NIWEP was established specifically in response to the creation of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) in 1988. Since this time NIWEP has contributed significantly to the development of European Social Policy in issues such as: gender balance in decision-making; inclusion of civic society in dialogue; violence against women; poverty, social justice and the economic independence of women; and immigration and inclusion.
NIWEP engage and consult with their 77 member organisations covering a wide range of diverse women’s organisations and interests as part of a two-way communication process between local groups and organisations and key European and international institutions.
The UK Joint Committee on Women (UKJCW) is the member co-ordinator to the EWL. Through their access to the EWL which works with the main European Institutions including the European Parliament, European Commission and Council of Ministers, NIWEP has developed a strategic approach to its engagement with Europe. NIWEP sees this European engagement as an opportunity to: develop strategic relationships with other countries and regions of Europe; place issues of importance for local women in the European context; and influence European policy making to the advantage of local women.
NIWEP’s contribution to the EWL also includes identifying relevant experts from Northern Ireland, assistance in setting up a women’s talent bank and establishing the EU Observatory on Violence Against Women (now the Policy Centre on Violence Against Women). NIWEP will also provide the next UK member of the EWL Board.
Since 1999 NIWEP has enjoyed special consultative status to the United Nations and has participated in key UN mechanisms for gender equality such as the Commission on the Status of Women and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Through its UN work NIWEP has ensured that local women have an effective link to international policy making and are aware of the potential for UN policies and treaties on a domestic basis.
NIWEP has recently obtained support under the European Commissions Plan D Programme for its networking and communication work and is also working in partnership with the Training for Women Network in delivering its Peace by Piece training programmefor local groups with a focus on dealing with the UN and the European Institutions. This training programme included the opportunity for local groups to visit the UN and will also provide an opportunity to visit the European Institutions with the assistance of the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels. The programme will conclude with a major international conference in Belfast in June 2008, based around the three themes of: Women living in conflict; Women emerging in transition; and Women and peace-building.
For NIWEP the main advantage of being involved in European work is the opportunity to influence European policy and the realisation by their members that local women can influence these major international institutions on real issues that affect them locally in their everyday lives.