Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: The EU’s failure on violence against women and abortion

By Agnese Olmati

Last January (2019) I had the opportunity to get in contact with the European Women’s Lobby in Brussels. There, I discussed the current situation of women’s right in the European Union, focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
The EWL, which is the biggest European network of women’s associations, aims at influencing the general public and the EU decision-makers in support of women’s human rights. It is continuously working to ensure every woman’s dignity and the respect of SRHR in the Union.
Here are some reflections following my contact with them.

Looking back at the events and debates that occurred across Europe in 2018, we are likely to notice that, on some issues, the European puzzle is rapidly falling apart. For several decades, the different puzzle pieces have been struggling to get closer through a long and demanding process of integration, but recently many of them have started to outdistance and even to crumble. Brexit was just the most evident expression of breach and disagreement, yet the EU appears quite fragmented also in other domains, including women’s rights – and especially SRHR.

Gender-based violence, surrogacy, pornography, abortion – the facets of SRHR are numerous and intricate and thus require a deep analysis. This article will concentrate on violence against women and right to abortion in Europe, as these topics have been in the limelight during the past year and have caused great disagreement among the member states, contributing to the breakdown of the puzzle.

First of all, it is important to recall the strong commitment of the EU to women’s rights. The Treaty on the European Union (TEU) upholds the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination (Article 2), whereas the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) confirms the political commitment of member states to fight against all forms of domestic violence (Declaration 19 on Article 8). The Charter of Fundamental Rights warrants people’s right to dignity (Title I) and equality (Title III) and includes specific provisions on people’s right to physical and mental integrity, outlawing any form of discrimination on the grounds of sex.
These (founding) documents present concepts and positions in a dreamlike manner – but do the reality of the EU and the actions of its decision-makers correspond to them? Continue reading “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: The EU’s failure on violence against women and abortion”

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Get out of this jail!

By Guilherme Becker

Berlin, August, 2006. After two weeks traveling from London – where I used to live at that time -, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, I had arrived in one of the most fascinating cities of the world – at least in my imaginary, which could easily be confirmed later. Summer breeze was blowing through the cafes and bars of Prenzlauer Berg. Kastanienallee was the perfect picture of how Berliners could enjoy their lives on a Saturday afternoon, with groups of friends and families hanging out and experiencing all types of foods and drinks, listening to different kinds of music and appreciating the sunny weather. All way down to Alexanderplatz distinct generations were sitting together in front of yellow, blue, green and red buildings talking about life and keeping problems completely away. Alone, I observed that and could barely believe that only a little more than 15 years earlier that part of the city was not that colourful and had nothing similar to that.

On the other side, Mitte was also full of people on the pavements observing passersby. Unter den Linden was like an anthill made by tourists that after walking the whole day could finally have some rest in the “Biergarten(s)” around. The city was beautiful, alive and tender following a World Cup that Germany had hosted less than a month ago and only a few days after the Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn and Jon had launched the classic “Young Folks”. You could feel the tenderness in the air. You could feel the spirit of happiness flowing freely in such a vibrant and great atmosphere. It was simply wonderful.

I knew, though, that at least in one of the seven days that was going to stay there I needed to take some time to cross the city and leave all that happiness and good vibrations behind. It would not be easy or pleasant, but I needed to do it. The goal was tough: Sachsenhausen.

Continue reading “Get out of this jail!”

The Rebirth of European TV

By Nemanja Milosevic

For a very long time the original programming of European TV stations had suffered from the dominance of US made TV content, and the discrepancy was mostly caused by the differences in budget. For a very long time, TV shows were seen as being of lesser quality in comparison to movies, and more successful actors would usually avoid appearing on a regular TV show. That recently changed, as several TV shows from the US got acclaim from critics and general praise by the audience, thus the status of TV shows slowly evolved. There has been more creativity involved in making a show and at the same time the level of production and artistic direction of some TV shows improved so much that they could compare to those of movies that usually appear in film festivals. There have been several established movie directors who directed shows and some award-winning actresses and actors who had major roles in some shows (the latest example being Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies).

