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UWE ‘MEET AND GREET’ IN AMSTERDAM

MAY 9 – 11 2014

Nearly 40 members from 10 European countries, including 2 from the British Federation, accepted the invitation from the President, Edith Lommerse, to attend a weekend meeting in the capital of The Netherlands.

Monica Dodds and Sheila Youngs

The programme began on Friday evening with a reception at Edith’s house, situated in a new modern housing development on the outskirts of the city. This was in part a celebration of Europe Day, May 9 which marks the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration in 1950 leading to the birth of the European Union.

On Saturday, at the Borneo Architecture Centre, we were reminded of the aims of the University Women of Europe, founded in 1981. It is represented at the European Women’sLobby (EWL), has participative status at the Council of Europe and can lobby all EU institutions as deemed necessary. Apart from its own Annual Conference, it organises regional meetings and friendship tours. Mentoring is another of its activities as well as organising projects such as the current Finnish one concerned with combatting violence against women.

There followed a talk by Pierrette Pape, Interim Coordinator of the EWL, who had come especially for the day from Brussels. She informed us that the number of women MEPS was about 35% but they are hoping eventually to achieve 50%. The work of the EWL is mainly concerned with protecting all women, covering immigration, integration, asylum and anti-discrimination. Apparently women earn 16% less than men, their pensions are 39 % less, four times more women work only part-time and a quarter are at risk of poverty. EWL organises days of action to push for legislation for an end to violence against women, rape and prostitution. The main problem is lack of funding which is why the EWL has never been represented at the INGO conference at the Council of Europe. 80% of their income is funded by the EU, 20% from UWE subscriptions. Some feel the organisation is too left-wing. A newsletter is produced regularly on their website: www.womenlobby.org.

Vera John-Mikalowjeski (Germany), UWE Vice-President, then spoke about the Council of Europe versus the European Parliament, how they come together and how they differ, the former being the oldest and largest political institution in the EU to which INGOs have participatory status. It can start to draft new legislation e.g. on education, culture, human rights etc. but once the European Parliament has issued a directive, this must be implemented, otherwise compensation has to be paid. This would apply to the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women, which, if ratified, would apply in all 28 member states.

Uta Krope (Germany) introduced the Finnish Project ‘Domestic Violence Met by EducatedWomen’ which is being sponsored over 2 years by the EU ‘Lifelong Learning Plan’, a fund offering 80,000 euros towards such projects. To receive funding it must not be exclusive to women and it involves other countries. It seems that the interpretation of violence differs in various countries. Their website is www.violencewomen.wordpress.com for those wanting further information.

The forthcoming AGM in Bucharest from 4- 7 September was introduced by the Rumanian CER, Tatiana Isoo. The venue will be the National Library and the theme ‘Quality Educationfor All in Europe’. Full details, including post-conference excursions and how to register are available on the BFWG website. 4-star accommodation in the vicinity should be available at around 50 euros per night (single room) or 60 euros (double room), with cheaper options elsewhere. The themes for the conference for the next 3 years will be based round the following:

  • Support for the implementation of EVAW (Elimination of Violence Against Women)

  • Training in gender-sensitive approaches to society

  • More women in decision-making

  • Improved cooperation and communication (internal and external)

During the day for those willing to brave the inclement weather there was a guided walk by a VVAO member around the immediate area, known for its prize-winning designs for domestic housing. In the evening we were treated to an excellent meal in a nearby Chineserestaurant.

Sunday morning, under the guidance of Uta Krope, was devoted to helping members, who had brought their laptops, in the use of the Internet to aid communication with each other.

Those who had booked the optional trip in the afternoon went by coach to the Dekker chrysanthemum farm to the north of Amsterdam, one of the world’s largest propagators of chrysanthemums. The propagation of cuttings takes place in Tanzania and Bolivia, but these are then flown back to the farm for new varieties to be produced. The whole farm is completely automated with the most up-to-date modern machinery.

We were also meant to visit an historic windmill, now a museum, but the heavy rain made this impractical. We did, however, learn about the way in which, since the end of the 16th Century, the land in this area of North Holland, which lies between 1 and 4.5 metres below sea-level, is drained by a network of canals into which the excess water is pumped and carried away to the sea. Of 52 drainage mills in former times 11 remain today but now the area is kept dry by 2 computer-controlled pumping stations.

Altogether this was a friendly and informative visit thanks to the excellent organisation of the UWE President, her committee, and members of the Dutch Federation several of whom offered home hospitality.

Sheila Youngs