Equal Rights, feminist, London, prostitution, Sex Trade, Sexual Equality, Trade Unions, Women MPs, Women's Rights

I was delighted to be invited to speak, on work undertaken in the EU on prostitution, at the launch of OBJECT and eaves’ new DEMAND CHANGE! campaign in Parliament yesterday afternoon.

Two powerful and inspiring organisations, OBJECT, is a campaigning organisation which is fundamentally against the objectification of women. And eaves is a London based feminist charity that provides supported housing to vulnerable women, women trafficked into prostitution, and those who have experienced domestic violence.

The new joint initiative between eaves and OBJECT – DEMAND CHANGE! – aims to promote an increased understanding of the myths and realities surrounding prostitution; calls for prostitution to be seen and widely understood as a form of violence against women; and is lobbying for the adoption of the ‘Nordic model’ of tackling demand and decriminalising women in prostitution.

Answering questions at the DEMAND CHANGE! event in Parliament

Answering questions at the DEMAND CHANGE! event in Parliament

As an ardent supporter of the Nordic model, of tackling trafficking and violence against women through prostitution by criminalising the purchase of sex, I wholly support the DEMAND CHANGE! campaign and its aims. I believe campaigns such as these are key to changing the public perceptions and entrenched cultural attitudes towards the sale of women’s bodies for sex, which is  is the only route towards the UK adopting the Nordic model to reduce this intolerable violence against women, children and men.

This event was a great opportunity to take back the battle ground on prostitution from the garish vocalists for pimps and punters The English Collection of Prostitutes and the International Union of Sex Workers. Who interestingly, now that legislation on lap-dancing clubs and prostitution have now passed out of the Commons, were not present at the event. A key indication of the sorts of people that are behind these frighteningly naive organisations, which deny figures on trafficking and offer up prostitution as a feminist choice when the clear reality is that no one would ever wish this destructive and demeaning career  on anyone whom they cared about.

In my speech I discussed the European Parliament’s women’s committee’s inability to agree on the issue of prostitution due to the very varied legislation of each member state. As heated debate on the topic of the health of prostitutes, in the socialist group of the FEMM committee, showed last year, prostitution remains the last great feminist taboo.

Speaking to Swedish expert on the 'Nordic Model' Gunilla Exberg

Speaking to Swedish expert on the 'Nordic Model' Gunilla Exberg


Conservative, Equal Rights

I was very concerned to find out this week that one of the Tory candidates for the European elections, Jean-Paul Floru (a Belgian national) apparently holds an association and affinity with a racist Belgian party called Lijst Dedecker or the LDD for short. In a newspaper interview with Het Nieuwsblad earlier this year Floru seemingly complimented the LDD on their “pure ideology.” And of even greater concern he confessed to maintaining “close contact with Jean-Marie Dedecker.”


Top left: LDD candidate Patrick Ghys, 8th candidate for the region Antwerp (regional elections coinciding with the European elections) pictured in a racist election poster from a previous election; Top Right: JP Floru; Bottom: JM Dedecker.

Jean-Marie Dedecker is the founder of the LDD party. Dedecker opposes the “cordon sanitaire” of the mainstream parties impose on fascist Belgian parties by refusing to enter into coalitions with such extremists. In early 2007 Dedecker arranged for part of the party VLOTT, cartel partner of “Flemish Interest” (the Belgian equivalent of the BNP) to join his party. To emphasise the racist nature of thses people, I’ve put up a picture of a vile racist Gorilla poster that was used by one of these LDD candidates in a previous election.

But the Gorrilla election poster is not just an isolated example. I’ve been presented with evidence stretching back years that the LDD and its members are racists. The LDD has refused to denounce racist comments about Muslims made in on Belgian TV and has high ranking politicians who have participated in racist, inflammatory marches through the streets of Brussels. In addition,  Jurgen Verstrepen, a prominent politician in LDD has also confessed in a published book that he was present at political meetings (presumably with members who joined post-2007) where Nazi-songs, such as the party hymn of Hitler’s NSDAP, were sung.

