current economic crisis on women? 
Every time a society goes through a difficult period, women tend to suffer most. This economic crisis is no exception and it is hitting women in a very powerful way. The main problem is the weakening of the welfare state and the reduction of social policies. We must remember that equality had not been achieved before the crisis, although some progress had been made thanks, mainly, to the role of the public administration as provider of care services and also as the biggest employer for women. Now that this is gradually disappearing, women have higher unemployment rates and, because they are more likely than men to work part time or in lower paid jobs, they also have lower pensions and subsidies when they lose their jobs. At the same time, the reduction of care policies and affordable facilities for children, elderly people or people with disabilities mean that more women are returning to their traditional role as carers which, in turn, affects their employability negatively, as they are tied to those caring responsibilities. All this should make us very aware of the importance of never letting down our guard and being very aware of how precarious our hard-won rights still are.

How do you view the rise of the new women's movements? 
Women's movements have never stop existing, but I think the tough economic situation, with all its negative consequences, is awakening or, at least, strengthening the visibility and importance of social movements, and this includes for women. I think young women especially are more aware of the need to organize in order to achieve common goals. And also, as has happened many times in history, women are aware of the need to get together as women if they want to be heard. This has happened, for example, with the "indignados" movement in Spain, where feminists have developed and defended the motto "The Revolution will be Feminist or it Won't Be". In Spain the pressure on women's rights is felt as a real danger by women nowadays, for example, with the new abortion law that the government is preparing and which will make it much harder for women to abort legally. 
Suddenly, something that was taken for granted has to be fought for on the streets again. It proves that women's movements are strong and alive and ready to respond to "backlashes", to use Susan Faludi's term. So, I would not speak about new movements but about new women joining a long existing tradition and continuing to build the path towards gender equality; I think it is very important and empowering to see us as all part of a genealogy.

What is the role of non-formal education in supporting women in public and entrepreneurial domains?
I think non-formal education has traits that make it very useful for supporting women; first of all, it is much more flexible than formal education and, thus, easier to open up to knowledge, methodologies and ideologies that have no place in formal education. There are two strategies that I always point out as fundamental for the empowering of women: knowing our past, that is, building and disseminating our genealogy as women, and working together, creating a sense of community among ourselves. The power that derives from these two things is immense and I believe non-formal education has the capacity to promote both. This, however, must go hand in hand with collective action to change the structures that only allow women's empowerment to happen on the margins. Public and entrepreneurial domains, as well as formal education, are in many cases hostile environments for women and it is not only about empowering women to enter them but about making those realms better suited to meet women's choices, needs and expectations. 


Inequalities between women: Contributions from research 

Emmanuelle Lada, sociologist and professor at the University of Lausanne, has shown through her research that France lies in a unique position as it has seen the breakthrough of women into professional bastions previously held by men and the sustained inclusion of women in the labor market in low-paid jobs.  There is, however, a clear development of inequalities among women. “While some of them enter qualified professions, for others access to education means a different reality:  the access to non-valorized low-paid jobs that can eventually lead to dropping out and breaks in their work history. The percentage of the women in middle management has increased by almost 10 points in 20 years. On the contrary, non-qualified employment has become more genderized (feminized). The entry of women into the labor market happens in tandem with the household responsibilities for which women continue to assume responsibility. 
Emmanuelle Lada spoke about the gendered pathways to integration, which are particularly surprising because girls are more successful in their studies. “They are faster and they perform better” but notwithstanding this, they often experience a rupture when it comes to getting a job”, according to the researcher on gender. A high number of these women remain oriented to professions that provide fewer opportunities in terms of career development and professionalization. They are more numerous to excel in their high school studies, but they are not oriented towards the specific French academic path “which opens up the path to positions of responsibility in the French system”.  Based on the evidence obtained from her research, she states that “there is no natural path towards equality” but that feminism continues to show the way.

