Guardian, ryanair
Just a year on from its Britney Spears style ad of a scantily clad school girl was formally reprimanded, Ryanair has again done the dirty in a desperate bid for profits and pimped out its “sexiest” airline stewards in a “bare all” calendar.

You might like to read my Guardian Comment is Free article on Ryanair’s advertising, or vote in the poll on the left.

The sexy calendar features Ryanair’s staff posing in skimpy bikinis wielding hoses and sprawling across aircrafts. But worse still the links I received in a promotional email took me to a YouTube soft porn-style video of Ryanair staff being stroked by greased-up men and scintillating camera close-ups. I received this depressing advert in a spam email, with no age limit, to titillate its customers to “click on the video link to bare all”. Be warned!

On a serious note, these women have no access to trade union representation. Ryanair does not recognise any worker organisation and accordingly no trade union has been able to establish itself in Ryanair to defend cabin crew. Even though some of these women could be happy to take part, who do they turn to if they’re not?


Guardian, prostitution
I have been following the debate in the media on Jacqui Smith’s proposed changes to the prostitution laws and noticed this excellent article by my Labour Party colleague Fiona MacTaggart:

I posted a reply on the Guardian website which I have put below:

Fiona MacTaggart has hit the nail on the head by asking ‘who chooses?’ when it comes to prostitution. It was exactly this question that caused so much discomfort in recent meetings of the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee.

This committee, which normally strives to overcome differences to promote the rights and welfare of women, could not unite behind a single position on prostitution. And it was not due to partisan differences but to fundamental disagreements over the issue of who chooses.

My German, Dutch and Austrian colleagues in the European Socialist Party refused to support a report written by a Swedish MEP about the health consequences of prostitution. The report pointed out that ‘prostituted women are considerably more at risk of physical and psychological injuries related, not to extraordinary violence, but to the everyday practice of prostitution’. My colleagues’ objection to the report was that it portrayed prostituted women as victims. They argued that instead prostitutes are women who have made a choice to work in the sex industry and ought to be supported in their choice. For these MEPs, the question ‘who chooses’ is a simple one.

But, as Fiona and my Swedish colleague note, the question is not simple. Even in countries where prostitution is legalised, such as Germany, Holland and Austria, women do not make a free or simple choice to enter prostitution. Figures showing the number of trafficked women and drug addicts who enter this trade are just one of many proofs of this.

The Swedish report on prostitution and health was rejected by the Parliament’s Women’s Committee. Speaking to the committee after the vote, the report’s draftswoman condemned those voting against it for gagging the parliament on this important issue. By refusing to compromise on their views regarding the choice that these prostituted women make, the committee killed the report so it could not be debated by the wider Parliament. It is a great shame that we feminists, in our quest to support women and equality, cannot step aside from the emotive arguments regarding personal choice and let the facts on the violence and abuse suffered by too many prostitutes speak for themselves. Prostitution is, as my Swedish colleague said, the last great feminist taboo.


Guardian, Pope Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI won’t address the European parliament because of our ‘militant secularism’. What a foolish and self-defeating stance. Take a look at my article on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site:


Comment is Free, Guardian

On Tuesday I posted a link to a piece I wrote for the Guardian “Comment is Free” online section.

I received a number of responses, and I would just like to respond to a few things:

I have no problem with what people believe as long as they do not harm others. We should all respect each other, women and men, old and young, gay and straight, those with disabilities and the able bodied, black and white. We are, after all, human beings living on the same planet.

I believe democracy, and therefore other people, are harmed when MPs allow their religious faith rather than the principles of the party they represent to influence their votes in Parliament.


Gordon Brown, Guardian

Gordon Brown has allowed his authority to be undermined by the three Catholics in his cabinet. Take a look at my comment on this for the Guardian website at this link:

Pro-lifers must protest at Mail and Dorries’ insult to women’s intelligence

24 week time limit, Fact, Guardian, Myth, Nadine Dorries, Polly Toynbee, Zoe Williams

This week, in the run up to the second reading of the human fertilisation and embroyolgy bill, anti-abortionist campaigners have used the Daily Mail as a soap-box for their liturgy of guilt and condemnation on women who have foetuses aborted between 20 and 24 weeks.

Fortunately commonsense has prevailed through comment pieces in the Guardian and news of a report published today by the British Medical Journal. Both have sought to assuage the speculative and highly subjective use of facts, figures and general hearsay used by the pro-lifers with more substantive and objective research.

The BMJ study of all premature births in one region, Trent, shows that life expectancy for babies born before 24 weeks are poor and have not improved since the last review of this bill took place in 1990.

In the face of clear cut objective medical research Nadine Dorries MP, who is leading the cross party group launching the “20 Reasons for 20 weeks campaign”, has shown her true colours with her ludicrously subjective statement in today’s Guardian:

“I think this report insults the intelligence of the public and MPs alike. No improvement in neonatal care in 12 years? Really? So where has all the money that has been pumped into neonatal services gone then?” She called the study “the most desperate piece of tosh produced by the pro-choice lobby”.

Comment pieces by Zoe Williams and Polly Toynbee have cast also cast aspersions on Dorries and the Mail’s sensationalist use of facts and figures this week. Some of the most powerful myths they have dispelled I think are:

Two-thirds of GPs support a reduction in the time limit.

