‘The miracle of Europe’


Amy McGoldrick


In beautiful but stormy Ghent, Belgium – sat in the beautiful and ornate theatre room of Viernulvier, I sat and waited for the first session of the day: Safeguarding democratic values: Breaking the silos of climate, gender and anti-racism.

The beauty of my surroundings was enhanced by the history of the building; Viernulvier was originally conceived as the festival and arts centre for the Ghentian labour movement, for the intellectual development of their workers.

This proud history of organising, of the pursuit of art and rights against a backdrop of attacks, all rang true while listening to the speakers on stage.

First to speak was Neil Datta, Executive Director of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights on what we mean when we talk about the ‘anti-gender’ movement. According to Datta they have five main targets:

  1. Sexual and reproductive rights: Contraception, abortion, divorce, assisted reproduction
  2. LGBTQI rights: Marriage, civil unions, non-discrimination, trans rights
  3. Children’s rights: Comprehensive sexuality education, state intervention in child protection, parent’s rights
  4. ‘Gender’: GBV laws, gender equality, gender studies
  5. Laws and policies against hate speech and discrimination: Freedom of speech and religious freedom

What’s new about the above? Thirty years ago, there were UN Conferences that took place in Cairo on Population and Development, and subsequently in Beijing on Women’s Rights. ‘These two conferences are important because they enshrine the concept of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the UN vocabulary,’ said Datta, and was a huge victory for those working in human rights.

A victory therefore leads to a loss – for the social conservatives. ‘So we started seeing in Latin America and Europe, where Catholic thinkers conceptualised what this defeat was, and put a name to it – gender ideology.’ However, it is precisely not an ideology – ‘it is an invention to describe what they find displeasing in society. Once they were able to give it a name, they could start organising around it and start identifying the actors behind gender ideology. The radical feminists, the pro-abortionists, the LGBT lobby, etc.’

Key characteristics of these new actors include:

  • They are professional. ‘They know how Parliament, the UN, the EU works, just as much as anybody else.’
  • They are transnationally connected. ‘They are able to organise a meeting, strategise as much as any group can. ..This is why we see some of the same initiatives and ideas pop up in different countries at once.’
  • They have been able to ensure a generational renewal. ‘They have developed academies, workshops, training sessions, for a new generation. The face of the anti-gender movement is as likely to be a young, professional, multi-lingual woman with several degrees as it is to be an old white man.’

Over a 10-year period, from 2009-2018, Datta found over 120 anti-gender organisations and tracked the finances of 54 of them. ‘At least $700 million going into this movement over that decade – if we break it down further, the trending level of the funding represented a fourfold increase from the start to the end of the decade.

‘What happens if you could predict your budget would quadruple over a decade? I’ll leave you with that.’

We then moved to the panel, which contained Selen Lermioğlu Yılmaz an activist with EŞİK – Women’s Platform for Equality in Turkey; Magdalena Pocheć, the co-founder and member of the Board for FemFund in Poland; and Bridget Burns, the Executive Director for Women’s Environment & Development Organization – WEDO, based in the US.

Pocheć began hopefully, detailing the ousting of Poland’s far-right government in October last year – ‘we were finally able to reverse the decline of democracy’. This was possible due to the massive mobilisation of civil society, with a record turnout of over 74 per cent in the elections, with women outnumbering men for the first time.

However, Poland has noted ‘a very disturbing gender gap in voting preferences, which makes me wonder what it actually means for the future of my country, for the future of democracy.’

‘It’s not a backlash, it’s a full force attack,’ added  Yılmaz. ‘It’s going to get harsher. We have to stop it.’

In terms of climate action, gender equality and human rights are key to achieving this, remarked Burns. Climate is a socio-economic problem, not just an environmental one. But anti-gender movements are having impacts at a global scale – for instance, in UN policy spaces, which are now ‘fully underpinned by the tactics of blocking and banning, and it’s put most governments and many civil society organisations who would go into those spaces to be able to progress on policies into watchdog roles, where we’re utilising these spaces to hold onto rights that had been fought for many years ago. This is a huge waste of time, energy and potential for us to be building a vision of what a more climate-friendly future could look like.’

