Category Archives: Labour Party

Europe needs a holistic approach to migration with women’s rights firmly embedded within it

We are all aware of the situation unfolding in the Mediterranean. The influx of migrants at the EU’s southern borders has been unprecedented; the heavy death toll has been shocking. At Lampedusa, at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, in the Aegean Sea, the reality of this humanitarian crisis has been brought home to us.

The situation has been brought about largely by prolonged conflict in the Middle East and we are now witnessing the largest wave of refugees since World War II.

Over the past few months it has become clear that, alongside an immediate response to prevent further loss of life, we need a long-term, holistic response. The European Agenda on Migration, presented by the European Commission in May, has set out both the immediate action to be taken as well as the measures to manage migration in the coming years.

The European Parliament is currently working on a report on the situation in the Mediterranean and the wider European agenda on migration. I have been appointed the rapporteur for the contribution of the committee on women’s rights and gender equality to this report.

The EU strategy must span a number of policy areas – internal and external – and present a unified and coherent response from the EU and its member states. It is imperative that the strategy includes innovative measures to ensure not just human rights standards generally but that the specific needs of women and girls are met.

It is my aim, along with my colleagues, to help shape the European Agenda on Migration and to ensure that women’s rights and a gender perspective are embedded within it.

Currently, there are huge disparities across member states in how we treat women seeking asylum. Any holistic approach to asylum and immigration must guarantee that processes and standards are consistent across all member states. At the moment, our asylum and immigration systems are not sufficiently gender-sensitive.

The increased flow of people has resulted in pressure points and when this happens, it only makes it harder to meet the needs of vulnerable individuals, including women and girls. These are some of the most vulnerable people in the world and Europe has so far been failing them.

Sexual violence

One of the key points which I am addressing in my work is the issue of violence, in particular sexual violence. We know that women asylum seekers and undocumented migrants are vulnerable throughout their journeys. They are often alone and separated from their families.

I have read harrowing accounts of women and young girls who have fled persecution and war only to experience extreme violence. This is a particular problem in transit countries like Morocco and Libya.

This is why we need to ensure that all staff involved, including the International Organisation for Migration, are trained to deal with women who have experienced this kind of trauma.

Having spoken to representatives from NGOs and IGOs, I know that many women are pregnant as a result of sexual violence experienced since leaving their homes. We need to look at access to maternal healthcare with this in mind.

Reception facilitates

A recent report by a UK charity, Women for Refugee Women, revealed that as many as half of female rape and torture survivors detained in the UK after seeking asylum have considered suicide.

This starkly demonstrates why decisions to detain women asylum seekers and undocumented migrants should take account of past trauma and I have highlighted this in my own work.

Detention is just one option and for many of these vulnerable people, it is simply not appropriate. Other tailored facilities would more appropriately meet the needs of, for example, pregnant women and young women.

I also intend to address the importance of allowing competent authorities to have access to reception facilities in order to inspect standards and ensure that women’s human rights are being upheld in full.

Trafficking and smuggling

We know that the situation in the Mediterranean is very closely connected to the problem of people smuggling and that many of those who risk their lives at sea are doing so at the hands of criminal gangs.

Although there is also evidence to suggest that human traffickers may be exploiting the situation too, we must distinguish human trafficking from smuggling. The two are quite different phenomena – legally and in practice.

Trafficking in human beings is, primarily, a crime against the person and a gross violation of a person’s basic human rights. People smuggling is, on the other hand, a crime against the state.

It is important that these two categories are not conflated and that staff tasked with identifying victims of trafficking are adequately trained and resourced to carry out their work effectively and sensitively.

These are just some of the issues I have been working on. Such an important topic can hardly be covered in detail here but I am confident that the final report will present comprehensive and timely recommendations to improve the situation across Europe.

The final report on the situation in the Mediterranean and the EU response is due to go before the European Parliament in December.

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The Great Politician Hack

Last month I participated in an educational film made by the anti-virus, cloud content and computer security company, F-Secure. The organisation filmed me undergoing a controlled (and ethical) hack. It’s not something I’ve ever (knowingly) done before but I learnt so much about online security during this process.

Public Wi-Fi networks are increasingly popular. They are offered to us often for free and usually for a certain period of time but there are no security guarantees when you access such sites. So F-secure, along with investigative journalist Peter Warren conducted an experiment and hacked three politician’s (of which I was one) accounts to highlight how vulnerable we are when using public Wi-Fi.

You can watch the film Peter made here. I hope you find it useful. Certainly I was surprised at the ease with which they were able to hack into my social media accounts and manipulate my information, as well as posting things as though it was from me. It all happened extremely quickly. You can watch the film in full here.

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It’s about more than transparency: Closing the gender pay gap

Of course I welcome the news that the government will introduce measures which will force large firms to declare data on the gender pay gap among staff.

