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Doing feminism in Europe

Photo of Emma RitchI spent last weekend at the European Women's Lobby general assembly in Brussels.

The Lobby is the largest European umbrella of women's organisations, and its general assembly is an annual gathering of all of the national co-ordinations. Engender represents Scotland within the Lobby.

Some of you who follow European feminism or institutional feminist politics will have seen the Lobby pop up on Twitter, in our Friday Feminist Five mailers, but their work is much less familiar to other feminists in Scotland.

I thought I'd share five things about the Lobby (and Engender's involvement with it) that might be of interest.

1. What the Lobby's role is

The European Women's Lobby is a feminist policy and advocacy organisation that has two main roles. First, it lobbies European institutions, including the Commission and Parliament. Second, it supports feminist organisations in member states to participate in Europe-wide campaigning and lobbying.

2. How the Lobby is structured

EWL members fall into two categories: national co-ordinations and Europe-wide organisations.

The Lobby accepts one national co-ordination for each European member state, and leaves it up to the feminists in that state to create or select an organisation to be that national co-ordination. The UK's constitutional arrangements have posed a bit of a challenge to us in this regard, and I'll explain how we resolved it in just a moment.

Members vote at the general assembly for the EWL's board, and executive committee. All national co-ordinations are represented on the board, which meets physically twice a year. The executive committee meets more regularly.

There is also a secretariat, which is based in Brussels. The current secretary general of EWL is Joanna Maycock.

3. How the UK is represented

The UK can only have one national co-ordination, because it (rather than Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland, and England) is the European member state.

As there is no pan-UK feminist organisation working across the four nations of the UK, a synthetic organisation, called the UK Joint Committee on Women, was created.

Engender is the Scottish member of UKJCW. Wales is represented by WEN Wales; N. Ireland by the Northern Ireland Women's European Platform; and England by NAWO.

We have a rotation of roles within UKJCW, so that all organisations have fair access to the roles of EWL board member, EWL board alternate, convener of UKJCW, and secretariat of UKJCW.

Following the general assembly, I am now the EWL board alternate. Marsha Scott, an Engender board member, also attends UKJCW meetings on behalf of Engender.The current board member, who also sits on the executive, is Barbara Cleary from NAWO.

4. How we participate in the Lobby

We are involved in policy work, particularly around the economy and violence against women. Marsha Scott is the current UK expert on the EWL's observatory on violence against women and leads on their work on the Istanbul Convention. I've been involved in bits of work on the economy, and have been working with Lobby colleagues on responses to the European Semester.

The Lobby uses information about women's equality across European member states in its lobbying. This involves quite a lot of administration and compilation on our part, to feed in on Scottish experiences. Recent data gathering projects have covered topics like sex and relationships education, the law around rape, and women's access to pensions. We draw on the expertise of sister organisations here in Scotland to make sure that we're painting an accurate picture of life for women in Scotland.

We also respond to the Lobby's campaigning calls by writing letters and emails to MEPs, and Scottish Government and UK Government ministers.

Finally, we also share what we do and know with feminist organisations across Europe. We're about to do a short interview for our Irish colleagues about gender budgeting, and regularly share campaigns, reports, and data with sister organisations across the EU.

All of the work we do with the Lobby gives us a richer sense of what is happening to women across the EU, and allows us to join with other feminists to make our voices louder.

5. How we pay for it

We can't spend our Scottish Government grant on international travel. We pay for our annual participation in the general assembly by using income from consultancy work that Engender carries out to raise funds.

All other travel expenses to speak at events, or take part in meetings, are paid for by Europe.

Creating time to ensure that UKJCW works effective and fairly can be challenging, but we manage by working and meeting online.

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