Meeting “frontier runners” 

The career path of Karima Delli, who is the daughter of a blue-collar worker of North African origin and a Member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, is not at all representative of the French political system. According to this young European deputy, she was lucky enough “to meet frontier runners”, such as the Green senator, Marie-Christine Blandin, known for her militant stand with Black Thursday. The revolt against inadequate housing, voluntary commitment, the discovery of new forms of activism, the will to change practices and to challenge routine was an innovative form of education in the eyes of Karima Delli, in addition to being a good complement to her academic studies, blurring the borders between teachers and learners, and making it possible to assume responsibilities and the structuring of collective commitment through popular education. "Even after being elected to the European Parliament, I continue to be an activist, with one foot in the social movement and one foot in the institutions”, Karima Delli told participants. 

Co-education for employment and professional careers 

Maryse Dumas (Delegate for women rights in the CGT Trade Union) identified “at least two types of trade union actions to promote gender equality:  those in favor of non-segregation in employment and those which favor non-segregation in professional careers “. Indeed, “the primary source of inequalities comes from the segmentation of employment:  jobs in education, health and services to the person are 80% female, with lower wages than those in the professional sectors where men dominate”. Maryse Dumas pleaded for “a new definition of the typologies of employment”, as current employment classifications still reflect the historical separation of roles.  It is very important to change that view and to recognize the professional skills of women as such, setting aside the idea that there are natural or innate informal competences. 

Recession: women in the firing line 

Returning to the European framework, Clara Carbunar (European framework of youth feminists in Europe) linked the deterioration of the economic and social fabric in the euro zone to degradation in the situation of young women in particular. “Austerity policies trigger the progressive destruction of a number of public services and social protection. This penalizes women for several reasons”. “The public service jobs that are being destroyed are frequently held by women. In addition, cutbacks in public services can force women to take on the care of close relatives at home, particularly when they are no longer eligible for social and medical protection. Any further degradation in the field of employment would necessarily lead to a return to traditional assignments”, according to Clara Carbunar.

 “Glass ceiling” and “sticky floor” 

“There is not just one, but several glass ceilings, estimated Lucia Barbieri, coordinator of the International Seminar. There are the social glass ceilings of gender, of ethnic origin, and many others. To break it is to risk injury”. But to refuse to challenge it is to risk remaining glued to the “sticky floors” that confine women to jobs with fewer responsibilities, low mobility and political mandates at local level only, “while their male counterparts are elected to national or supranational parliaments.  Clearly, popular education (non-formal education) and its potential for emancipation could play a crucial role in the breaking of these glass ceilings and its role which could become increasingly important at a time when women are excluded, for the benefit of men, from many functions with responsibility in the associative sector”.


Empowering women -  Summer Camps for Young Feminists. FRANCE

Target group:
The main target group is young women, defining themselves as active feminists. They are active in organizations, informal groups or operate independently. They are all feminists from different countries in Europe.
The camp aims to be a place for empowerment, training and to facilitate the networking of young feminists.

A one week camp, which is based on principles of diversity in feminism and self-management.

Everyone is encouraged to contribute (both through workshops and the sharing of daily tasks) and to take initiatives during their stay. Decisions are taken in General Assemblies that are held every day. A girls-only space allows participants to take on new tasks and responsibilities as well as sharing their realities as young women in Europe. The meeting of young women living in different countries and different realities enables participants to overcome cultural differences and reach the common experience of being a young woman that is shared by all. 

Key results:
The experience of living in a women-only self-managed space is truly empowering and young women have testified after the camp that they used the energy and empowerment of the camp to create new collective projects. For many, it was a time of rethinking their lives, choices and possibilities, in both the professional and personal spheres.

Contact: Clara Carbunar.


MEDA Countries
Women participation. Yda park strip PALESTINE 

Target group:
Women Community based organizations and women's cooperatives

This project focuses on bettering the future of the civil society through enhancing female participation in public life. It aims to promote the values of justice and equality in rural communities in particular by consolidating the role of community based organizations in public life.  The project also aims at reducing poverty and helping women play a positive role in public life alongside men. 

We work with dozens of grassroots feminists who are  helping their members and their families by providing a source of income. We provide training courses in the areas of leadership, communication and strategic planning. We also design and implement national advocacy campaigns.

Key results: 
    •    Effective participation of women in public campaigns in conservative rural communities
    •    Active participation of women in training courses
    •    Active participation of women in marketing activities and exhibitions

Contact:  Jamal Saad


South East Region
Employment - “ROZAFA” Social Business (Foundation) ALBANIA

Target group:
The target group is vulnerable girls and women from disadvantaged social groups, in danger of exploitation, living in rural and peripheral urban areas, in difficult socio-economic situations.

