Serap Altinisik wrote that the European Union is still rightly seen as an advocate for global gender equality. Although this is not an easy task, feminism should be at the core of its foreign policy agenda.
Serap Altinisik is the representative of Plan International in the European Union, which is committed to promoting children’s rights and girls’ equality in the EU’s external operations.
Whether it makes headlines or not, the Venezuelan crisis is very active.
More than 5.5 million people, 25% of them children, were forced to flee to other countries, mainly Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This number is expected to reach a total of 8 million displaced persons.
In its 2020 assessment, the European Commission characterised the Venezuelan crisis as a “forgotten” crisis. The term refers to “Serious and prolonged humanitarian crisis situations, the affected population did not receive or did not receive sufficient international assistance, and there was no political commitment to resolve the crisis, partly due to lack of media interest.”
However, the humanitarian community has rekindled hope that things may change.
For months, journalists in Latin America have been studying Venezuelan migrants, talking to displaced people, and documenting their experiences. A few days ago, the international community held a meeting under the auspices of the Canadian government and pledged solidarity with Venezuelan refugees and immigrants.
It is foreseeable that the European Union is one of the most important players and has the financial strength to match it: Commissioner Janez Lenarčič pledged to provide 147 million euros for humanitarian, development and conflict-related operations.
Financial support is the most important. It can help meet the needs of those most in need, such as access to healthcare, education, shelter, and nutrition. However, it is not enough to prevent adversity in the Venezuelan crisis — or any crisis related to it.
A few days ago, it was World Refugee Day. We need to ask ourselves how the EU’s external actions have become a meaningful support mechanism beyond financial contributions. Part of the answer is feminism.
Feminism is where the evidence takes us
The crisis has exacerbated existing inequalities, and gender inequality is at the top of the list. Emergencies affect everyone, but there is evidence that the life experiences of girls and women are very different from those of boys and men.
A recent study by Plan International showed that rape, sexual abuse, harassment and forced prostitution are the main concerns of refugee and immigrant Venezuelan girls in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia.
Their struggle is clearly related to their gender.
This is just logical. Our background and personal characteristics largely determine our life experience. Under these circumstances, the displaced girls interviewed stated that sexual violence, early pregnancy and forced marriage prevented them from obtaining health, education or a decent standard of living.
We need to pay attention to this, because it is not only related to the situation in Venezuela. Any support provided by the EU needs to consider people’s life experiences, rather than classify them as a large and convenient term “refugee”. If we do this, feminism is not an ideological response. This is a response based on evidence.
The external action of feminism is not easy. Even within the EU, there is resistance, the most famous of which may be Hungary and Poland.
At the same time, the European Union is still regarded as an advocate for global gender equality-this is a matter of course. The committee is becoming more and more outspoken about this. The most recent gender action plan is by far the most ambitious.
The Children’s Rights Strategy is a bit inferior, but it is still pushing forward. Looking at our leaders, Commissioner Urpilainen, one of the main voices of the EU’s external actions, seems willing to act in line and incorporate gender into policy in a meaningful way. This is a beginning, but it is not enough.
Turn the EU into a global feminist
If the EU wants to succeed internationally and have a long-term impact, our institutions should not shy away from our values. They need to use their power and turn it into a serious external policy tool.
To this end, the EU needs to mainstream cross-cutting and gender change approaches into all its policies.
This will mean mainstreaming gender in the work of DG INTPA, DG ECHO, EEAS and one of the EU delegations. Gender counselors need to have real influence throughout the organization. By default, EU-funded programs need to be gender transformative, not an option.
On the global stage, our leaders must ensure that we are aligned with our partners: gender and intersectionality must be an absolutely integral part of everything we do, not add-ons or bargaining chips.
There are many signs that the EU is serious about using its power to promote a global system of gender equality-for this to happen, the EU’s fiscal power needs to go hand in hand with political power.
But for our institution to succeed, we need to stop counting on individual leaders and promote systematic and comprehensive change. The crisis in Venezuela is just one of our many reminders.