In July, as I was returning home from the SI Convention in Dublin, I had a strong sense of Soroptimist’s importance. Of the role our European Federation has in defending women’s rights and speaking up for gender equality.


One noteworthy addition to our conventions is the introduction of Federation workshops. This year’s theme was centred around gender equality and used our motto ‘We stand up for women,’ as a starting point for discussions on how to combat inequalities between women and men. These discussions referred both to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)..



I had the privilege of moderating a discussion between Réka Sáfrány from the European Women’s Lobby, Salome Mbugua who represents the European Network of Migrant Women, and our president Carolien Demey. The room was filled to bursting point with Soroptimist sisters from all over the world. Despite holding this workshop twice, the demand to attend was so high that not everyone interested could make it into the room.


From left to right: Gertrud Åström, Réka Sáfrány, Carolien Demey, Salome Mbugua


To kick off the discussion, the panellists were asked if they had observed pushback on women’s rights in Europe and, if so, what they believed were the causes, and what action we should take to combat the backlash. Everyone confirmed witnessing such a pushback. The audience were also asked if they shared this opinion, and it quickly became clear that this is not just a European issue. It is a global concern.


Réka Sáfrány introduced the work of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), which unites 2000 women’s organisations working for a feminist future, while Salome Mbugua talked about women change makers for sustainable development. Carolien emphasised that the pushback can be stopped and that we will stop it!


Hands raised with questions, statements, and ideas for the panellists to address: How much does men’s violence against women cost society? Where did the women’s movement go?  We have rights – let’s put them into action! Let’s write shadow reports to the CEDAW committee!  Advocate for a woman to become the UN Secretary-General!  Create a network for gender parity! Develop operational road maps on a national level. Recognise the need for interpreting the language used in political pushback. Address issues like female genital mutilation in Europe and the exploitation of women in prostitution.


As you can tell, the workshops were intense. We received so many positive comments, underscoring a strong determination not to step back but to move forward with hope and solidarity.


There is no time to relax.



To learn about SI next convention in Alaska, click here:


Gertrud Åström

SIE Representative to the European Women’s Lobby