The Open Society Institute has recognized the important role that the European Union can play in promoting gender equality in the accession countries, "where gender equality is still not considered an integral part of democracy." At the same time, the task for advocates in promoting principles of gender equality is difficult because the candidate countries lack national enforcement mechanisms against gender discrimination. "Almost all accession countries have commissions or departments on equal opportunities, but, with very few exceptions, they hardly understand the concept, not to mention the initiatives they may take or the competence they have to carry out activities in this respect."
Additionally, the Open Society Institute published a report in 2006 entitled, “On the Road to the EU: Monitoring Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in South Eastern Europe,” as part of the Open Society Institute’s “Bringing the EU Home” program. Goals of the project include promoting “awareness, advocacy, and enforcement of equal opportunity legislation at the national level” and encouraging “national actors in civil society to use EU-level gender equality mechanisms effectively.”
Many NGO efforts have been thwarted, however, after acceding to the European Union. This is because non-EU donations typically stop after accession because donors assume that EU funds will cover the NGOs in the area. However, funding is sometimes more difficult after accession because EU funds must be co-financed by national budgets and thus “NGOs find themselves limited by their governments’ agendas that are not always progressive.”
Nonetheless, in the current EU candidate countries, women's rights groups have developed various strategies to use the EU accession process and the requirement of gender equality to advance specific women's rights agendas.
The Karat Coalition, a regional network of women's NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe, for example, has undertaken the Gender and Economic Justice in European Accession and Integration project, which focuses on improving women's economic rights and gender equality in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, members of the Karat Coalition have made presentations on gender equality and the EU accession process. Much of this information can be accessed from the Karat Coalition website.
Turkey provides an example of how women’s rights organizations can use the EU accession process to facilitate human rights goals. For example, women’s rights NGOs in Turkey, such as the Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation and the Altindas Women’s Solidarity Foundation, lobbied for 20 years domestically to pass Law 4320, a law created to protect victims of domestic violence. Because of Turkey’s possible membership in the EU, these NGOs were able to broaden their focus from a domestic audience to an international audience. Thus, the accession process played a large part in the passage of Law 4320 in Turkey.
In other cases, women's advocates have found that the candidate country negotiations have included positions that negatively impact women's rights. In January 2003, the Polish government requested permission from the European Union "for the right to preserve Polish laws on the 'protection of human life' in Poland's membership agreements." Polish women's rights advocates addressed the European Union directly and lobbied for rejection of the amendment, stating that the majority of Poles oppose strict anti-abortion laws.
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