Joint interview of two women responsible for prevention and security : a European example

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What is your background ?

Katty Firquet, provincial MP and Vice President of the Provincial College of the province of Liege, Belgium :

Trained as a journalist, I notably worked for 10 years in an important insurance company in Liege before being twice elected provincial councillor, in 2000 and 2006. I was chosen to become provincial MP in January 2010, in charge of Social Affairs and Hospitals. Since January 2015, I am Vice President of the Provincial College of the Province of Liege in charge of Health, Social Affairs and External Relations.

Throughout my career, and particularly in my executive functions, I have reformed the exercise of the responsibilities given to me towards more pertinence and increased adequacy with the daily life of citizens. I took part in several innovative projects taking into account the need of vulnerable or distressed people, in particular children and teenagers.

Elena Giner Monge, Deputy Mayor of Saragossa, Spain :

I hold a degree in sociology from the Public University of Navarra and I’m specialised in migration, inter-community relations and social mediation, with a Master’s from the Autonomous University of Madrid and an advanced studies degree from the Paris-7 Denis Diderot University. I have been working for over 15 years in social affairs and have a lot of experience in defending the rights of migrant people, in working in neighbourhood councils and in social and community centres, as well as in adult education.

 

Gender equality and the prevention of violence against women are key issues in Europe and in the world, as shown by the recent ≠MeToo campaign. How can local authorities contribute?

Katty Firquet : Maybe this outpouring from well known personalities will help anonymous women who are victim of violence to take a step forward and end the calvary they endure. I am convinced it will. But this concerns also children and teenagers who are victim of domestic violence and even men who can also be victim of this kind of violence.

The rights of women must be identical, no more, no less, than those of men and it goes both ways. It is important to remember this in order to avoid stigmatising one gender in particular, even though the road towards equality is still today much longer and harder for women. I am for a society where women and men are equally respected and where nobody, whatever their gender or sexual orientation, can be broken or humiliated.

Elena Giner Monge : The municipality of Saragossa has several programmes in this respect. In particular, we organised the “No is no” campaign against violent and macho behaviour, and we raise awareness among the public against this type of behaviour, for example by creating “macho-free spaces”. We also work on educational programmes on gender equality and we have designed, together with the national police, protocols for detecting and dealing with violent and macho behaviour.

Training sessions have been given to police officers and will continue to be offered. Our working method corresponds to Efus’ recommendation, namely co-production. The municipality of Saragossa cooperates with stakeholders from various fields in order to find practical solutions. A good example is the collaborative work carried out with groups of women through the Saragossa Gender Equality Plan.

 

What activities have been put in place in the province of Liege ?

Katty Firquet :  The department of social affairs has been for years an active supporter of the White Ribbon campaign against violence against women. It also acts against violence that is all the more unacceptable that it takes place within the family. To this effect, it created a “domestic violence unit” that encourages local communities and the volunteer sector to monitor signs of domestic abuse.

The department of social affairs also coordinates a platform gathering representatives of the police, the justice system and the social welfare and health care sector to provide all the necessary care and support for women who have been victim of domestic violence and need to recover a healthy life, free from violence. This platform also works with children who are victim or witness of acts of violence to help them and ensure they do not themselves adopt inadequate behaviours.

The department organises conferences, study days and trainings to respond to demand from the social welfare and health care sector as well as the justice system regarding the care to be given to women who have been victim of violence. They deal with issues such as sexual abuse, violation, prostitution, female genital mutilation and hyper-sexualisation.

Lastly, on my initiative the Province of Liege is about to launch the “Health and social meeting point” (Carrefour Santé-Social, CaSS), which will be a facility in Liege where women who have been wounded physically and in their dignity will be listened to and will receive care, support and help. There will be a team of social workers, psychologists, nurses, legal experts and other care professionals who will help these women rebuild their lives. This facility will also have services such as laundry, showers and a beauty parlour. The CaSS will not be reserved for women: it will also cater to men and anybody who is vulnerable or addicted to drugs.

 

What are the main challenges on the road to equality and parity?

Elena Giner Monge : We still have a lot to do in Spain compared with other countries. We have to advance through co-responsibility in order to break both the glass ceiling, which hampers women’s professional career, and the “sticky floor” that maintains them in less valued jobs.

Katty Firquet :  The fight against gender inequality must also be waged in the economic and social sphere and in the decision-making arena. Some still confuse “power” and “manliness” but it is time to open our eyes and be aware! What if we ignored gender and only considered skills, know-how and behaviour? There’s still a lot to do but equal opportunities are advancing, slowly but surely.

In the Western world, women gained not that long ago rights that are nevertheless often questioned today. Abortion is a striking example. Women have the right to control their body and it is unacceptable to even consider going back on this issue. We must prevent this no matter what.

It is also urgent to reaffirm some elementary principles that we thought were established once and for all but are now called into question: the freedom to say “no” without being abused or raped; the freedom to dress as we want; the freedom to go wherever we want without being insulted or sexually harassed; the freedom to choose what to study and whatever profession we want to have without being stuck in a category such as “this is a subject matter for male students“ or “this job is not for girls“; the freedom to choose our partner; the freedom to have children or not; the freedom to change sex… All these demands are also valid for men!

But there remain a lot of challenges. Women must be vigilant and refuse any compromise that would render them weaker again, and men can help them to do that. Sometimes, it’s important to go back to the work of women such as Simone de Beauvoir —who penned in 1949 The Second Sex, a revolutionary analysis of how women were made to be inferior to men, which is still blacklisted by the Vatican!—, or Simone Veil, the French government minister who designed the groundbreaking 1975 law legalising abortion in France, or Olympe de Gouges, the French feminist who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in 1791. These women remind us or show us where we’ve come from and how fragile our victories remain to this day.

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