EU diplomat stresses safety, equality at Women’s Day in Santa Fe

Monique Pariat

A woman runs through the hollow streets of a desert city. She bangs on doors, but they are locked. She is being pursued by a shotgun, a military tank and a man wielding a machete. During the minute-long animated video, the woman’s predator and environment change, as does the color of her hair, skin and eyes.

But her expression of desperation is fixed.

At the end of the video, a door finally opens, and the woman is bathed in blinding light. It is unclear if she has found a safe refuge, or has merely been welcomed in by new predators.

“Even if you arrive in a place you think is safe, you may not be safe,” said Monique Pariat, director-general of humanitarian aid and civil protection for the European Union, following the short film.

She spoke Friday afternoon during a celebration of International Women’s Day at La Fonda on the Plaza, an event presented jointly by the European Union and the Santa Fe Council on International Relations to raise awareness of the plight of women around the globe.

The film, Pariat told an audience of dozens, depicts the entrapment of gender-based violence for nearly every woman fleeing warfare, terrorism, religious persecution or the economic collapse of a nation.

“In times of crisis,” she said, “women bear twice the suffering.”

Pariat said she hopes Women’s Day will one day be abolished.

“There will be no need to celebrate this day when being a man or a woman will not make any difference to getting education or a job,” she said. “To become the president of the United States or France. To decide if you want to get married or not.

“Men don’t have the international day,” she added. “Or, to say it differently: They have 364 days. We are not a minority. We are half of humanity.”

In the EU, more women are educated than men, but they are paid 16 percent less on average and are more likely to be unemployed. In the U.S., women earn an average of 83 cents to every dollar made by a man, studies show.

In the U.S. and globally, women in politics make up just a quarter of lawmaking bodies.

And in less developed nations, conditions for women are far worse.

In Myanmar, Syria or Venezuela, Pariat said, as many as 80 percent of migrant women may be raped or face other sexual violence, she said.

She spoke of the lack of water, food and medicine for the nearly 400,000 people in Yemen who contracted cholera, just in the last year, according to the World Health Organization, and abducted Yemeni women who are rejected from their communities when they return home with children by their rapists.

Pariat, who was born in France, said she has had the rare opportunity to have an influential 30-year career with the EU in Brussels. And now, she is in charge of a $2 billion annual budget for humanitarian aid. She’s been able to have a family, and her youngest son, one of three children, studies computer science at the University of New Mexico on a soccer scholarship. He was in the audience Friday.

But Pariat said she has seen such choices stripped from women daily, either through culture or crisis.

“The task is daunting,” she said, adding she would need 10 times more money to adequately address the problem.

Still, since 2014, Pariat has implemented gender markers within 90 percent of EU aid programs she oversees, she said, so that each project considers the unique needs of boys, men, women and girls. The goal is to create more safe spaces — for instance, ensuring women and children are able to sleep separately from men at a refugee settlement, and that they have lighted, sanitary facilities.

Constantly working to provide more education for girls, even in crisis conditions, is another tool to protect them from sexual violence, she said, as is providing psychological support and reproductive health care that addresses trauma.

“Building bridges between people, between countries, between communities has always proved to be more efficient than building walls and fences,” Pariat said, in an apparent dig at President Donald Trump.

Having more women in positions of power and politics, she said, would be one way to do this.

International aid is “just a Band-Aid,” Pariat said. “…We need political solutions.”

Reporter

Rebecca Moss has covered the environment and Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Santa Fe New Mexican since 2015. This year, she was selected to participate in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.