Equinet Promoting Equality at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2018

Equinet and member equality bodies participated in the Fundamental Rights Agency’s bi-annual Fundamental Rights Forum (FRF) in Vienna from 25-27 September 2018. The FRF is a unique space for dialogue on the pressing human rights challenges in the EU, and offers an opportunity to engage in new conversations and shape critical human rights agendas.

Equinet Chair Tena Šimonović Einwalter, members of the Secretariat, and representatives of equality bodies from across Europe were amongst the 700 human rights champions brought together to deliver concrete calls to action that could help bring about change and counter the many threats facing human rights in Europe today.

Plenary session at the FRF
Plenary session at the FRF

10 keys to effective human rights communication

10 keys to effectively communicating human rights
10 keys to effectively communicating human rights
Equinet and equality bodies have been engaging with the Fundamental Rights Agency on improving communciation on equality and human rights for some time now. We participated in FRA’s expert meetings on this topic in 2017 and earlier in 2018, and are pleased to have our work highlighted throughout their newly launched Booklet on 10 keys to effective human rights communication.

In the session introducing the Booklet, Adriana van Dooijeweert, President of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, highlighted some of their work on awareness raising on human rights, particularly the Iedereen campaign.

See the video of all speakers in this session.

Boosting trust in institutions

Kirsi Pimiä, Non-Discrimination Ombud, Finland spoke on the panel in the Working Session on ”Boosting trust in institutions – a critical dialogue” (Day 3). The lack of trust and the closely linked and resulting under-reporting are two major barriers in the work of equality bodies across Europe. This has been demonstrated by numerous publications, including the FRA’s own EU-MIDIS surveys.

Kirsi presented the practices of different equality bodies when addressing the issue of underreporting, and methods which have been used to engage with target groups with the aim to increase their trust in equality bodies. They focused particularly on:

  • Outreach and regional/local presence
  • Communication campaigns
  • Open dialogue through different Networks
  • Training and dialogue activities

Many of the examples identified by equality bodies relate to building trust in the Roma community, historically one of the most disadvantaged, discriminated and sidelined group.

Turning up the volume: no voice unheard

Tena Šimonović Einwalter opens session
Tena Šimonović Einwalter opens session
As Chair of Equinet Tena Šimonović Einwalter opened, together with Lora Vidović (Chair of ENNHRI), the session on “Turning up the Volume” (Day 3), which brought together a number of equality bodies and National Human Rights Institutions to identify key elements of how National Human Rights and Equality Structures can better channel concerns of those ‘left behind’ to those in power and build bridges by promoting dialogue within wider society and between various sectors and strand of public authorities.

Tena highlighted the work of equality bodies as natural bridge builders between government and civil society, providing comprehensive assistance to victims of discrimination, helping them to vindicate their rights and thereby regain their trust in the rule of law. In order for equality bodies to reach their full potential in building bridges and strengthening the voice of the most excluded, they following must be taken into account:

  • Equality bodies must build a relationship of trust with those who are left behind and let down by the state.
  • Equality bodies operate in a national infrastructure for equality and fundamental rights and it is imperative to strengthen this infrastructure and to establish strong links between different elements of this infrastructure.
  • Equality bodies need strong guarantees for their independence, adequate powers and competences and a sufficient level of resources, as required by recently published Council of Europe and EU standards.
  • Investing in equality is necessary. This includes investing political capital into defending the value of equality and speaking up against its opponents, declaring that it is one of the inalienable foundations of our European democratic societies. Against the backdrop of funds for defenders of equality and non-discrimination – both in civil society and in the public sector – drying up, this also includes financial investment, part of which the EU has to take responsibility for. Importantly, the EU is currently devising its new Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF), defining its budget for the next decade. It is crucial to ensure that this budget allocates enough resources to promoting and protecting equality and groups that feel left behind.

Selected highlights of the Chair’s Statement

Gender equality was a cross-cutting theme throughout the Forum. FRA repeated its call for the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention – the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – and to step up measures to fight the violence endured by millions of women and girls every day.

The EU and its Member States should ensure that national human rights institutions, equality bodies and Ombuds institutions are properly mandated and resourced to provide assistance and information, ensure access to justice, monitor and report human rights abuses, collect and publish data, provide recommendations and contribute to building a human rights culture in society. Their independence must be protected.

National human rights institutions, equality bodies and Ombuds institutions should always consider the intersection of gender and age with other protected characteristics, such as ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, in order to deal more effectively with multiple and intersectional discrimination. Policy responses and outreach activities must likewise respect the multiple and intersecting identities of each human being.

Delivering policies for more inclusive education and employment requires collecting a wider range of equality and diversity-relevant data. Public authorities, social partners and equality bodies should make systematic efforts to collect data on diversity and equality in both education and employment.

Main Equinet Messages for the Forum

1. Equality bodies are champions for the core EU value of equality and defenders of the right to non-discrimination. They play a key role in ensuring equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone in all aspects of life by:

  • Providing individual assistance to victims or witnesses of discrimination;
  • Hearing and deciding cases of discrimination;
  • Developing new knowledge on discrimination issues through research, surveys and report;
  • Promoting good practice for equality; and
  • Addressing structural and institutional barriers and raising awareness on and appreciation of equality.

2. Human rights are not possible without effective non-discrimination and equality. Equality bodies go beyond the minimum standards included in human rights treaties by aiming for substantive equality for all.

3. We need good partnerships so that equality bodies are not the last frontier in equality. Equality bodies cannot achieve equality alone! We need increased cooperation to build more equal societies that promote a culture of respect. With equality bodies as partners, you will be provided with relevant knowledge from the field of non-discrimination and given useful tools to build awareness on equality in your country.

4. Equality bodies need to build the trust of citizens and we should adopt the Horizontal Directive. One way to build trust among citizens and strengthen their right to non-discrimination is to adopt the proposed Equal Treatment Directive. We must have equal protection for everyone and dissolve the hierarchy of discrimination grounds that European legislation currently implies. As long as the Equal Treatment Directive is missing, the European Union will be limited in its ability to support victims of discrimination and hold perpetrators to account.

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