Women: One of the Mediterranean’s brightest hopes

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UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet Visits Rural Women’s Land Rights Project in Morocco, March 9, 2012. [UN Women / Flickr]

For too long, women have been absent from decision-making, too little involved in the formal labour market and too often victims of violence. They are now one of our brightest hopes for the Mediterranean, writes Delphine Borione.

Delphine Borione is Senior Deputy Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), an intergovernmental organisation bringing together the 28 European Union Member States and 15 countries from the Southern and Eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

In 2016 the Euro-Mediterranean region has experienced an intensification of conflicts, a rise in extremism and a number of economic, environmental, social and societal challenges – from climate change, to security, migration, poverty and unemployment – that have weakened community life.

However, faced with this world of turmoil, women are a positive force; and now there are vital opportunities for our societies to value them better. Women, who have for too long been absent from decision-making, too little involved in the formal labour market, too often victims of violence, are now one of our brightest hopes for the Mediterranean. Promoting the role of women is therefore a requirement for the building of a Euro-Mediterranean region that is both more stable and better prepared to confront its challenges.

Equality between men and women is a path towards democracy, peace and growth in a region that longs for stability and prosperity. Despite progress in many areas, this equality is far from complete in the Euro-Mediterranean region, as it is in the rest of the world. Women do not have access to full recognition of their rights, nor to the same opportunities as men in the social, cultural, political and economic arenas. Violence against women remains a scourge. The weight of tradition, customs and stereotypical attitudes encase many women in pre-defined roles, from which it is difficult to escape.

Greater participation of women in economic, social and political life is, however, synonymous with inclusive growth and sustainable development. The real added value generated by women is an asset in all areas. In the Mediterranean region, where the rate of female participation in the labour market is only 25%, an equal contribution of women and men in the economy could increase GDP by more than 25%. Women are essential actors against extremism and radicalisation, thanks to their ability to enhance the economic fabric of the country, and thus curb migration. They play a mediating role, and maintaining cohesion in families and communities.

Women can no longer be only regarded as ‘victims’ of the conflicts that affect them in particularly, but also as actors of prevention and conflict resolution, as stated in UN Resolution 1325. A recent report from UN Women highlights the positive contribution of women: the presence of women in negotiations promotes the sustainability of peace agreements. Women are now ready not only to be fully in control of their own destiny, but also to be engines of peace and stability.

The Union for the Mediterranean promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women in societies as primary objectives. The UfM acts for this purpose at the political level with the construction of a “common agenda” involving the 43 States of the region, and with concrete projects for the benefit of women in the areas of training, entrepreneurship, economic participation, access to leadership and the fight against violence.

The third high-level conference of the UfM titled, “Women for the Mediterranean: Driving force for development and stability” will strongly stress on investing in women’s contribution to society as a response to the challenges of the Mediterranean. For two days (10-11 October), ministers, experts and representatives from international organisations, civil society and NGOs, all directly engaged at the political and societal level, will identify solutions and concrete ways to strengthen the vital role of women as agents of change for the region. They will address the critical role of women in order to address the most sensitive challenges: employment creation, sustainable development, the fight against extremism and radicalisation, and migration challenges in the Mediterranean.

We know there is no development without security, no security without development and there can be no lasting security or development without gender equality. Promoting the effective implementation of women’s rights and access to all opportunities is an essential condition for ensuring peace, stability, and development in our societies, and for meeting the challenges of our time.