Europe. Senses and sensibilities. Editorial

Actually, we had been contemplating dedicating an issue to Europe for a long time. It has been a long gestation, which has made itself felt on a number of occasions. At times collectively, at times individually, the dream of the ‘Project Europe’ has been recurring for all of us. It may have been conjured up by a childhood song (Carol), or pursued in a form other than the single currency or the rape of Europa but, without risking being naive, we have all in one way or another seen in the birth and growth of the European Union a possibility, an opportunity.

As from the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, the EU’s lifespan so far is approaching long enough to see adult “native Europeans” by now. So we feminists, we who “relate”, who start from ourselves, Europeans travelling without passports and with euros in our wallets, often with three toothbrushes, each in different share accommodation (or coloc, as the French put it) – we were wondering if we had something to talk about, and if so what, with the feminists in Sweden, Austria, Lithuania, Poland… and whether one could speak, even if to some extent provocatively, of the existence of a feminist movement in Europe. There certainly are differences, but the challenge is to see whether there is a common thread binding them (Pacella).

And if there happened to be this thread – we went on to ask ourselves – would the transnational feminist movement be Europeanist? And on what bases, seeing that the great project of united Europe, aiming to keep the differences together without flattening them out on a universal standard, has produced a form of governance and a system put together with restrictive rules? A system that has given way to finance, erected walls or, even worse, got others to, standing as a “fortress”– in short, that preferred straight lines to curves, which are less tameable or predictable (Gregoratti).

We are well aware of what Europe has proscribed. The question we ask ourselves – and others – in this number is what Europe has permitted or permits women, in the first place. And we ask it bearing in mind that Europe’s favoured perspectives start from the cities (Sassen), and that all too often Europe itself (its fault) forgets that not all the people live in metropolises.

Starting from our own lives, these considerations have gone a long way (Dro), raising many questions and demands which we report in this number of DWF. We are aware that many issues have been left out, but we are equally sure that we have begun to traverse the map of Europe with specific and unequivocal political questions.

We have questioned groups and individuals. The result is not that of a journalistic enquiry clarifying this or that point, but rather a burgeoning of considerations and observations that we deem no less eloquent, no less important to present to and share with the readers of DWF. Of the interweaving threads to be examined in order to see whether we can speak of a “European feminist movement” European project, the main three are:

1. How to construct European citizenship: for example, bringing the focus back to welfare, well-being, the opportunities the European Union should guarantee (Pacella), and the rights that some women have and others are waiting to have (Björk, Jafari). There can be no getting around the fact that the human rights that European culture has been built upon have for some years become an obstacle (to break down) favouring a market rationale. At the same time, we may say that Europe, given the heterogeneous characteristics and multiplicity of cultures it embraces, is probably one of those places where citizenship is destined to become a matter of physical human beings inhabiting a certain territory, and not of passports.

2. What is already common culture, such as the urban lifestyle, and what has yet to enter into it, namely a common identity expressed in terms other than the single currency and the rape of Europa.

3. What are the theories, reasons and feelings for us to give a political future to Europe.

This questioning leads to one only – but decisive – result: the need is for a new model and a new project for Europe, which cannot but see women in leading roles (as political actors). The reasons adduced for this were: women have never constructed their political identity on nationalistic bases (Virginia Woolf – El Fem), most probably because their cause is rooted in the fight against patriarchal universalism (Braidotti); and their European experience, networking with women of different backgrounds, has proved highly beneficial in terms of learning about other practices and comparing them with their own. In other words, it is thanks not only to the Erasmus Programme that we have learnt about each other, but also, and above all, to comparison between various different practices. It is women themselves who map out the urban context where they take their conflicts (Sassen), where they take their physical presence, occupy streets and squares. Again, it has always been women who have learnt, the hard way, the biopolitical risk now threatening (in Europe, too) many more bodies, for exclusion or inclusion can be a matter of life or death (Braidotti). And again, it is women who understand and exercise the movement, the dynamics of contemporary life between micromacro, inside-outside. This is evident in the migration processes (Brinis), which see women mayors taking on full commitment in their areas, together with involvement in European emergencies. Moreover, women create culture top-down and bottomup (Spinelli, Hirschman, Warso, Forenza), which means that the feminist movements represent the only policy that flows while remaining rooted, which takes to the streets but can also become theory, responding to emergencies and transforming them into new directions.

Nevertheless, the data on gender inequality and discrimination (in the labour market, but not only there) tell us that the imbalance is still too great (inGenere, Squillante, Manca). This number of DWF is important because it brings complicated issues into discussion, but it does not demonstrate that the new model of Europe based on the physical and intellectual presence of women is being implemented or finding political scope to emerge. All of us feel the urgency of this, and all the more so if Europe’s scope is hemmed in by currents moving in the direction of authoritarian democracy (Russia, Turkey, USA), but we cannot count on effective response from Europe. The ‘European feminist movement’, as far as there is one, could in the meantime be working towards other legitimate options: a new internationalism, practical nomadism, caravans, matriarchal communities, taking the struggle to common territories.

This number does not offer direct answers to start on immediate political action and the necessary alliances to construct the new model within our map – the geographical and cultural map we inhabit (including the sea). On our experience, however, we can propose political action that takes on form and force like a mosaic “piece by piece”. Our proposal is to set about seeking alliances immediately – political action – on the single pieces of the mosaic, instead of delaying in the expectation of coming to agreement on the overall political project, which still needs clarifying.
We can put the first “piece” in place now, making the gender approach obligatory in all the proceedings of the European and, in cascade, national institutions,introducing a different attitude and/or a gender impact assessment in all cases, at all times, alongside assessment of other impacts. In short, what is known as. “Gender mainstreaming” (Forenza) must be made effective and widespread.

In fact, 8 March 2016 saw approval – during the Strasbourg plenary session – of a report on Gender mainstreaming to the European Parliament(3). The Rapporteur, Angelika Mlinar, liberal, Austrian and full member of the FEMM Committee (women’s rights and gender equality), enjoyed the support of an overwhelming majority within the committee and subsequently in the plenary session with 453 votes in favour, 173 against and 79 abstentions. Starting from this Report, the offices of the women MEPs who had given it most support set to work to make Gender mainstreaming a perspective adopted across the board for all EU policies. A letter was also sent to the chair of AFCO (Committee on Constitutional Affairs) with the request to modify the rules of procedure in the European Parliament with a view to making adoption of a gender perspective binding throughout all the work of the Parliament.

Another piece of the mosaic consists in a new design for education taking gender into account, able to deconstruct stereotypes and offering European programmes and European handbooks to all, based on studies by women with experience of the project Athena(4): in other words, working towards implementation of a platform for construction of European citizenship characterised not by national borders but by border crossings, and thus ever subject to mutations.

Yet another piece of the mosaic consists in continued reflection on everything that obstructs, filters or raises issues with our European project: wayward populist trends, institutional arrangements, the distribution of powers, the bureaucracies, commons, governance of conflict, town/country relations, patriarchal hangovers, economic freedoms, nationalisms.

The Dashwood sisters, all three having rightful claim to the title of this number inspired by Jane Austen’s novel, unconcerned about Brexit and the conventions of the English provinces, have declared their enthusiasm about the work that has been and will be done!

(pm e rp)
3 English version: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP// NONSGML+TA+P8-TA-2016-0072+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN

4 http://www.let.uu.nl/womens_studies/athena/ Look at p. 55