I am truly shocked and horrified at what I have uncovered here. It has made me feel sick that this vile racism is still being touted around. Floru needs to clarify the extent of his involvement with the LDD, its leaders, supporters and allied organisatons. He needs to explain why he spoke admiringly of a racist party and its leader. Its the least the people of London deserve come June 4th.


Equal Rights, Women's Rights

Congratulations to the first ever female poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy – also the first openly bi-sexual person to be appointed to this prestigious position.

Her rewritings of history, giving women the last word or even a word, in our man centric history have provided me with many laughs as well as poignant thoughts.

I look forward to her rewriting this role.


CULTURAL DIVERSITY, Equal Rights, Islam, Online media, Women's Rights

Pushing for unanimity in women’s rights across 27 members states with some extremely varied attitudes towards women’s roles in society – whether more family focussed in Poland or entirely liberated with legalised prostitution in Germany – is extremely complex.

But the reporting of women’s rights issues in Afghanistan this weekend has made me appreciate just how united Europe is on this issue. And how important it is that we look beyond our own borders to push for the human rights of our sisters in the Middle East.

As Afghanistan’s Parliament debated ways to protect female politicians from assassination this Easter Monday, following the murder of Kandahar provincial council member Sitari Achakzai on Sunday, women attending the country’s most progressive university expressed her distaste and annoyance at the West’s ‘meddling’ in the rights of women in their country.


Afghan women want West to back off ‘rape law’

Women attending Kabul University told a Canadian journalist that the West should not involve itself in the country’s religious affairs. “We do not want total freedom. We want it to be limited and to be within Islam”, a young female student architect is reported as saying.

The student Hamida Hasani, aged 18, says that when faced with hunger and war issues of women’s rights pale into insignificance. ”If they [the West] faced what we have faced… they’d realise what is important here” she said. She then added, that the problem of women’s rights in Afghanistan belongs to Afghan women – no one else. I completely disagree with this young student’s sentiments.

How can the fundamental human rights of fifty per cent of the population not be important? And one woman’s suffering not be the problem of another’s? No matter how divided in culture and geography people may be, one person’s suffering is the concern of another. Women reading this article must not back off the ‘rape law’, a much reported new Shia law allowing men to have sex with their wives inspite of their wishes. Instead they must be cheered and united by that their efforts, which have resulted in the Afghan President scrapping the offending law.

Karzai bows to international calls to scrap Afghan ‘rape’ law

Women’s liberation is at the heart of every economy, every democracy, the fundamentals of human rights. Never is an issue more pressing or more in the interest of every other woman worldwide.

Frighteningly, the reportage of this story is limited as no other student could be found on the campus that was aware on the pending Shia family legislation or of Achakzai’s murder by Taliban gunmen.

Commenting on this, women’s rights campaigner Fauzia Kofi, who represents the Badakhshan constituency, said “Public awareness of any legislation before Parliament is very low. This new Shia law got very little attention anywhere before it appeared in the UK Guardian and became a big international story. It is still not a big domestic story.”

So, if it were not for the Guardian’s reportage this law allowing men to rape their wives would have slipped through unnoticed. What more riling and convincing reason could bloggers, journalists and commentators need to scrutinise, campaign and raise awareness the treatment of women overseas?

If you ever face similar such arguments student Hasani’s, which dissuade you from ‘interfering’ in foreign women’s rights, please bear in mind this very famous poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Communists,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Social Democrats,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Social Democrat.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew,

Then they came for me,

and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.


Equal Rights, Tribune

Recently I wrote an article in Tribune on the persistence of the gender pay gap. I worked with the Office of National Statistics to produce data on the gender pay gap in the London boroughs.

You can find this data here:

The first table shows the pay gap in a place of work, the second shows the pay gap in the place of residence.

I hope that this data will be useful in continuing the campaign for equal pay for women and men.


Anni Marjoram, Equal Rights, Greater London Assembly, Mayor

No-one expected Bonkers Boris to stand up for women’s rights. The Tories’ record is appalling. Their MEPs have consistently opposed measures to improve women’s lives including, amazingly, failing to support a resolution calling for the banning of female genital mutilation across the EU.