While all this was happening in the US, Europe started catching up, now that TV shows had a better reputation and an established market among a much wider audience. The European television program was traditionally based on imported content (films and sit-coms), adapted reality and game shows; and the only difference would be whether this content would be presented in a dubbed or original version.[1] The original programming was usually national, it would rarely cross borders and every country had its own type of shows they specialized in. Except for football matches and reality show adaptions (a reality show Big Brother started in the Netherlands, but has experienced a worldwide success, as the rights for the production of the show were sold in many other countries, resulting in the show airing in almost every European country), there was no other content that was ‘pan-European’. That recently changed with the emergence of streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. These services bought rights for many European original shows and for the first time made them available with subtitles in English and other languages, all across the globe. Continue reading “The Rebirth of European TV”

‘It Git Mar Net Oan’: The Tragic Decline of a Celebrated Dutch/Frisian Tradition

By Jelmer Herms

There are some out there who would consider the Dutch to be a rather stoic bunch, even in the face of terrible tragedies or beautiful art.[1] Perhaps our reserved and laid-back attitude is the result of our even-tempered (but generally dissatisfying) sea climate, our geopolitical insignificance, or maybe our lack of traditional food with any sort of defined flavour. Perhaps we simply prefer to be left alone. In any case, this rather expressionless ‘Dutchness‘ is only very rarely exchanged for a more visible kind of enthusiasm. Above all else, there is one national sport that gets Dutch hearts beating with joy: Ice-skating. This might not necessarily come as a surprise to some of our fellow Europeans, considering that the Dutch have managed to claim a disproportionate number of medals in ice-skating compared to the size of our little country in past ice-skating tournaments. As Washington Post sports columnist Barry Svrluga put it during the 2018 Winter Olympics: Continue reading “‘It Git Mar Net Oan’: The Tragic Decline of a Celebrated Dutch/Frisian Tradition”

REPORT: What Happens in Venezuela Does Not Stay in Venezuela

By Maeva Chargros

Everyone should be aware of this fact, after two world wars, many genocides and a major crisis triggered by terrorism worldwide: when something happens in one specific country, the entire region surrounding this country is affected; and when a whole region is impacted, the entire world ends up facing consequences of this local event. It is the principle of the well-known butterfly effect. Therefore, how can we not hear the call for help coming from Venezuelans fleeing their country? How can we ignore the growing tensions on the borders between Venezuela and its neighbours?
Seen from Europe, the ongoing crisis in the north-west of the Latin American region reminds of another crisis that Europeans had to face and are still facing – the so-called “refugee crisis”. One might be stunned by how relevant this comparison is, but also puzzled by what it means for our governments and international organisations. After two resolutions failed to pass at the United Nations in the last few days[1], here is a timely reminder of what is actually happening at the border. Nicolás Javier Pedraza Garcia, currently an exchange student from Universidad Externado de Colombia (Externado University, Bogotá, Colombia) at the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, agreed to give his insight to help us understand the situation from a local perspective.[2]

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela are a very good example of what can be achieved when two independent states decide to cooperate for the better good of their respective economies. Who needs a hard border when both populations speak the same language, work and live together, and benefit from this soft border situation? Until the political crisis hit the Venezuelan economy, “the border was just a line”; now, the border area is described mostly as a “war zone”[3], or a “conflict zone”. “The border is experiencing a very bad situation both economically and socially; most of Venezuelans who are fleeing are poor, so they stay at the border and are forced to engage in criminal activities such as drug trafficking or prostitution to survive. We, Colombians, try to help as much as we can, but our local government does not have the institutional nor the infrastructure capacity to attend to the situation. Maybe the situation is better in some other cities, but at the border, it is a crisis situation. We have been asking for more financial and human resources from the national government, but so far we are left alone to take care of these people.” Continue reading “REPORT: What Happens in Venezuela Does Not Stay in Venezuela”

A Perspective on the Culture of Hanging Out

By Huiyu Chuang

For many young people around the world, Europe is not too unfamiliar as a travel or study destination. In the context of globalization, regardless in geography, economy, politics, art and popular culture, our lives more or less intertwine with others’.  As Euroculture students, we should have no problem adapting into this melting pot. I thought to myself, what would it be really like to live in Europe and with European students?

