Progress towards gender equality is not even and more needs to be done, the Council of Europe’s deputy Secretary General Bjorn Berge told a conference in Nicosia on Tuesday.

Entitled ‘The role of foreign policy in advancing gender equality: Addressing the challenges, pushbacks and obstacles faced by women’, the conference was organised by Cyprus’ foreign ministry in partnership with the Council of Europe in the context of events celebrating 60 years since Cyprus joined it.

Berge highlighted the need for political will, while Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and House President Annita Demetriou noted that despite the progress achieved in Cyprus, there is still a long way to go.

Speaking during a panel discussion in the framework of the same meeting, experts on gender equality and women’s rights warned about the danger of not just failing to achieve the aspirations set by the international community, but of even witnessing a rollback in this field.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (the Istanbul Convention), which came into force in 2014, is the first legally binding international instrument on preventing and combating violence against women and girls at the international level. Berge said it provides women with “added protection which no other foreign policy tool has ever achieved. And no other continent has every attained”.

However, Berge said there are setbacks and some “seek to undermine and discredit the Istanbul Convention”.

Christodoulides said Cyprus’ ambition is to become in the near future a model in the region on issues related to gender equality.

He underlined that to “safeguard women’s right’s we need collective action. The responsibility for the promotion and acceleration of women’s rights rests primarily with all states, and therefore effective action needs also to be undertaken within the multilateral framework”.

Foreign policy can and should be used as a diplomatic and political tool in the promotion of women’s rights, said Christodoulides, “complementing national, regional and international efforts in this direction”.

In her address, Demetriou said the adoption of a holistic and horizontal approach to gender mainstreaming in foreign policy has already yielded some positive results.

However, Demetriou said “the glass ceiling is cracked but not broken. The path to gender parity in foreign policy is long,” she said urging all to use the current momentum to turn the crisis into an opportunity and to address particular challenges, which impede Cypriot women from building a career as diplomats and from engaging in peace-making and conflict resolution processes.