Keynote speech from Nils Muižnieks director for the Europe regional office Amnesty International
The seminar participants were subsequently treated to an inspiring keynote address on gender equality delivered by Nils Muižnieks, Director for the Europe Regional Office of Amnesty International and former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. In his speech Nils first countered those downplaying the importance of gender equality and the claim of sceptics that gender equality has largely been achieved. In his view these sceptics ignore the massive backlash that is building around the world. He gave numerous examples of powerful opponents and opposition to furthering the idea of gender equality and the support of women’s rights, which goes hand-in-hand with opposition to LGBTIQ rights. Such opposition culminates in his view in the current opposition to the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, with various European governments threatening to withdraw from the Convention or refusing to finalise the ratification procedure. During his time as Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks encountered the usual tactics employed to evade substantial arguments. Firstly, a denial of the reality of domestic violence, secondly, downplaying its gendered nature and thirdly, justifying it as a “family affair” where the state has no role.
By giving various examples he demonstrated the intersection of the rule of law and women’s rights. Referring to various important rulings by constitutional courts in EU Member States, he underpinned his thesis that the issue of gender equality and women’s rights is an important test case for the independence and professionalism of constitutional courts in the Member States. He gave examples of negative, but also positive cases of rulings by constitutional courts. He concluded that the vastly diverging case law of European constitutional courts on gender equality in general but the Istanbul convention in particular could threaten not only the position of women, but also the rule of law. Ending on a positive note, he gave various encouraging examples of the influence of people’s and in particular women’s power to curb the backsliding trend in gender equality and the recognition of women’s rights, stating that women’s rights activists deserve our support.