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#EESC reveals five front-runners for its Civil Society Prize 2019

EU Reporter Correspondent

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This year, the EESC honors outstanding citizens' initiatives that champion equal opportunities for women and men and contribute to empowering women in society and the economy. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has announced that it has chosen five finalists from among the 177 projects it received for its Civil Society Prize 2019, dedicated to the empowerment of women and the fight for gender equality. The shortlisted entries are from Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Italy and Poland.

The award ceremony will be held on 12 December during the EESC plenary session in Brussels, when the final ranking will be revealed. The total prize money of €50,000 will be shared among the five nominees. The winner of the first prize will go home with €14,000 and the four runners-up will each receive €9,000. This year's theme, More women in Europe's society and economy, attracted the second highest number of entries in over a decade-long history of the prize, just behind the 2016 theme of migration. The candidates are from no fewer than 27 Member States, demonstrating the widespread interest of citizens and civil society organisations in taking action to tackle gender inequalities, which still loom large in Europe. EESC Vice-President for Communication Isabel Caño Aguilar said: "The many award applications we received show that gender equality is at the heart of civil society's aspirations. They highlight women's work and their innovative role in society. They promote dynamic, visionary, courageous, bold and strong women. They address the specific needs of vulnerable or disadvantaged women and tackle gender discrimination and stereotypes in all areas of life." The five nominees, listed here in alphabetical order, are:
Fairy Tales project, by the Bulgarian NAIA Association, engages pre-school children and their parents in reading classical fairy tales from a different perspective and adopting a critical approach to the stereotyped gender roles instilled into boys and girls from the earliest age. The project wishes to encourage children to look beyond traditional gender roles to express their personal potential and to see that many different opportunities are out there for both girls and boys.
#mimmitkooda (Women Code), a programme by the Finnish Software and eBusiness Association (Ohjelmisto- ja e-business ry) combats the stereotype that software developers should be male by default. The programme is successfully bringing in more talented women to the software industry and helps them move towards better paid jobs and careers.
Polish Women's Strike is the largest women's movement in Poland and now seeks to empower invisible and ignored women activists in small and middle-sized cities as they represent the major force for social change. The movement made world headlines with its Black Monday strike in October 2016, when it organised over 1 500 protests and marches in 150 Polish cities to call for women's and civic rights and condemned the government clampdown on the independent judiciary.
The Brussels Binder is a database of female policy experts which helps ensure better representation of women in European policy debates. Compiled and run by a group of dedicated volunteers in Belgium, its purpose is to put an end to male privilege in the "EU bubble" and to become a go-to resource for finding female policy experts. This will improve the gender balance of panels and the media in Brussels and make sure that laws and policies take into account the specific needs and opinions of women.
Women's Toponymyan association from Italy, believes that toponymy – the study of place names – reveals the way society sees its members. Its research has shown that in Italy, only 7.8 streets were named after women for every 100 named after men, and that the majority of female place names are of religious origin. Women's Toponymy aims to increase the number of places bearing the name of notable women and to teach younger generations about their important contribution to society and history, so as to give women the public recognition they deserve.
Commenting on the choice of the theme for this year's prize, Caño Aguilar said: "Time goes by. Inequality of opportunity between men and women remains. In this day and age, it is unacceptable that women, who make up over half of the EU's population, still suffer from discrimination and gender violence."
Despite the progress made in the last decades and the fact that it is one of the founding principles of the EU, gender equality is still a dream in the EU, with women continuing to earn less than men. The gender pension gap is at a staggering 38%, making poverty in old age increasingly female. Women remain a small minority among political decision-makers and company executives, and account for only 31% of entrepreneurs.
Gender stereotypes permeate all spheres of life and gender-based violence remains widespread in many forms, ranging from domestic violence to sexual harassment and cyberbullying.
As a fervent advocate of gender equality, the EESC has repeatedly warned of persistent gender segregation and discrimination in European labour markets and society. Prompted by a recent backlash against women's rights in some EU countries, earlier this year it called for a political commitment to achieving equality between women and men in Europe.
In pursuit of these aims, the EESC launched the Civil Society Prize in June to highlight progress towards a more equal society for women and men and to encourage further action.
The prize, now in its 11th year, is awarded to individuals and non-profit organisations for "excellence in civil society initiatives".  A different theme is chosen each year, covering an important area of the EESC's work. The prize money and the recognition received should help the winners to scale up their projects and provide further help in the community.
In 2018, the prize went to initiatives that celebrated European identities, values and cultural heritage. Previous themes included innovative entrepreneurship supporting labour market integration of disadvantaged groups, combating poverty, and solidarity with refugees and migrants.