I have just come from a meeting of the European Parliament Culture and Education Committee where one of the Conservative MEPs voted against a report calling for women to be encouraged to study science and technology and take up management positions.

So it’s no surprise that Boris Johnson has purged women from City Hall and scrapped the post of women’s adviser held by Anni Marjoram. Anni did a good job for Ken Livingstone on behalf of women. Ken maintained one of the few dedicated women’s rights officers in the public sector anywhere in Europe. London led the way, but sadly does so no more.

The Tories want to take us back to a time before equality of opportunity, a time when women were denied the chances they now have. For all our sakes, we cannot let that happen.


Creative Industry, culture, Equal Rights, London

The European Parliament has just finished debating a report the creative industries. I spoke in the Chamber, highlighting the important role of our creative and cultural industries, particularly the increasing part they play in our economy.

As a member representing London, the creative hub of the UK and indeed Europe, I am acutely aware of the benefits that such industries bring to a locality. London is diverse in culture and thriving in its creativity and as cultural and creative industries represent a significant sector in London’s economy, I welcome recommendations to support their sustainability and growth.

That said I find it of great concern, that whilst women represent a huge number of employees within the industry, their absence in high ranking positions is stark.

As the report rightly pointed out, cultural industries are an important vehicle through which European values are communicated. Equality between men and women is one of the most important..

The origins of our flourishing cultural and creative industries lie in the diversity of individual talents and skills. Member States must investigate and address the barriers that prevent our most creative women from entering the boardroom.


Child Poverty, Equal Rights

Last week in the Parliament, MEPs invited experts to discuss “Combating Child Poverty in the EU”. Whilst I acknowledge that child poverty is often best tackled at a local level, as the speakers rightly pointed out, a co-ordinated approach from EU policy makers through to practitioners at the grass-roots is needed.

As a member of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, what struck me was the significant impact of parents’ employment status on not only a childs’ risk of living in poverty but on their wider well-being. In the UK, for example, a child is five times more likely to be living in poverty if their lone parent is not in work.

To break the vicious cycle of poverty within families and communities, it is essential to provide employment opportunities for parents that offer flexible working patterns along with accessible and affordable high quality childcare.

I have and will continue to campaign for gender equality within the workplace. Equality of opportunity, however, should not start upon entrance to the labour market, or indeed into education, it should start from the day a child is born.

Parental rights and responsibilities are key in giving children the best start in life and I will be advocating their importance in the breadth of policies considered in my Committee work.


Employees, Employers, Equal Rights, Equal Treatment, Guardian, Staff

Yet again the British media are blaming the EU for legislation of Britain’s own making. “Guardian” jounalist Claire Dyer, who should know better, has implied that the EU has “forced” new legislation into Britain concerning staff dealing with customers.

There is just one small problem – the EU directive on Equal Treatment, which she rightfully cites in her article “New sexual harassment laws to protect staff from customers” (31st March 2008), does not actually say anything about staff dealing with customers. This part of the legislation coming into force on the 6th of April is the result of the British based Equal Opportunities Commission winning a ruling in the British High Court concerning how the European directive should be implemented.

This was, therefore, purely a British based decision.


Commission, Equal Rights, Gender

After the European elections in June next year there will be some amendments to the way the European Union works. Yes, you’ve got it. I’m talking about the Lisbon Treaty. Two important posts need to be filled after June 2009, assuming all Member States ratify the Treaty. One is the President of the Council of Ministers who will serve for two and a half years as opposed to the current six-month rotating presidency. The other is a new leadership position in external affairs combining the roles of the present Council High Representative and the External Affairs Commissioner.

Both these reforms are highly sensible. It’s not the reforms which are the problem. It’s not even the candidates who are being put forward for the posts. The real issue is the lack of women. Despite the excellent representation of women in the European Parliament, currently standing at one third of the members, it seems impossible to get women into senior positions in the Commission and to a lesser extent the Council. There really is no excuse for such gender imbalance.