Business needs more women – at all levels

Labour Party, Women's Rights

The publication yesterday of a report looking at women’s contribution to the UK economy is a welcome addition to the large body of evidence that business needs more women – at all levels. 

The Women Business Council’s report to Government found that if women participated in the workforce to the same degree as men, the UK could increase its GDP by 0.5% per year, with potential gains of 10% by 2030.  Some 2.4m women not in work currently want to work.

Key recommendations include broadening girls’ aspirations and career choices by getting schools to partner with careers advisers, business and parents, and getting business to embrace the benefits of flexible working.

What is also needed are good role models, starting from the top in company boards to encourage women lower down the ‘pipeline’.  But the UK’s high profile attempts to increase the number of women on boards aren’t working.  As the latest Cranfield School of Management research shows, not only have the numbers of women on boards not increased but the rate has slowed.  Cranfield believes it’s because firms have “become complacent about the issue”.  So the European Commission’s proposal to increase female board representation to 40% is not only welcome but necessary.

Fair representation for women on company boards

2012, Women's Rights

Here is an article I wrote for Shifting Grounds blog on 27 November 2012.

As a member of the European Parliament’s Gender Equality and Women’s Rights Committee I have worked for a number of years to increase women’s participation in decision-making. 

Gender equality is a core value of the EU, from the bloc’s founding treaty in 1957 which included the principle of equal pay for equal work, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights which recognises the right to equality between women and men in all areas, and the need for positive action.

The latest proposal to promote women’s participation in economic decision-making is a proposal from the European Commission about women on boards. It comes after years of the Commission encouraging Member States to take action, with mixed results. Currently oonly 14% of company board positions in the largest listed companies in the EU are held by women, compared to 16% in the UK.  The Commission’s proposal, which will apply only to companies with a turnover in excess of 50 million euros a year, is that the proportion should be at least 40% by 2020. Member States that take measures “of equivalent efficacy” for more balanced boards would be exempt from the new rules. Sanction for non-compliance will be the responsibility of member states.

Having more women on boards is a basic question of fairness.  Women make up half the population and 60% of graduates.  More than 70% of purchasing decisions are made by women.  Yet too often non-executive directors are recruited through an “old boys’ network” from among business and personal contacts of current board members.  The European Commission proposal sets out to have these male-dominated opaque recruitment practices replaced by transparent selection procedures and objective qualification criteria.  This is what is required to smash the glass ceiling.  Qualification and merit will still be the key criteria for a job on the board – and there are over 7,000 highly qualified women with professional experience ready to take over a board position[1]

The aim of the EU legislation is to speed up the varying rate of progress in Member States.  Across the EU women’s representation on corporate boards has increased by just 0.6% per year since 2003. However in France which introduced binding quota legislation in 2010 the number of women on boards has doubled to 22.3%.   In the UK self-regulatory measures have put us on course to reach 27% by 2015, and 37% by 2020[2], more than likely putting the UK in the category excluded by Brussels from the new provisions.

[1] European Business Schools Women on Board Initiative
[2] Cranfield School of Management Female FTSE Report

Abortion Adverts on TV

Women's Rights

Daily Mail Abortion Headline

There seems to be only very short periods of time when abortion does not feature in the news in some way or other.  The “Daily Mail”, always hot on abortion stories, has come up with this one today reporting that the Committee on Advertising Practice and the Advertising Standards Authority has delayed a decision on whether to allow advertisements for abortion on television.  You can see the article here.

 I believe very strongly that information on abortion services should be publicised as widely as possible, including, of course, on TV, radio, other broadcast media, as well as in print.  Women should never be denied the opportunity of making the most informed decision they can about their pregnancy.  Nor do I believe that adverts about abortion services will increase the number of under age pregnancies or sexual promiscuity.  We already live in a world where sex is on display in a number of ways in very many places – the internet, computer games,  music and, of course, television itself.  Since advertising pregnancy testing is legal, it seems only right and proper that details of contraception and abortion should be equally available.   Given that Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe, I fail to see the logic in restricting access to ways in which this could be reduced. 

Contrary to popular myth, I do not believe that any woman undertakes a termination lightly.  For most women it is a difficult and painful decision entered into because no other option is available.  It is also a procedure which is safer the earlier it is carried out – hence the need for speedy and accurate information of the services provided.  I hope the two regulatory bodies involved will take the courageous decision to advertise abortion on television and not give in to pressure from a few very organised groups who seek to return us to the dark ages.


bloging, Labour Party, Poll, Women's Rights

In a shameless bid for recognition of my blog, please do vote for the Honeyball Buzz in the Total Politics Poll if you have enjoyed reading it this year.


The Total Politics Blog Poll 2009

The Total Politics Blog Poll 2009

To do this you need to rank a list of ten blogs and send it off in an email to You must vote for 10 blogs.