Belgium

Belgian artist's 'portable oasis' creates COVID-free bubble for one

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When governments around Europe told people to create a "bubble" to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind, write Bart Biesemans and Clement Rossignol.

Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a "portable oasis" - a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.

Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.

"It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly," Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium April 16, 2021. Picture taken April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium April 16, 2021. Picture taken April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium 16 April. REUTERS/Yves Herman

"As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting," he said.

Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops - mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions - encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.

"Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don't know, but it's a good idea," Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.

Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.

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Indo-Pacific: Council adopts conclusions on EU strategy for co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Council approved conclusions on an EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, setting out the EU’s intention to reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in this region of prime strategic importance for EU interests. The aim is to contribute to regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, at a time of rising challenges and tensions in the region.

The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-Pacific, a region spanning from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island states, will have a long-term focus and will be based on upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law.

Current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political and security areas. Human rights are also being challenged. These developments increasingly threaten the stability and security of the region and beyond, directly impacting on the EU’s interests.

Consequently, the EU’s approach and engagement will look to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, reciprocity, the strengthening of resilience, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU. Free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law remain crucial. The EU will look to work together with its partners in the Indo-Pacific on these issues of common interest.  

The EU will continue to develop partnerships in the areas of security and defence, including to address maritime security, malicious cyber activities, disinformation, emerging technologies, terrorism, and organized crime.

The EU and its regional partners will also work together in order to mitigate the economic and human effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery.

The Council tasked the High Representative and the Commission with putting forward a Joint Communication on co-operation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021.

The conclusions were adopted by the Council by written procedure.

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Conference on the Future of Europe: Make your voice heard

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Share your views on the EU, organize events across Europe and discuss with others through the new digital platform on the Conference on the Future of Europe, EU affairs.

Launched on 19 April, the platform is the multilingual hub of the Conference on the Future of Europe that will allow people to get involved and suggest what changes need to take place in the EU. Europeans will also be able to see what others propose, comment on them and endorse ideas.

The EU institutions have committed to listening to what people say and to following up on the recommendations made. The Conference is expected to reach conclusions by the spring of 2022.

How do you take part?

Choose a topic that interests you. It could be anything from climate change to digital issues or EU democracy. If you don’t see a category with your topic, share your opinion in the Other Ideas category.

Once you are in a specific category, you can read the introduction and explore some useful links. On the Ideas tab, you can share your views and find the ideas of others. Join the discussion by leaving a comment, or vote for ideas you like so that more people can find them.

You can submit your comment in any of the EU's official 24 languages. All comments can be translated automatically in any of the other languages.

Under the Events tab, you can explore events organised online or near you, register for an event or prepare your own.

The platform fully respects users’ privacy and EU data protection rules.

What happens when you submit an opinion?

The submitted opinions and the debate they initiate will be the basis for discussions in citizens’ panels that will be organised across the EU at regional, national and European level. These panels will include people from different backgrounds so that they can be representative of the whole population of the EU.

The conclusions of the different panels will be then presented at a plenary session of the Conference, which will bring together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments.

Join the discussion on social media about the Conference with the hashtag #TheFutureIsYours.

Conference on the Future of Europe 

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