For many Asian families, being 25 years old when you start exploring the world is not too late of an age, especially after studying very hard to graduate from university and working in a company for some years, yet still unsure of what kind of life experience one really wants to have. Unlike me, almost all the classmates I met here have lived a cross-cultural life and possess study/volunteer experiences during their university education. Many of them have “dual identities” and regard themselves proudly as European, no less, or even more, than their nationalities. When these two kinds of people meet, culture shock is inevitable.
As a foreign student, I would like to share my observations on the culture of hanging out and making friends during my time in Strasbourg. Continue reading “A Perspective on the Culture of Hanging Out”

Hating the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons: The European Copyright Directive

By Jelmer Herms

The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, commonly known as the ”EU Copyright Directive”, has not been without its fair share of criticism. It seems to be part of a broader strategy by the Commission to capitalize on the Internet’s limitless economic potential more and more, and rightfully so. However, one aspect of the digital space seems to be consistently underestimated by EU institutions: Online communities are generally hostile towards measures that even potentially limit the free flow of data.

It is no wonder that online forums like Reddit[1] as well as larger (oftentimes American) news outlets cried out collectively in fear over potential censorship, the end of creative use, and the death of independent news outlets.[2] Initiatives like #SaveYourInternet claim that the EUCD ”restrict[s] the ability of Internet users to consume content”, turning the newly formulated Internet culture wholly ”bureaucratic and restrictive”[3]. Despite these sweeping (and oftentimes hyperbolic) accusations, the text of the directive itself contains no such intentions. In fact, it claims to have the opposite effect: This legislation would be ”allowing wider access to and use of copyright-protected content”[4]. And in specific contexts, such as increased access to copyright-protected material for scholars, this directive does in fact afford wider access to such material. The real reason behind all this public backlash should therefore not be sought exclusively in what the directive actually does, but more so in what it fails to do. For example, it fails to give examples of feasible measures by which to implement the directive, leaving it unclear to both member states and online platforms where the responsibility for copyright enforcement lies exactly, but it also fails to engage citizens in a dialogue about the nature of the Internet. Continue reading “Hating the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons: The European Copyright Directive”

REPORT: Shutting Down the Education in France

By Maeva Chargros

On February 5, 2019, a small secondary school hosting around 250 students was shut down for 24 hours. This was exceptional for multiple reasons: rarely do all teachers of a school in France choose to strike, and rarely do they receive a massive and unanimous support from the parents of the students, as well as from the local authorities. On this cold winter day, though, the junior high school Papire Masson was empty and teachers, parents and the mayor of the little town of St-Germain-Laval, Alain Berouda, gathered in front of its doors.[1] Known only by the few hundreds of people who actually need it, this secondary school recently learned that despite welcoming three more students and being part of the “inclusive education” framework, it would receive 58 hours less than the previous years from September 2019 onward. This very local situation has, unfortunately, repercussions at both national and European levels, besides directly impacting the lives of about 250 students between 11 and 15 years old.

The decision of allocating less hours to a high school that has among the best results of the Loire department at the national exam called “Brevet des écoles” (equivalent of GCSEs in the British system) can seem slightly puzzling at first sight. It becomes absolutely incomprehensible when realising that this secondary school has already the lowest number of hours allocated among schools with similar numbers of students in the department. The regional education authority of the Lyon (Académie de Lyon) area probably just made a regrettable mistake that will be rectified after the planned meeting between the regional school inspector, Mr Batailler, and representatives of the Papire Masson secondary school on February 19, 2019. At least, this is what teachers, parents and students altogether are hoping for, given what such a disastrous change would entail: a total of five teachers would not come back to teach in September 2019; two classes of 4th and 3rd grades (UK equivalent: Years 9 and 10) would disappear, leading to an increase of 50% of the number of students per class; projects involving students of all levels would have to be terminated; teachers would have to travel from one school to another across the entire department or even regional area. These are just a few examples of substantial consequences that can be explained in tangible ways. Less easy to observe is the impact on the quality of teaching, the ability of teachers to properly include and involve in their lessons students with disabilities coming from a nearby specialised institution, the difficulties to maintain this school’s overall excellent results at the national exam and to ensure all students get equal chances in their orientation choices. The latter is a chronic feature of the education management system in France; it recently sparked the interest of a high school student, Marie Ferté, who competed at the Concours de Plaidoiries in Caen (Normandy, France). Continue reading “REPORT: Shutting Down the Education in France”

