Women's Rights and Gender Equality Activists Attend Study Visit to Lisbon

16 Sep 2020
On September 10, 2020, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) invited the Delegation of Syrian activists. Ms. Teresa Ribeiro, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and President of the NHRC opened the panel.

EuroMed Feminist Initiative (EFI) organized a study trip to Lisbon, Portugal between the 8th and the 11th of September 2020 in the frame of the project “Toward sustainable peace and democracy in Syria through strengthening civil society and women’s rights” funded by Sweden.

Six activists in the field of women’s rights (WR) and gender equality (GE) were selected and had the opportunity to visit political and legal institutions, meet with civil society and national organizations in Lisbon that have a strong experience in promoting and ensuring women’s political participation and combating violence against women and girls (VAWG). After consulting with its partners, EFI agreed that it would be highly interesting to observe the similarities between Syria and Portugal, from their history and culture. In fact, after the fall of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974, women’s rights in Portugal flourished thanks to women’s participation at the forefront of the revolution and the rising of a feminist movement afterwards. Therefore, this study trip allowed a group of Syrian WR and GE activists to adopt a different perspective of their own history by looking at an experience they can identify to.

On the first day of the study trip, the participants first met with Ms. Margarida Teixeira and Teresa Silva, respectively Vice-President and Programme Manager of the Portuguese Network of Young People for Gender Equality. The non-profit association, founded in 2000, is also an informal collective of youth associations defending women's rights and aims to promote gender equality in accordance with the guidelines of the United Nations and the European Union. The participants got the opportunity to learn and discuss new methods of youth participation and got a historical overview of Portugal allowing them to better understand the steps towards engendering the constitution process and changing mentalities.

On the second day, the delegation met with Mr. Daniel Cotrim, Psychologist and Senior Adviser and Ms. Teresa Mamede, Jurist and Adviser to the Support Unit for Migrant Victims and Discrimination from the Portuguese Association for Victim Support (APAV). For APAV’s 30-year anniversary, the participants got the chance to reflect on the past three decades of work implemented by this organization. In their mission to inform, protect and support citizens who have been victims of crime, APAV has developed public, social and private policy measures for victims’ support, including awareness raising, protection and restorative justice.

On the third day of the study trip, the activists met with members of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), an inter-ministerial coordination body, which aims to implement an integrated approach to Human Rights and an agreed plan of action for public and private entities. Before this visit, the participants had prepared and agreed on some gender-sensitive recommendations to share with the representatives of Portugal. The meeting took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and gathered representatives from the various ministries the NCHR is in charge of coordinating with, such as the Ministry of Migrations, the Ministry of Work, Solidarity and Social Affairs, the Presidency of Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Equality, Ministry of National Defence, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education. Ms. Teresa Ribeiro, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and President of the NHRC opened the meeting. She reminded Portugal’s commitment to the respect of human and women’s rights and their attachment to the image the country reflects: a caring, worthy European country without a self-serving agenda, committed to international laws and regulations.

Ms. Helene Dworak, EFI’s Project Officer, then took the floor, shedding light on EFI’s 10-year work with Syrian feminist partners, and Syrian civil society working together on promoting a gender-sensitive transition in Syria. Finally, Ms. Rouba Ghanem, Programme Officer of the Syrian Women Forum for Peace (SWFP) and a senior gender and management advisor, presented the recommendations in hers and her colleagues’ name and voiced the feminist activists’ demands for a gender-sensitive future for Syria. She reminded the commitment of Syrian feminists to a peaceful solution in Syria that would lead to a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace.

This consultation was followed by a meeting with Ms. Ana Sofia Fernandes, President at the Portuguese Platform for Women's Rights (PpDM) and Vice-President of the European Women’s Lobby. The PpDM, as an umbrella organisation, contributes to the empowerment, articulation and mobilisation of Portuguese WR NGOs and to the reinforcement of its networking and cooperation relations with European, Mediterranean and International NGOs working in this field. The Platform also aims to contribute to the implementation of gender mainstreaming in all areas of society. Ms. Fernandes gave the Syrian delegation very interesting numbers that clearly shows the advancement of GE in Portugal. She also mentioned “gender budgeting” and the fact that even if Portugal now has an article that states that the budget needs to be gender-sensitive, the main political parties today have a resistance to make clear gender monitoring and gender budgeting for policies. Ms. Patricia Santos Pedrosa, Architect, Professor, Researcher and President of Women in Architecture, then briefly presented the importance of having more women-friendly cities designed by and for women and introduced the concept of spatial justice. In a glimpse of hope, she reminded the Syrian activists that sometimes, the critical moment can be critical to make a change.

On the fourth and last day, the delegation met with Ms. Carla Tavares, President of the Commission for Equality in Labour and Employment (CITE), along with Ms. Rosario Fidalgo, project manager. The CITE was created in 1979 in order to fight discrimination and promote equality between women and men in labour, in employment and in vocational training. Its main responsibility is also to protect parenthood (maternity, paternity and adoption) and to reconcile professional, personal and family life. The participants learned about CITE’s internal mechanisms, its mission, and how labour and employment have been shaped by gender-sensitive laws.

The study trip was concluded by a meeting with Pr. Bernardo Coelho, researcher and founding member of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies (CIEG). Mr. Coelho presented the functions of the research centre, one of the eighteen organic units of the University of Lisbon, and explained how the centre concretely works: it is a platform bringing together national and international researchers belonging to different universities and research centres, focused on interdisciplinary gender studies, including feminist and women's studies, policies, institutions and the welfare State, among a wide range of topics related to gender issues in contemporary societies. It has also been involved in the evaluation of public policies, research projects, organization of conferences and seminars, various national and international publications in the field of gender equality and has the opportunity to influence the government.

Last but not least, this study trip was a great opportunity for the delegation of Syrian activists, beyond the networking and exchange of lessons learned, to raise the attention of the international community on the Syrian cause and current situation, voice their demands and issue important recommendations. It was also a way for them to plan for the future scenarios in Syria and prepare the necessary tools and mechanisms to implement them.