Promote female employment by ensuring social and economic support for girls and women by training them for the job market and offering support for the startup of activities linked to artisanal activities. Establishment of a sustainable network and the gradual transformation of the Foundation into an organization with many small business partners that find support and facilitating services in Rozafa during both their startup phase and during the development of their artisanal micro business activity.

    •    Centrality of the person: The person is seen as a unique being in his or her fundamental relationships, family and society. The person cannot be reduced to a social category or a limitation such as poverty, disease or disability.
    •    Starting from the positive: Every person and every community represents a potential resource, regardless of their vulnerability. This means valuing and consolidating everything that has been done by people and also helping people to understand their own value and dignity.
    •    Doing with: Starting from a relationship with the people at whom the project is directed and building with them based on their development path.
    •    Partnership: Promotion of partnerships with all the actors in the field in order to facilitate synergies and optimize available resources.

Key results:
    •     More than 250 women trained in technical profiles in artisanal handicrafts; about 35 women trained in small business administration; 13 artisanal centers supported; 6 artisanal centers formally constituted; commercial trading of these products on the international market generating revenue, which in turn means a better income for each center and for each women; establishment of
good logistics and facilities to export procedures.



Female entrepreneurship - Center for women entrepreneurs MACEDONIA

Target group:
Young women, women who are unemployed and women who want to continue their education and professional development in order to become a significant pillar in the community.

The aim of the project is to educate and inspire women to become entrepreneurs.

The project consists of a series of nine training modules over a period of nine working weeks:  Career and setting of professional goals; female Entrepreneurship - barriers and opportunities; SWOT business idea; marketing and sales; professional presentations; social media 4 start-up businesses; access to finance, business planning - theoretical and practical (writing a business plan)

The project encourages teamwork and communication to facilitate participants active and interactive participation through playing games, discussions, videos, presentations and work on team projects. Each training course was evaluated by the participants.

Key results:
60 Women trained in acquiring and improving entrepreneurial skills : so far 3 have opened their own businesses, 6 more have found employment and several others have landed internships or been taken on as volunteers in private companies or NGOs. Future collaboration and preparation for advance training sessions in business and career development are also key results.



Women empowerment - SOCIETY WITHOUT VIOLENCE NGO Armenia


Target group:
Young women 18-25 years old mostly from the furthest regions of Armenia. 

Women’s Empowerment: SWV is raising awareness among women about their rights, gender equality, domestic violence, women’s leadership. It aims to motivate and empower them to be active in social, economic, and political life. SWV promotes women’s role in Peace Building and works with domestic violence cases. 

Training courses in the regions to raise awareness
Promotion of women in the Peace Building Process
Integration of Gender Studies into the high school curriculum
Shining the light on domestic violence cases 
Providing domestic violence victims with legal and psychological support

Training courses, Civic Forums, public events, discussions, movie screenings, publication of articles, press releases, round tables, sessions, legal and psychological support for domestic violence victims, theme-based video production.

Key results:
We have had a lot of positive results, although the following is limited to women’s economic development. We got a lot of feedback from women who changed their lifestyle, talked to their husbands about their rights and convinced them that they should get a job. That was hard for them to do, but they were also sharing their positive experience with each other, so that was one of the best results. Every time we returned to a region, we were able to note new positive changes among our beneficiaries



After the seminar, I felt I was in a strange state of serenity. Why is that? Had the proportion of 48 women to 8 men something to do with it? Not just the proportion, but the personalities. Be that as it may, I felt “empowered”, but in a very special kind of way. Maybe I mean by this that I was “touched”, in the sense that international encounters have a transformative effect on the participants.

The seminar was designed to bring together two issues, that of employability and that of women in the workplace and in society. One difficulty was that one issue could have taken precedence over the other. How not to question the norms we live with? As cultural beings, we are the products of a structured power system which perpetuates itself by selecting those best fitted to adapt to it. As cultural beings, we also aspire for change and we strive to play a positive role in society. What else is non-formal education for, if not to help people be agents of change, for themselves in the first place, and secondly for the greater good of the community? 

