Austria: Women's NGOs threatened

Right-wing Austrian government abolishes women's ministry.
We have received information from the Austrian Women's Shelter Network that most of the Austrian women's organisations and projects are faced with the possibility that they will receive no or not enough state funding as a result of the controversial right-wing government's decision to abolish the Ministry for Women's Affairs. This not only means that women's affairs have been demoted to a junior department in a sprawling Ministry of Social Affairs but also that the budget will come to about forty per cent of last year's level.

As a network of women living under Muslim laws, we are well placed to know how movements of the extreme right, fascists and fundamentalists alike, target at women, sending us back to our homes in the name of "culture" and "authentic values", and curtail the rights that we have painfully gained through endless struggles.

We presently witness the upsurge of extreme right political movements all over the world; in our own contexts, we experience the fundamentalist manipulation of religion, ethnicity and culture for political purposes, and we suffer from the programs they attempt to impose on women, by law as well as by force.

We are also aware of the links between various fundamentalisms: the Cairo UN Conference on Population showed the collusion and unholy alliance between the Vatican and Al Azhar against women, and the Beijing UN Conference on Women conforted this experience. Less known is the international political and financial support of extreme right movements among themselves, including towards armed Islamic fundamentalists. When fascists come to power in one place, it reinforces other movements of extreme right elsewhere in the world. We are aware that, in this struggle, women's interests are tied up together across national boundaries.

Moreover, here is an opportunity for us to show solidarity to women "in the West" and break the false dichotomy between "First World" and "Third World". They, indeed, rarely call on us for support, and solidarity, both in their views and in ours, is far too often one way, while solidarity should be reciprocal.
Vice-chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer claimed in a televised interview on February 8, 2000 that the former women's ministry had been merely symbolic because it had no budget and no powers (both claims untrue). She used this argument to justify the ministry's abolition altogether. There will not be a larger budget for women; at least not for independent organisations.

Discrediting NGOs
The new coalition partner, the right-wing Freedom Party, is not reticent in voicing its opinion on the role of NGOs. For thirty years, they claim, they have received funding from a government lead by Social Democrats for doing nothing. This not only discredits the invaluable work done by NGOs in Austria (and world-wide) and disregards the recognition NGOs have received in all the relevant international bodies like the UN and the EU. It is slander.

Massive protest in Austria
Since it became clear that for the first time in Europe a party whose members praise the Nazi regime and play down its atrocities will be allowed into government, a wave of protest has spread across the country. Peaceful demonstrations by thousands of people are being held every evening. A big rally will be taking place on February 19, 2000. About a quarter of a million demonstrators from all over Austria are expected. We urge you to support the women's NGOs in their struggle to survive and all Austrians who are strictly against allowing racists and neo-fascists to govern a country in the European Union!

Please, also support us on an international level and address your governments to put further pressure on this shameful Austrian Government and address the media in your country to keep reporting on the situation.

Please, help us with donations to get us through this crisis: our account:Verein autonome österreichische Frauenhäuser WAVE our account number: 610 782 021 our bank details: Bank Austria, Mariahilfer Strasse 70, A-1070 Vienna, Austria, bank code: 20151, international swift code: BKAUATWW
Austrian Women's Shelter Network
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Austrian Women's Shelter Network