19 06 2014 - NGOs sharing and uniting across the Baltic Sea Region

In April, Lindis Sloan and Mari Helenedatter Aarbakke at KUN attended a forum in Lithuania where human rights and gender equality NGOs from the Baltic Sea Region approached each other, most of us for the very first time. Many participants pointed to the paradox that they have so few contacts in neighboring countries with a similar problematic and cultural framework. Strangely it had seemed more logical to attend gender equality conferences in Spain or France, then to look to one’s closest neighbors for network and shared experience.

The forum was part of the project “Global Rights, Local Actions: Women’s Voice for Progress” that is lead by GAP Center for Equality Advancement in Lithuania, partnered by KUN Center for Gender Equality, and funded by the EEA grants. The main goal of the forum was to establish common ground between NGOs of the Baltic Sea Region, and to gain new knowledge through each other and through the partnership with Norway.

It quickly became evident that the situation regarding gender equality is similar across all our borders. Legislation and numbers may vary, but the tendencies are the same everywhere both with regards to gender-based violence, representation and imbalance between work and family life.

One of our main concerns and topics for discussion was the strength of the conservative wave on abortion and women’s rights that is currently moving through Europe. A conservative group in Lithuania with both political and religious influence is trying to end free access to abortion for Lithuanian women. They say they are doing this to uphold the wishes of the late pope John Paul II, thus making it unnecessary to meet resistance with any real arguments. In Lithuania there has been free access to abortion since 1950s.

Similar processes have been happening in many European countries, the discourse is becoming more conservative, including the Scandinavian countries. During the Nordic Forum in Malmø last week, many of the main speakers addressed the fact that fascistic ideology once more is on the rise all over Europe, gaining democratic support in elections both at national and EU levels. This ideology also echoes through the work of the numerous “haters” on the web who abuse and threaten women and minorities of all kinds. No government has so far taken active measures against this new democratic threat online, giving it the opportunity to grow large and strong without any real objection. Our silence and ignorance is its greatest ally.

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