Espera, la ayuda viene!

By Maeva Chargros

What would it look like, if the Charter 77 was still active, with members from all across the world and from all generations? One of the answers to this rather odd question took place for the 30th consecutive year in the city of Caen, in Normandy (France), on January 25-27, 2019. In French, it is called “Concours de Plaidoiries”; a competition of defence speeches and pleas for fundamental freedoms. Four of these fundamental freedoms were named by President Roosevelt on January 6, 1941: “the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear”[1]. And for this 2019 edition, the competition covered all four of them, defended by high school students aged from 15 to 18 years old, law students, and lawyers. Why, then, would this competition be in the continuity of the famous Charter 77?

It is essential not to forget, when it comes to history, for otherwise, we might not repeat history, but we might fail at taking a step further and risk taking a step back. The initial point is an improved version of our world two hours ago, but also ten centuries ago. Improved? For the sceptics among the readers of this article, please allow me to mention that ten centuries ago, the United Nations did not exist, nor did the Geneva Convention, the Istanbul Convention, and most of the texts quoted during the event I am writing about today were not even drafts, not even thoughts. Improvement does not mean perfection. And this is precisely what the Charter 77 was about: reminding a sovereign state of its own duties, namely, respecting human rights, international law, and the Helsinki Declaration.
This is precisely what these 37 people did during three days in the “Cité de l’Histoire de la Paix”, in this Memorial dedicated to peace and human rights: reminding sovereign states of their duties. They were coming from all corners of France and beyond.

Among the ten lawyers present, only four were from France. Two were from Belgium, one from Québec (Canada), one from Switzerland, one from Mali, and one from Benin. It is this one, from Benin, whose defence speech is the source of the title I chose for this article. These were among the last words Maître Koukpolou said in his plea. “Hold on, help is coming!” (“Espera, la ayuda viene!”, in Spanish.) Even if he did not win any award, his speech was among the most touching for me. His word symbolised the message of this year’s edition: there is still hope, as long as there are still humans who care about and defend others. He was the only one, of all three competitions, to focus on the political and humanitarian crisis currently killing so many people, including children, in Venezuela. The title of his plea: “Give me food and I’ll do whatever you want”. Continue reading “Espera, la ayuda viene!”

European Film Awards: What makes them European?

By Nemanja Milosevic

The period between late November and early March is generally known as a film award period, during which we have the opportunity to follow several national European ceremonies (most notably the BAFTA in the United Kingdom, the Goya Awards in Spain, the Deutscher Filmpreis in Germany and the Cérémonie des Césars in France). However, there is only one ceremony that helps us recapitulate all the movies produced and made in Europe during the year: the European Film Awards (EFA). The annual award ceremony started in 1988 and it changes the host city every other year, while during the year in between the event takes place in Berlin; this system was introduced in order to give equal representation to all parts of Europe. This year the award was given in Seville, Spain on December 15, 2018.

The main award, the European Film of the Year, was given to the Polish film Zimna Wojna (Cold War). The movie got 5 awards overall, just one less than the all-time record holder, The Ghost Writer, by Roman Polanski. Besides the awards at the EFA, its director Paweł Pawlikowski previously got an award at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie set in the 1950s tells us about a love story intertwined with the political and social landscape of the time, about love torn between identity, longing, and ambition. Continue reading “European Film Awards: What makes them European?”