Datta proposed five solutions going forward:

  1. Discovery – what is the movement? Who are the actors? What narratives, what platforms?
  2. Disarm – once you know the groups, it allows you to prepare for what they will do. Prepare the ground with policymakers, the media. You can’t stop the campaign, but you can influence the environment in which it will be received
  3. Dislocate – all strive to have access to positions of power. We can try to bar them from these
  4. Demonetise – once we understand where the money comes from, we can come up with strategies to affect that funding
  5. Defend – defend the frontline people who are being contested and attacked; but also defend the rights we think are important

Burns added that philanthropy needs to go deeper and think about ‘how we support solutions, invest in convenings, understand how authoritarian movements are connected and where they are, and how it is rising.’

Countries left COP28 last year declaring the ‘end of the fossil fuel era’. But what does that mean? What does that look like if we are not actively engaging in defining what a just transition looks like for our communities and our countries?

The last sessions of the day were in the Closing Plenary. The first was called Philanthropy and trust: reflections from critical friends.

Rien van Gendt, Director of Van Gendt Philanthropy Services said that if there is no trust, then regaining it cannot be done via shortcut. To restore trust in philanthropy, we need to engage with some key questions:

  • Why are foundations being created? What is the genuine driver for founders? Or is it related to egos, is it related to tax-evasion issues?
  • What is the cause? Are you seriously thinking that you are addressing the right problems in society?
  • Do we trust each other? What is the relationship between a board and management, between management and staff? Is there a safe environment created in an organisation? Do people listen to each other? Is there a policy on conflict of interest?
  • The relationship between the foundation and its grantees. The ones that are on the receiving side of foundations. Is there attentive listening? Is there avoidance of cultural arrogance? …And so it is from inside out, and not the other way around

Latanya Mapp, the President and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, agreed – and added that a gender and equity lens is vital. ‘I hope we can agree that gender equality is important, but most of us are not putting our resources towards that. And in particular towards communities in women-led organisations and movements around the world that are doing so much of the social movement and social justice work, and they’re still only getting pennies.

‘How do we spend down on Donor Assisted Funds? How do we actually get into the corpus of the endowments?’

Reflecting on AI’s emergence, and how it affects trust within philanthropy, Ezekiel Kwetchi Takam, Ethicist & PhD Researcher in Ethics at the University of Geneva stated that ‘philanthropic organisations have to participate in the construction of a safe ecosystem where AI would be rooted. At this point it’s vital.’ Those who want to be involved, Takam says, ‘are mostly based in the US. Even if their intentions are good, I think the means are problematic. Because they are deeply obsessed with this logic of human extension that may be caused by AI. And by exacerbating this extensionist narrative we are distracting ourselves from real issues that AI is already causing.’

In their closing remarks, van Gendt challenged the field to spend more time scrutinising the investment managers of a foundation, and imbue more trust in grantees – rather than the other way around.

The panel then moved to Philanthropy and trust: reflections from Foundation CEOs, where António Feijó, President of the Board of Trustees at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation posited that if there is a populist drift politically, foundations’ legitimacy will be put into question. ‘We should be in a condition to be able to know how to defend ourselves. ..We do an extraordinary amount of work; the social impact of what we do is so remarkable, we should be in a position to be able to contest those who are against us.’

Andre Wilkens, Director of the European Cultural Foundation had a profound plea to the audience. ‘Are our efforts creative or proportionate enough to the challenges we face today? .. I would like to answer ‘yes’, but I’m not sure. We see from the other side, the side who challenges the democratic system and European integration, one could say their efforts are creative in a way. They are challenging the system, they’re angry and making a real effort, and I wonder if we’re living up to our efforts.

‘Sometimes I despair to an extent. Because when you look at Europe, this room is full of creativity, and a lot of local effort is really amazing, but when it comes to saving the miracle of Europe – I actually call it a miracle, because I grew up in the Eastern part of Germany and I lived close to the Berlin Wall, and I looked to the other side of the Berlin Wall and this was, for me, a miracle. I preserve that in my heart, and I’m not sure we’re investing enough in preserving [it].

We’re investing in a lot of wonderful things, but are we really investing in Europe, or are we leaving it to governments and central bankers?’

Amy McGoldrick is the Head of Marketing, Advertising and Events at Alliance magazine

Tagged in: PhileaForum2024

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *