On Monday the 20th of April, the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania Seimas hosted a Human Right Conference Equality Policies in Europe and in Lithuania: Current Challenges and Future Perspectives. The event was organized by the National Equality and Diversity forum (NEDF) in cooperation with the Office of Equal Opportunities Ombudsman of the Republic of Lithuania, the Committee on Human Rights of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and the European Information Office of the Seimas.
The representatives of National and European Institutions, ambassadors, researchers, NGOs representatives working at national and international level had the unique opportunity to have a look at the progress of equality and diversity mainstreaming across the European Union, assess the work that is still to be done to ensure that the rights of EU citizens are followed and engage in fruitful discussion and question times with the audience attending the conference.
The conference started with the warm welcoming introduction of several guests. VYDAS GEDVILAS, First Deputy Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, introduced the event as a brilliant opportunity to launch a long-term collaboration among NGOs and National and International institutions on issues that are not only relevant at present time but that they also deeply affect the future. ALGIRDAS ŠEŠELGIS, Vice-minister of Social Security and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania, continued the welcome address adding that the process of ensuring equality should involve as many actors as possible in order to learn from the sharing of experiences. Prof. MARIJA AUŠRINĖ PAVILIONIENĖ, Member of the Committee on Human Rights of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, addressed to the audience a moving speech, recalling the historical moments of legal change in Lithuania before and after its entrance in the European Union. Dag Malmer Halvorsen, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway, stressed the support of his country towards the full development of equality in Lithuania. Finally, the last welcome address was given through a video message by the powerful words of ULRIKE LUNACEK, Vice-President of the European Parliament.
At the end of this wish for successful and fruitful conversations, an opening speech was given by EDITA ŽIOBIENĖ, working for the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, Acting Equal Opportunities Ombudsman. The conference was structured in four main sections, each addressing a particular issue and each involving a different moderator who invited selected speakers to express their views on the topic and that were later available to discuss with participants on the sessions’ topics.
The first plenary session was dedicated to the theme “Fundamental Rights in the EU: Current Challenges and Achievements” and was moderated by Policy Coordinator (Human Rights) of the national LGBT* rights organization LGL TOMAS VYTAUTAS RASKEVIČIUS. The session focused on the current challenges and achievements in connection with the fundamental rights and freedoms of EU citizens, namely shaping of future policies on equality and non-discrimination and adoption of the horizontal anti-discrimination directive on equal treatment. The session focused on the means to be used in order to promote the EU equality legislation on national, regional and international levels. Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia MARTINS VIRSIS informed the audience on the current priorities of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the fields of equality and non-discrimination, while VYGANTĖ MILAŠIŪTĖ (National Liaison Officer of Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA); Head, Division of International Agreements Law, International Law Department, Ministry of Justice; Lecturer, Institute of International and European Union Law, Faculty of Law, Vilnius University) commented on the challenges in implementing the EU legislation in the field of anti-discrimination.
The second plenary session, “Non-Discrimination and Equality Mainstreaming on the National Level” moderated by the President of Lithuanian Forum of the Disabled DOVILĖ JUODKAITĖ, aimed at presenting by the invited speakers the opportunities, provided by the national action plans in the field of non-discrimination and at drawing upon other relevant good practices in mainstreaming equality and non-discrimination on the national level. Since the EU equality legislation represents only the minimal standards of protection, which member states are required to adhere to, the main questions the speakers try to give an answer to, were if it was possible to strive for much broader measures of inclusion and social integration on the national level. In particular, Krzysztof Smiszek, President of the Polish Society of Anti-Discrimination Law, analyzed the best practices of cooperation within the framework of human rights coalitions and networks, while EGLĖ ČAPLIKIENĖ (Head, Division of Equal Opportunities, Department of Equal Opportunities and Social Integration, Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, Lithuania) made a presentation of the national policy in the fields of equality and non-discrimination. The session ended with some reflections on the topic of Senior Adviser of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman Laima Vengalė-Dits and Director of Women’s Issues Information Center Jūratė Šeduikienė.
The third session, “Monitoring and Evaluating Instances of Discrimination in Lithuania” was moderated by MILDA ALIŠAUSKIENĖ (Director of the New Religions Research and Information Center, Associate Professor at Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania). The session focused on the need to develop evidence-based advocacy strategies in order to encourage the effective implementation of non-discrimination and equality measures both on the national and regional levels. Methods, techniques and methodologies in documenting, monitoring and evaluating critical aspects of discrimination and harassment were presented to the conference audience. Researcher VITA PETRUŠAUSKAITĖ gave more insights on situation of Roma people and her survey results on their social integration in Lithuania, while Psychologist KAMILA GASINKA explained her research results on bullying in Lithuanian schools on grounds of sexual orientation and enlisted some recommendations to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying at education institutions. Moreover, Project Manager klementina gečaitė from the Lithuanian Forum of the Disabled specifically informed the audience on discrimination on grounds of disability. The panel of discussion ended with the exchange of reflections between Dr. REMIGIJUS CIVINSKAS, Researcher for the Company “Factus Dominus” and the other participants in the plenary session.
The last session “Promoting Equality and Non-Discrimination through Human Rights Networks” was moderated by Project Manager of Women’s Issues Information Center RUGILĖ BUTKEVIČIŪTĖ and focused on the work of the National Equality and Diversity (NEDF). This is a national coalition of civil society organizations, representing social groups vulnerable to discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and ethnic origin. The Forum represents one of the best practices of articulating common human rights positions by multiple NGOs. The session consequently delved into the mainstream of work of the Forum, trying to analyze future prospects and methods for mainstreaming the aspects of non-discrimination and equality into the processes of public policy not only on the national, but also on the regional levels. The Executive Director, of the National LGBT* Rights organization LGL Vladimir Simonko stressed how the Forum constituted in the last years an excellent tool in mainstreaming equality and non-discrimination in Lithuania and DOVILĖ JUODKAITĖ, President of the Lithuanian Forum of the Disabled focused her speech on the capacity of human rights networks in articulating common positions in the process of public policy. Finally, the session was concluded with a discussion with Dr MILDA ALIŠAUSKIENĖ, Director of the New Religions Research and Information Center, VILIUS MIKULĖNAS, Project Manager of the House of National Communities and POVILAS BUTKUS, Chairman of the Vilnius City Division and Lithuanian Senior’s Union, Lithuania.
The conference concluded with the final remarks by DOVILĖ JUODKAITĖ, President of Lithuanian Forum of the Disabled. And it concluded with the strong hope by all participants that equality will be guaranteed at national as well as international level and that fundamental rights, if they are called like this for a reason, will have soon no borders from one country to another.
The conference was organized as a part of the project “Consolidating Sustainable Development of National Equality and Diversity Forum (NEDF)” which is supported by the NGO Programme Lithuania funded by EEA Grants.