But the truth is that the Tory led coalition was slow to act on pay transparency. The consultation, starting today, was first introduced in the final months of the coalition. But Labour has called for tougher, more rigorous annual equal pay checks which are clearly necessary considering women earn 81p for every £1 earnt by male colleagues.

The gender pay gap isn’t a new issue so why has it taken a whole term in Parliament before the government acted? Had the last government not been a coalition then we might not even be at this point today.

It is not yet clear how successful the move will be in forcing companies to act on pay and bring women’s wages into line with their male colleagues. Legislation introduced in the last parliament (despite Conservative opposition) will help no doubt. Firms with more than 250 employees must publish the average party of male and female employees.

Late last year the Office for National Statistics suggested that for the first time, since records began in 1997 the gender pay gap had narrowed, albeit by a small margin. It still sits at just under 10%. This is incredibly un-ambitious progress as is the fact that the number of women in executive positions in the FTSE 100 has risen by just four since 2012.

It was therefore misleading when the government announced that its target of getting at least a quarter of women on boardroom seats in the UK’s biggest firms by 2015 had been met.

Again, I believe we should be far more ambitious. We need to set targets for executive positions, not just non-executive director roles. Otherwise it will take more than a generation to end gender inequality in the workplace.

According to the Cranfield School of Management Female FTSE Board Report 2015, just 24 (8.6%) executive directors in the FTSE 100 are women, up from 20 (6.6%) in 2012 with only 22 of the FTSE 100 having any female executives on their boards.

Meanwhile, EU legislation on quotas for women on company boards has gone through the European Parliament and is now just awaiting approval from the European Council (which comprises of the heads of states of the 28 member states).

We must also not forget that unequal treatment around pregnancy is one of the major drivers of the gender pay gap, so Cameron’s government must address this too because its an absolutely crucial part of the gender pay gap jigsaw. Indeed, it was Cameron’s failure to support the proposed revision of the maternity directive which was in part responsible for the entire proposal being withdrawn in the EU.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

One of the worst affected organisations following last week’s Tory Budget, the first Tory budget for 18 years, was the BBC.

The Corporation signed a secret funding deal with the government, which this led Labour’s shadow culture secretary, Chris Bryant, to call for the chair of the BBC Trust, Rhona Fairhead, to resign. He said the BBC was a ‘lame duck’ for signing the deal which effectively saw the BBC agree to shoulder the cost of free TV licences for the over 75’s by 2020, a deal which was agreed in secret and criticised for both being conducted in this way and for the result of the ‘negotiation’.

Bryant said: “My anxiety is that if [the government] is going to keep on treating the chair of the BBC Trust like this through charter renewal , you’re not going to have charter renewal, you’re going to have caving in.” Bryant said that the 10 year old Trust system of governance was unfit for purpose and that the BBC had been bullied by the government. One estimate suggested the possible real term dip in the BBC’s budget was 20%.

David Cameron is planning a free vote this Thursday which will relax the current legislation on fox hunting. Although the vote won’t repeal the ban completely the rules proposed would see a solution in which hunters would be able to use a pack of dogs to flush out foxes before the fox is shot. There is currently a limit of two dogs.

By offering a ‘third way’ Cameron is hoping to avoid hours of debate which would be the case if he wanted to fully change the legislation. We know how the majority of Labour MPs will vote but they need the support of the SNP’s to make sure this doesn’t go through. How they will vote is not yet clear, but there is hope that they won’t support this cruel amendment to the legislation.

Congratulations to Serena Williams for winning her sixth Wimbledon title. However, despite winning the prestigious tournament for the sixth time she faced criticism for her physique. Yes she has come under fire for the way she looks. It never ceases to amaze me how people think it’s OK to make such offensive comments. Williams is an athlete who is the top of her game. She is an extremely fit and able sportswoman yet derogatory remarks are banded about with the ease and speed of her killer serve.

Of course, it’s not just Williams that faces such remarks, most sportswomen are ‘critiqued’ in a way men would never be. But the author JK Rowling had the ultimate reply to a twitter follower who claimed Williams was built like a man after Rowling had shown support for the tennis ace. Responding to the remarks she said: @diegtristan8 “she is built like a man”. Yeah, my
husband looks just like this in a dress. You’re an idiot.” Well done Rowling, and well done Williams for another Wimbledon triumph.

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Europe Without Greece in Unthinkable

Speaking in the debate following Alexis Tsipras’ address to the European Parliament, Gianni Pittella, Leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group, made it clear that Greece must not leave the European Union.

