Summary of the IFS Seminar “Equality and Empowerment – An EU dream

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The IFS seminar "Equality and Empowerment - An EU Dream" was held on June 4th in the European Parliament in Brussels.
It was organized by IFS member organization the Finnish Federation of Settlements, the IFS Europe office and the office of the Finnish member of the European Parliament, Mrs. Sirpa Pietikäinen.

About sixty participants joined the seminar. Most of them came from France and the Féderation des Centres Sociaux. Other participants were from Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Hungary and Germany.

The seminar started at 1:00PM with a welcome speech from Mrs. Sirpa Pietikäinen who talked about equality as a core value, which means for her amongst others a life without social exclusion and discrimination. Furthermore she spoke of social benefits and social service, as well as about the role of NGOs in civil societies. After her short introduction, Mrs. Pietikäinen gave the floor to Pentti Lemmetyinen, Secretary General of the Finnish Federation of Settlement Houses and Member of the IFS Board. Mr. Lemmetyinen presented the International Settlement Movement and talked about its history and role today. He mentioned that the International Settlement Movement as a whole has received two Nobel Peace Prizes. The first was in 1931 when Jane Addams, a founder of our movement, was honored for her work towards peace and freedom. The second time was in 1947, after the second World War.

After his presentation Mr. Lemmetyinen introduced the keynote speaker of the seminar, President Tarja Halonen, the former President of the Republic of Finland. Mrs. Halonen talked about the questions "What is the European Union? What are our values? And do we still share the values of our parents and grandparents, and will future generations share them too?" She talked about the rising discussion after the cold war concerning values, and the role of those values in modern day Europe. After that Mrs. Halonen came to the tragic problem of youth unemployment. For her, this is dually troubling. First it is a personal tragedy for the very young citizens. Second it is a missing resource for the society. In that case, Mrs. Halonen underlined the importance of good education to prevent more youth unemployment. Then Mrs. Halonen asked the audience to question what is typical for everyone personally, for his family, his country and for the EU. After that everyone had to think of the distinctions made between “we and they.” Where is the border when I am thinking of us and them? Until my family or my country? In the last step Mrs. Halonen talked about the civil society that acts all the time and not just before an election like parties. They are active during and between the elections as well. She concluded with the Settlement Movement and its values that are very present in the EU life.

The last speaker of the seminar was Mrs. Renate Wilkening, CEO of the Neighborhood Center ufafabrik and IFS Vice President for Europe. Firstly Mrs. Wilkening referred to the mentioned youth unemployment and called for an active intervention in this important issue. For her it is a shame to have this high of an unemployment rate among young people in the EU. Secondly Mrs. Wilkening talked about the role of IFS today and its historical development. Especially in the 90s, IFS had a great role in supporting the Eastern countries after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Today IFS acts in many different ways, like developing important projects and having a voice in the United Nations. For a more intensive involvement in European issues, like youth unemployment, migration and ethnic minorities, IFS implemented an IFS Europe office and an IFS Europe committee. Both are instruments to strengthen the IFS members in Europe and to empower European civil societies to fight for social justice and social equality. Mrs. Wilkening concluded her speech with a quotation of the famous Jane Addams: "Civilization is a method of living, an attitude of equal respect for all men."

In the last part of the seminar the participants had the opportunity to discuss questions and suggestions with the speaker of the seminar.

The seminar was a great occasion for IFS to discuss and to reflect about our values. And it is one of IFS Europe’s tasks is to keep the discussion going to guarantee that equality and empowerment are not dreams but realities. 

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