Mixing human rights, peace and violence against women

This year the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize. Was it for having the only human rights court in the world with binding judgments? Was it for its Erasmus program that has broken down nationalistic sentiments through education? Or was it for its new take on women’s rights with the nomination of a new commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy—Tonio Borg from Malta—who is notorious for his harsh positions against LGBT and also against women who resort to having an abortion for various reasons (including for malformations of fetus)?

Borg has been the foreign minister of Malta until his recent confirmation by the European Parliament of his nomination by 386 votes in favor and 281 against with 28 abstentions. The former commissioner John Dalli was from Malta as well, and had to resign for collusion with the tobacco industry to influence European decisions on tobacco legislation. This time, the commissioner will be in collusion with the anti women’s rights groups.

This new development highlights the ambivalence of the European Union’s women’s rights approach.

The parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1607 (2008) questions the antiabortion position of some member states: “The Assembly is nonetheless concerned that, in many of these states, numerous conditions are imposed and restrict the effective access to safe, affordable, acceptable and appropriate abortion services. These restrictions have discriminatory effects, since women who are well informed and possess adequate financial means can often obtain legal and safe abortions more easily.”

Article 7.5 insists on the means to address restrictions on access to safe and appropriate abortion services: “7.5. adopt evidence-based appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights strategies and policies, ensuring continued improvements and expansion of non-judgmental sex and relationships information and education, as well as contraceptive services, through increased investments from the national budgets into improving health systems, reproductive health supplies and information.”

Conservative MEP (Members of European Parliaments) have argued that Borg was right when he declared that the EU had no competence on abortion rights and should not interfere with member States’ affairs on this issue. On the other side, the opposition to Borg’s nomination have insisted, “Access to adequate public health rights, including sexual and reproductive health rights is a basic right”.

Once again the question of human rights is filtered through an individualistic patriarchal lens that distorts the reality of  the lives of women and LGBT’s.

Meanwhile, MEPs from nationalist groups declared the confirmation of Borg was “a victory of common sense over prejudice and intolerance.” How should we understand common sense, prejudice and intolerance? Are these notions associated with refusing sexual and reproductive health services to women, which is tantamount to promoting violence against women?

When President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, he approved the drone program and other violent interventions throughout the Muslim world. And now, true to form, the Prize is given to the European Union just as its commission has taken a retrograde step on women’s rights. In this spiral of discourses and praxis of rights and peace, the conservative dominant power legitimizes violence against women who are the majority of the Wretched of the Earth.


(Photo Credit: Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation)


About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States. She is a member of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.