Protect women’s rights during the crisis

Women and men entered the economic crisis on an unequal footing. The crisis and resulting austerity measures have hit women disproportionately and endangered the progress already made in the enjoyment of human rights by women. A gender-sensitive response is necessary to halt and reverse this trend.

Female poverty on the rise

In most of the countries affected by the economic crisis, an increasing feminisation of poverty has been observed. A study conducted in 2013 on access to food banks in France revealed that the primary beneficiaries were women between 26 and 50 with at least one child. This is emblematic not just of the vulnerability of lone parent families, but also of the gender implications of the crisis. In Europe there are on average 7 times more lone mothers than lone fathers. Moreover, as indicated by Eurostat, “single women over 65 are at substantially higher risk of poverty than single men of the same age”. Continue reading

Youth human rights at risk during the crisis

Young people have been one of the groups hardest hit by the economic crisis in Europe, with youth unemployment being the most common pathology of many countries implementing austerity measures. However, it is not only the social and economic rights of young people that are being undermined, but also their right to equal treatment, their right to participation, and their place in society, and more broadly, in Europe. Due to chronic unemployment, many young people are losing hope in the future of their countries, their faith in the political elite, and their belief in Europe. A rights-based approach should replace the current neglect of young people in discussions about the crisis.  

Youth unemployment and labour standards

In March 2014, the youth unemployment rate (under 25 years) was 22.8% in the 28 members of the Council of Europe that are also European Union countries. The highest levels were recorded in Greece (56.8%), Spain (53.9%) and Croatia (49.0%). The youth unemployment rate in the EU was more than twice as high as the general average rate of 10.5%. Among other European countries, youth unemployment exceeded the 50% rate in 2013 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” according to the ILO.

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A boy or a girl or a person – intersex people lack recognition in Europe

On 1 March, Fox News presenter Clayton Morris had to apologise for his ‘ignorant and stupid’ comments mocking the new gender options for Facebook profiles which allow users to register as intersex. The TV presenter had ridiculed the move of the social media company referring to intersex by saying “whatever that is”. This case illustrates the prejudice and ignorance surrounding the reality of individuals who cannot be clearly classified as male or female at birth. Most countries worldwide still neglect this human rights problem and intersex people remain invisible to the majority. 

The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia of 17 May is also aimed at highlighting the struggle against the discrimination and prejudice suffered by intersex people. The word “intersex” has replaced “hermaphrodite”, which was widely used by medical practitioners during the 18th and 19th centuries. The social expectations for either a girl or a boy at birth, or a woman or a man in society, are the source of the problems intersex people face. Society does not usually recognise a person without reference to their sex. Yet intersex individuals’ chromosomal, anatomical or gonadal characteristics do not belong exclusively to either sex. This is why intersex persons encounter huge barriers to the enjoyment of their human rights. Continue reading

Protecting children’s rights in the digital world: an ever-growing challenge

Protecting children’s rights in the digital world: an ever-growing challenge

Most teenagers spend a substantial share of their time on Internet, often using social media, which have become a major means of socialising. Growing access to the Internet has brought about almost unlimited possibilities for children to access content and exercise their rights, including the right to receive and impart information. However, these benefits go hand in hand with growing risks for children of violations of their rights.

Children’s rights threatened in multiple ways

One important danger relates to the private life of children. Many teenagers use social media to post extensive information and photos of a personal nature, which will remain online for potentially long periods of time. This information can have harmful effects on their lives as it can be used by educational institutions or even potential employers in the future. The profiling of information and retention of data regarding children’s activities on Internet for commercial purposes also raises privacy concerns, to which children are mostly not sensitized. Continue reading

Hate speech against women should be specifically tackled

Advertising campaign by UN Women. Photo © Ogilvy & Mather Dubai

In May 2013, a campaign led notably by Women, Action and the Media and the Everyday Sexism Project attracted global public attention to the issue of social media content promoting violence against women.  Such content included the photograph of a well-known singer with a bloodied and beaten face with a caption celebrating her boyfriend’s assault. The campaign prompted Facebook to react and update its policies on hate speech, which now take better account of an often neglected type of hate speech, that targeting women.

