“The Feminist Movement is a Political Movement”
Liberté: In your opinion, what can Europe offer to the southern Mediterranean countries in the fight against violence against women?
Lilian Halls-French: We are fighting and we have constantly been fighting since 2003 for a Europe that rejects any cooperation with the countries that do not respect the partnership agreements that they have signed related to fundamental freedoms. For us, Europe which considers itself a bearer of democratic values, or at least affirms it particularly when it comes to women’s rights, should implement these values and enforce them in the countries with which there are partnership agreements.
Do you think that Europe should put pressure on the Arab South Mediterreanean countries on this issue?
LH: I think that Europe should put pressure in the framework of the development or partnership agreements with these countries so that democracy is upheld, which means in particular a political system that respects gender equality and women’s rights. But I also think that these countries should not be waiting for Europe to draw their own path.
But what if nothing is done, since it seems that there’s no political will in these countries when it comes to this issue
LH: There’s no political will, and unfortunately there’s no political will in the European countries either. The discrimination against women in Europe is much more hidden. In fact, we have all the possible laws, but these laws are not implemented and there exists a considerable gap between progressive legislations and the reality on the ground.
How could that be when the mobilization of women and their economic power exist [in Europe]?
LH: How can we envision having a strong feminist movement in an international context such as the one we see today where the progressive movement and the democratic movement are weak and where we see a significant rise in the far-right populist movements? The feminist movement, which I consider a political and progressive movement that challenges the established order, is at the moment fragmented, divided and relatively weakened. Moreover, it doesn’t benefit from the support of democratic parties or governments. We have a sort of illusion that things are changing, moving forward or that the word has been liberated, but unfortunately it’s far from being the case.
We cannot concretely transplant into Arab countries the same values, the same rules and regulations of European women’s struggle as there are many differences be it on the economic, cultural or, most importantly, religious level.
LH: I can tell you that our pride in the EuroMed Feminist Initiative is that we have proven the opposite. When I went to Jordan in 2009, I was told that it was the first time that they had listened to a European woman who had come not to support Arab women but to explain the problems that European women encounter and to seek solidarity. We rejected a discourse that said “let us save these poor Arab women” when these women have very powerful organizations and fight admirable battles.
Different degrees obviously exist. The weight of religion is definitely heavier and legislations are largely less advanced. However, the root causes of dominance and oppression are the same. The difference between us is that, when it comes to women’s rights, formal rights are definitely less advanced in southern Mediterranean countries, whereas in Europe we have a significant gap between formal rights and effective rights.
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