Despite the rare political firestorm which followed his speech, the Greek Prime Minister was generally in a relatively conciliatory mood. Once his ritual moan about the state of Greece – public debt at 180 per cent with increased poverty and unemployment – he conceded the need for reform

Tsipras demanded an agreement which would allow Greece to exit from its present crisis. He told the European Parliament that reform was required and that such reform should be credible and necessary.

Such realism was, indeed, sorely needed following the start of the Greek PM’s speech when he warned against Greek migrants leaving their country for other parts of Europe and referred to Greece as an “austerity laboratory”.

There were, inevitably, other references to the Greece’s financial and social state. Later on the Tsipras talked about the 7.2 billion euros disbursement and the requirement to pay back 17.5 billion euros. The past five years, he said, had been a huge burden on the Greek people

Yet there was a very real upside. As Gianni Pittella said in his intervention: “The conditions are there for an agreement this week”. Proposals from the Greek government had been submitted yesterday. While Greece rightly wants growth and sustainability, they now appear to be willing to enter constructive negotiations which will, hopefully, have at their heart restructuring the debt, support for Labour and measures against tax evasion. Jean-Claude Juncker has, in fact, showed considerable tenacity in moving Greece towards an agreement

Tsipras embraced the need to deal with tax evasion and corruption. Like a true Communist he blamed both what he called the oligarchs and, of course, previous Greek governments. In all fairness he does have a point if the statistic that 10 per cent of Greeks own 56 per cent of the national wealth is correct

Unsurprisingly Tsipras claimed that, following the referendum, the Greek government had a mandate from the Greek people. However, this is open to dispute. A hastily called plebiscite without time for all points of view to be heard may be not be a very democratic option according to Peter Kellner.

Unusually the European Parliament erupted in the debate after the Greek PM had spoken. Manfred Weber, Leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, accused Tsipras of not telling the truth to the Greek people and destroying confidence in Europe.

In the absence of the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) Leader British Conservative Sayed Kamall, his stand-in Mr Legutko said there was something rotten in the state of Greece with the European Union reaping the sour fruits of the original sin of currency union. Legutko’s contrived points only go to show that the ECR and the Tories  care more about their dogmatic views on the European Union than the need to find a workable settlement in Greece

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

The Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, outlined another swathe of cuts to benefits (slashing the benefits cap to £20,000 per year) per house hold for those living outside London.

Osborne also promised big cuts to the BBC’s £650mn licence fee during the same interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr.

But it was leaked documents (which were revealed last week) that have caused most controversy. The documents, sent to the BBC, revealed that government is considering making cuts to some disability benefits. The leaked paper written before the election found that claimants of sickness benefit could be moved to jobseekers allowance, which is a cut of £30 per week.

Labour has never denied that sensible cuts would be necessary but it would not leave vulnerable people without support. But the same cannot be said for the current government. As the Guardian reminded us last week: “In March, the supreme court found that the government’s current benefit cap had left claimants at risk of being unable to house, feed or clothe their families, putting it in breach of the UK’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child.”

Osborne’s planned cuts will be particularly hard for those living just outside of greater London where the cost of living is still extremely high. Overall some 90,000 households are expected to be affected in some way. You can read more here.

Preparing to return to Oslo, where she received her Nobel Peace Prize last year, Malala Yousafzai has written of the honour she felt when she was presented with the Nobel Prize.

She is returning to address the Oslo Education Summit to highlight the fact that there are still children, and specifically 60 million young girls who are denied the right to an education across the world.

She is calling on governments across the globe to fight for the right of access to education.

She calls for, “hope over doubt, light over dark, books over bullets,” simple words but said with the greatest conviction. You can read more on Malala’s trip here.

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New EIGE index shows progress on gender equality in the UK has regressed

The European Institute for Gender Equality has this week released the latest Gender Equality Index for the EU. It shows that we are still only half way to achieving equality across all relevant domains and that progress on gender equality in the UK has actually gone backwards.

The overall score for the EU rose slightly from 51.3 out of a possible 100 in 2005, to 52.9. Progress has not been uniform however – some Member States have improved while some have regressed. Important gaps remain across key areas: work; money; knowledge; violence against women; decision-making; and health.

The UK’s score has dropped slightly from 58.9 to 58.0 out of 100. In particular, in the area of work – which measures levels participation, segregation and quality of work – the data shows that the UK is falling behind. Women have been hit hardest by failed Tory policies.

Interestingly, the composite index reveals that the unequal division of unpaid work (such as childcare and housework) is still only at 37.6 out of 100. Women still undertake the vast majority of housework across the EU and this is a major barrier to equality.

The data on violence against women highlights the importance of changing attitudes in society and in institutions and that further data collection must be carried out. To address this, I have called for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and supported the creation of a new EU framework directive on violence against women.

The EIGE Gender Equality Index is a unique and valuable instrument for measuring overall progress and demonstrates the scale of the task required to achieve gender equality within and across the EU.

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