Such hate speech is proliferating, notably on the Internet, with daily calls for violence against women and threats of murder, sexual assault or rape.

Arguably, the most famous case is that of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who, after surviving an assassination attempt prompted by her stance for women’s rights, had to withstand a hostile campaign on the Internet.  Malala is now a symbol of women’s struggle worldwide, including in Europe. Recent cases, in fact, remind us that if we believe that hate speech against women is not a European problem, we are profoundly wrong. Continue reading

Police abuse – a serious threat to the rule of law

 Far too often, police officers in many European countries resort to excessive use of force against protesters, mistreat persons in detention, target minorities and otherwise engage in misconduct. This undermines public trust in the state, social cohesion, and effective law enforcement, which rests on cooperation between police and local communities.

It is difficult to ascertain whether police misconduct has become more common in some countries or whether the problem has become more visible and recognised. Clearly, demonstrations have become more commonplace in Europe, generating new challenges for law enforcement. Moreover, European societies have become more diverse and police forces have sometimes been slow to adapt. In other cases, political elites share much of the blame, as they have given the green light for bad policing through direct orders or rhetoric stigmatising certain groups. Continue reading

Europe still haunted by antisemitism

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe - Berlin

More than 70 years after the Holocaust, antisemitism is growing in Europe. While official statistics are missing in many countries, research shows that deeply ingrained hostility continues to threaten Jewish people’s security and human dignity across Europe.

Today’s antisemitism finds its way into “traditional” as well as modern venues. Just over a year ago, a call in the Hungarian parliament for making lists of Jews who “posed a threat to national security” brought back haunting memories of Nazi policies. In December the Romanian authorities fined a public television channel in Romania after it aired a Christmas carol with antisemitic lyrics.  However, more “contemporary” manifestations of antisemitism also abound. Last July, Twitter provided the prosecutors in Paris with data that may enable the identification of users who posted antisemitic messages on line. The French authorities also recently took a strong stand against incitement to hatred targeting Jewish people by a former comedian turned militant. A growing problem in many European countries is the use of antisemitic chants or salutes at football games. Continue reading

Sex-selective abortions are discriminatory and should be banned

Ultrasound equipment and sex-selective abortions

Selective abortions of female foetuses are well known from China and India, but they are common in some parts of Europe, too. This deeply discriminatory practice springs from the disadvantaged status of women in society. It must be vigorously countered and banned in law.

In Council of Europe member states,  skewed sex ratios at birth have been documented in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, but also in some countries in the Balkans, most commonly in Albania and to a lesser extent Montenegro, Kosovo*, and parts of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. They can also be found in certain immigrant communities in Western Europe. It is widely believed that this imbalance is due to selective abortions of female foetuses. Continue reading

Syrian refugees: a neglected human rights crisis in Europe

Strasbourg, 20/12/2013 – One of the world’s biggest refugee crises of recent times is unfolding on Europe’s doorstep, but most European governments have reacted with complete indifference. Close to 4 million people are internally displaced in Syria and almost 3 million have left the country since the beginning of the conflict.  The vast majority of the refugees benefit from the hospitality of Syria’s neighouring countries, including Turkey, which have taken the brunt of this humanitarian crisis.  As for the rest of Europe, the response has so far been limited to providing humanitarian assistance to some of these countries. However, when it comes to actually receiving refugees, Europe has been much less generous and often negligent in abiding by its human right obligations.

I could personally witness the extent of this crisis and the multiple challenges it represents for Europe during this last week, which I’ve spent visiting Syrian refugee camps and centres in Turkey, Bulgaria and Germany. More than half of the refugees fleeing Syria are children, the majority of them younger than 12. Several thousand of them are unaccompanied or separated, while many are not registered and remain at risk of statelessness. It is estimated that at least half of the more than 1 million refugee children of school age in the neighbouring countries do not currently enjoy their right to education. Although many are eager to study, the lack of resources prevents them from starting or going back to school. Continue reading