At the last British Medical Association vote on the matter, 77% voted to keep the time limit as it is.

Foetuses can feel pain at 18 weeks.

This myth is based on just one study from the University of Arkansas. But the consensus in the mainstream medical community is that the neurological development necessary for pain is more like 26 weeks plus.

The abortion of foetuses between 20 and 24 weeks is commonplace in the UK.

Only 1.45% of abortions happen after 20 weeks. Of this small per cent one woman was just 14-years-old and arrived at a clinic when she was 23 weeks and five days pregnant: her periods had become irregular but she had not realised she was pregnant until a school nurse referred her just in time. (Some women are caught out by having periods all through pregnancy, a trick nature plays.) Another was a 27-year-old who arrived at just over 22 weeks’ gestation. She already had a 10-month-old, a five-year-old and a six-year-old, all of them in foster care. She said the next baby would go straight into care, because she was a drug user. In a chaotic daze, she had left the abortion to the last minute. Then there was the woman who arrived at 22 weeks and four days, who had been drinking heavily and taking large doses of cocaine, unaware she was pregnant. The one rational choice these addicted women were fit to make was to know they were not fit to be mothers.

Foetuses are being aborted late in the pregnancy because women are being too lazy to sort it out before this time.

If campaigners really wanted more abortions to take place earlier in the pregnancy, then they would work towards improving access to terminations on the NHS. Conversely, this campaign is all designed to stigmatise abortion, castigate women, lionise the foetus, and make the whole debate so emotionally charged that it no longer matters whether the argument has any factual basis at all. Never mind the insult to women.

Sad truth:
This week some Labour MPs may be taking fright. They have been sent lurid DVDs of abortions: last time they were sent plastic foetuses. Bombarded with letters from their local churches, some may reckon that voting to cut a few weeks off the time-limit won’t matter much. But it does. And unfortunately the pro-choice lobby has no pulpits to marshal its troops.

New research on baby survival rates stokes abortion limit row

Fact, fiction and foetuses (Zoe Williams comment)

Resist the medievalists. Women’s right to abortion is a private matter (Polly Toynbee comment)


24 week time limit, Guardian, Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams makes some very telling points about abortion time limits in Guardian Comment in Free today.
This is the link


Employees, Employers, Gender, Guardian, work

Today I have had an article published on the Guardian website about the gender pay-gap which has stirred up a lot of controversy.

Many commentators say that the feminist fight has been won and that sexism in the work place no longer exists but reading some of the comments I have received it is very obvious that this is not the case.

Here are some of the responses to my article, which have frankly shocked me:

“Why should employers have to pick up the tab for a woman’s fertility? You want to be an executive? Fine. You want to be a mother? That’s fine, too. But anyone with a functioning brain cell knows that there are major conflicts between devotion to a demanding career and diligent motherhood. “

“When women read as much as men, they’ll be ready for equality.”

“Women in every culture I’ve every visited have been bitchy and into how they look. It is obviously part of your programming the same way boys like playing soldier etc. The insistance that its all a biog conspiracy just shows how outdated you are.”

“Most working-class women I know would rather serve tea to old folks or look after toddlers in a nursery while your old man goes out and earns the lion’s share of the family income.”

“in my experience the women who try the hardest to get to the top do pretty much anything they can to stop other women from joining them.”

“it’s easier to go on about these splendid bright women who just want to have babies and come back to work and are stopped by men. No, they’re not. They’re stopped by their own desire for status, greed and a belief in self-entitlement.”

“Frankly any girl who would rather be Jacqui Smith than Coleen Mcloughlin needs to be hunted down and locked up as a danger to herself and the rest of us.”

“If I were an employer, I would want to be sure that any prospective employee was going to be able to satisfy my expectations and devote the time that I’m paying them for to doing my bidding and at my convenience. So I wouldn’t employ a woman of childbearing age in this day-and-age either unless I was satisfied that her fertility wasn’t going to get in the way of my business.”

It is perfectly obvious that this is fight that is not even close to being won.

I will be thinking hard about the comments I’ve received today, from all sides of the argument, and will be writing about this again in the very near future.

Letter published in Guardian today responding to article: Public gives more money to donkey sanctuary than abuse charities 23/04/08

charity, Guardian, Letters

Dear Editor,

It is a national disgrace that the UK thinks donkeys are in greater need of charity than the 1.5 million female victims of domestic abuse each year, two of whom die at the hands of their abuser each week.

Charities and support groups to help women and children escape and recover from violent abusers should be at the heart of every civilized society. To exist these services strongly rely on the public’s charity.

The UK has a strong tradition of charity and the government and the individual have a responsibility to make sure this money is directed towards the most deserving cause. Sadly this is not the case; over its 39 years the donkey sanctuary has helped 12,000 donkeys. In 2006 alone they received £20m in donations. That’s over £1,500 per donkey. Contrast that to the 1.5 million women abused last year and the combined income of all women’s abuse charities of £17m and it’s clear people need to rethink their standing orders.

Mary Honeyball MEP
Labour, women’s rights committee


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.