Now, the question of how to improve women’s employability remains. Two forces, difficult to reconcile, are at play, one adaptive, meaning giving young women the means to adapt (social inclusion) and the other, radical in essence, meaning to criticize and change the established order from within. So on the one hand we needed to question whether it is possible to reconcile, and to what extent if at all, the two issues at stake; on the other hand the women’s issue appeared as a way to get into a more complex reality that could not be approached without consideration of other important issues such as equal opportunities, quota and affirmative action policies, also education for all, hierarchy and leadership issues in the organization; on the social front: identity, ethnicity and the problems related to racism, the role of the media, social classes and social justice… or finally, alternative ways to organize our lives and ways by which we can make sense of it all.

One fascinating paradox of the seminar was that it brought together many people from many different national contexts and horizons, who realized  how close they were in terms of the problems facing us all. Finland, Palestine, Israel, Austria, Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, Macedonia, Italy, Spain, Armenia, Egypt, Morocco, Cyprus, Turkey, Jordan, Albania, Kosovo, Belgium, Great Britain, France. Such dizzying geography… I fear I’m forgetting some. But at the same time we had to learn to refrain from thinking that we were all on exactly the same page as we also realized that one issue required a specific kind of treatment depending on the context. Helping married immigrant women in Brussels (thank you, Annelies) or young women in remote rural areas in Palestine (thank you Jamal) hasn’t much in common with finding internship opportunities across the Atlantic for young French job seekers. Still, such differences made up the distance necessary for some learning process to take place.

I was particularly struck by the similarity of the approach to entrepreneurship as a tool to “empower” young women in a Macedonian (thank you, Jovan) and a Tunisian organization, a similarity that actually made sense from the French point of view wherein the subject of entrepreneurship remains utterly politically sensitive. Also, one of the recurrent terms used by the participants to describe their impression of the seminar was “inspiring”; inspiration is precisely what non-formal education does best in order to transmit not only values but also behavioral models. And how else but by the sheer power of example does such “inspiration” happen? I was touched by the story of one of the participants (thank you, Mohamed) whose approach reminded me that what works in Tunisia, even when fine-tuned to the local needs of the public, may also work elsewhere in Europe. Even more inspiring  was the illustration that “feminine” is not necessarily female and “masculine” not necessarily male. An educator’s role may well be “feminine” when considered in terms of its protective function, its self-effacing kind of loving attention, and at the same time masculine when pushing learners out to discover the world, in its “projective” function: overt confidence in the future and in the person’s capacity, which will self-actualize through daring. A magician’s tap on the shoulder – and the wings sprout out of the shoulder blades. 

Now (when I can) I enjoy the exchanges and further references from participants on the Facebook group page. I discovered TED talks for example (thank you Anna, thank you Marianna). As one presenter pointed out, one thing men and women have in common is that they both victims of violent men (although, of course, we have much more in common.) Therefore, for non-formal education educators and others, the solutions are not to be found in better sensitizing people to gender issues but in raising awareness in and requesting or participating in the spread of responsible leadership. We can see the beginning of a solution once we realize we are part of the problem and refuse to be. I don’t know what our Gallic ancestors would have said about all this, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have disapproved of the fun we had. Thank you organizers, thank you all.
Jonathan Thurin
Office franco-quebecois pour la jeunesse

The Seminar was very useful for me and my organization ella, since we work with cultural and ethnic minorities from a gender perspective in Belgium, using non-formal education. We help guide marriage migrants along their individual path towards education and employability. We have found similar organizations to ours, operating in different contexts in Armenia, Austria, Finland, France. It has been a true inspiration to learn about theirs’ and other organizations’ good practices.  Concrete examples of the contributions of the Seminar: hearing about challenges to female glass ceilings from the experts and discussing it with other organizations made me realize even more how far we still are from creating equal job opportunities for women with a migration background or second and third generation minorities. Not only should there be more tools for those who need them to facilitate their access to the labor market; a lot of work also needs to be done when it comes to changing and influencing the opinion of society as a whole. We have to deal with a serious underestimation of and discrimination against talented people from a migration background.  
Annelies Van Hamme
ella, Knowledge and gender ethnicity 
Brussels, Belgium


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