Other than the Honeyball Buzz, if you’re stuck for inspiration I’ll be listing over the weekend my top ten votes and why I like them. Of course you can’t vote for yourself!

I would very much like to see  more women on the Best Blog  list to encourage other women to get involved in the online political debate.

One small health warning – the poll is being hosted by Iain Dale so it does tend to have a right wing bias.


bloging, broadcasting, Trafficking, Women's Rights

As any regular readers of my blog will know, I am a dedicated campaigner against the trafficking of people. So it is music to my ears to hear that pop channel MTV have created a campaign called MTV EXIT, which stands for End Exploitation and Trafficking.

As I blogged about last week,  alternative rock band The Killers have partnered with UNICEF and USAID to produce a music video that dramatically highlights the dangers and impact of trafficking for sexual exploitation, particularly for young women.

It is now released and you can see it here:

MTV Exit say that this video is the second in a series of music video collaborations to highlight the dangers and impact of human trafficking. The campaign was launched last year with an award-winning film produced by MTV EXIT for the Radiohead single All I Need.

The Killers commented, “We are deeply shocked and appalled that women and children are forced into such exploitative situations. We hope that through MTV’s efforts and this powerful video that millions of people across the world learn about this tragic form of modern-day slavery”.

The Goodnight, Travel Well video will be released globally across all of MTV’s platforms in 168 countries. It has the potential to reach more than 500 million households worldwide.

I wholly support any efforts to make more people aware of this horrendous crime perpetrated on the weak and vulnerable in our society and exploiting them solely for the commercial gain and vicarious pleasures of others. Trafficking is truly crime that debases all of civilized society.


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


Labour Party, Women's Rights

While I would not normally comment on speculation in the “Sun” newspaper

I feel it’s necessary today as the report may have some bearing on the European elections.

According to Political Editor George Pascoe-Watson both Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears are in line to be demoted from the Cabinet after the June 4 poll, my election in other words. Gordon Brown is, according to the “Sun”, going to drop these two women to improve his general election chances.

Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears

Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears

The Prime Minister’s choice of ministerial colleagues is obviously a matter for him. What I am concerned about is the treatment both Jacqui and Hazel have received leading up to Gordon Brown’s potential reshuffle – a reshuffle which will take place after what, as the “Sun” puts it, will be Labour’s ‘drubbing in the polls’. Thank you George. I really appreciate being told I’m facing melt down.

Both Jacqui and Hazel have, I believe, been hounded far more than any man in their position would have been. Jacqui has been made a scapegoat for the vagaries of the present system of MPs’ expenses, allowing commentators to then attack her performance as Home Secretary. Hazel, on the other hand, has faced a continual barrage of low level sniping.

Neither woman has deserved this treatment. They have both performed as well as most of their Cabinet colleagues. I suspect Jacqui Smith was singled out for particular scrutiny regarding her allowances and private life in a way most other members of the Cabinet were not. When an individual is targeted, things often come out. I defy anyone in politics to be so pure that they automatically survive the driven snow test.

The reason Jacqui has been picked out and Hazel ridiculed? They are both women. I remember when I worked for “Gingerbread”, the lone parent charity in the early 1990s, two high profile women suffered the same treatment. Barbara Mills, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, and the former Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency, Ros Hepplewhite, were pursued at every possible opportunity. Eventually they both left their posts.

Dame Barbara Mills

Dame Barbara Mills

I would have hoped that 15 years on things may have changed. Sadly not. Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears are the unfortunate successors of Barbara and Ros.


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.


Sexual Equality, Tory Boy, Women MPs, Women's Rights, workers' rights

How David Cameron’s conference stage has become a women-free zone

Cameron's sea of black suited males

Cameron's sea of black suited males

A frightening glimpse of what could be….The Times front page story today shamed the Tories for their serious downgrading of women within the party. Cameron has not included a single woman in his testosterone fuelled team to fight Labour over the economy.

This comes as no suprise to me – I have long criticised the Tories for their frightening lack of female representation in the European Parliament: just one woman MEP out of a team of 27. None of which think that attending  the European parliamentary committee for gender and sexual equality is worth their effort. Despite the serious reports on trafficking, violence against women and legislation on maternity leave that come out of there. This shows the reality of where Tory priorities lie.

David Cameron lying back in 2006 that he was going to do more to promote women in the party...

David Cameron lying back in 2006 that he was going to do more to promote women in the party...three years on and just four members of his shadow cabinet are women

Now the Times are picking up on this frightening phenomenon, their leader this morning says that “…the lack of female Tory MPs puts a question mark against the party”. Too right it does. The reality is there for all to see – behind the shiny facade of Cameron is a party that completly unrepresentative of the UK in terms of class, ethnicity and gender. Nothing has changed and despite PR photo shoots and false promises to the contrary nothing ever will.