Labour Party, Women's Rights

I have to admit to avidly ploughing my way through the “Sunday Times” Rich List every year.  It seemed even more necessary reading this year following TV advertising promoting the Rich List to show the effect of the credit crunch on our million and billionaires. Rather than the fate of Alan Sugar or Richard Branson, I was much more interested in the list of 100 wealthiest women.

It made depressing reading. It would  appear that only 16  (yes only 16) of these top 100 women made the money on their own merits, being entries that did not have an asterisk next to the name, which denotes family money, or made their pile through inheritance or divorce.

Tamara Mellon and her Jimmy Choos

Tamara Mellon and her Jimmy Choos

Five, perhaps predictably, made their money in fashion : Tamara Mellon, Linda Bennett, Christina Ong and  Alison Goldberg and Sara Phillips (ther last two have a joint entry); four fall into the publishing, media, music category: Cristina Stenbeck, Louise McBain, Judy Craymer and Charlotte Bonnier; three are writers: Joanne Rowling, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Jackie Collins, while the remaining four are made up of two women in finance, Amanda Staveley and Carol Galley and two in property, Charlotte Townshend and Julia Davey.

In 2009 as a woman it still seems you either have to have been born rich or marry a rich man to make it in the money stakes.  It’s also very apparent that women do better in writing and publishing than most other walks of life, and we should take note of the dearth of leading women in the financial and property sectors.  This is the gender pay gap brought to life in stark terms.  I hope next year will be better, though I doubt it.


Boris Johnson, London, violence, Women's Rights

True to Tory form Boris Johnson has reneged on his explicit promise to ‘act immediately’ to put more funding into rape crisis centres in the capital.

The Mayor’s manifesto said “We will act immediately to provide longterm funding for four Rape Crisis Centres in London…To secure the funding for this centre and three others would require ringfencing of around £744,000 annually.”

But yesterday betraying  Boris said funding for the three new centres would not be found in his budget.


As Boris might look if women's rights campaigners got a good shot

Artist's impression of how Boris might look if women's rights campaigners got a good shot at him

Rumours that funding for these centres might not be found have been circulating for some time. As a woman living in London I am deeply frustrated by Boris’ distinct lack of commitment to women in the captital. This, he has clearly demonstrated throughout his time in office – deleting the post of women’s advisor, cutting funding for Capital Women and producing an extremely shoddy report on Women in London 2009 in which he carelessly spells the name of Kids Company charity chief Camilla Batmanjella [sic], rather than its correct spelling of Batmanghelidjh. You would have thought even he could spell his supposed ‘hero’s names correctly?

Thankfully, the press are now finally waking up to Boris’ bad behaviour:

Boris ‘betrayal’ as he breaks his promise

The strong words from Assembly Members Joanne McCartney and Jenny Jones should be heeded by the Mayor. Reneging on election promises is never acceptable, but most especially when it is for desperately needed services such as Rape Crisis Centres.


Back in the good old days...Joanne McCartney and Ken Livingstone standing up for womens rights in the capital

Back in the good old days...Joanne McCartney and Ken Livingstone standing up for women's rights in the capital

At his previous people’s question time in March Boris promised to make his next one about women. Women of London need to attend this on mass – we need to hold this bumbling betraying mayor to account. Click here to register to attend.



Labour Party, Women's Rights, work

If the Report just passed by the European Parliament Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee goes through the plenary session of the European Parliament, we will have achieved a massive amount.  

As it stands it’s a truly groundbreaking piece of legislation:

  • Maternity leave to be 20 weeks

  • At least 6 weeks to be taken after the birth

  • Additional maternity leave in specific situations, eg stillbirth and mothers with disabilities

  • Two weeks fully paid mandatory paternity/co-maternity leave

  • Protection against dismissal for parents up to six months after the birth

  • Maternity allowance to be average monthly salary and not less than 85% of last monthly salary 

  • Breaks at the workplace for breastfeeding

In an unprecedentd move, the Czechs, who currently hold the revolving EU Presidency, voiced concerns over these provisions at the meeting of the Women’s Rights Committee.  In particular, they objected to having 20 weeks maternity leave and the two weeks paternity/co-maternity leave.  No doubt there will be much to-ing and fro-ing when the Directive goes to Council. 



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.


Body Image, Equal Treatment, ethic minority, Evening Standard, Freedom of Speech, Gender, Immigration, Women's Rights

The often taboo topic of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was raised sensitively in the media last month.

Thousands of girls mutilated in Britain

Reversing female circumcision

I am proud that the UK is leading the way in Europe by assisting victims of this savage crime quickly and confidently via advertising a targeted NHS service to reverse female circumcision.

In the European Parliament one of the changes in attitude that the Daphne fund (one of the EU’s prime sources of funding for awareness-raising, prevention and protection of victims of FGM) sought to achieve is an end to the grimly scandal mongering tones occasionally struck by media’s coverage of FGM. Such tones often only serve to make affected women feel guilty, hence wounding them psychologically and increasing their sense of being an outsider.

I think it is an outrage that, despite 25 years of legislation, not a single person has faced prosecution for the barbarous act of female circumcision, which claims the well-being of approximately 500 girls a year in Britain.

At the end of last month I supported a resolution, put forward in the European Parliament Women’s Committee, to make all EU Member States enforce their existing laws on FGM and introduce new tough measures to stamp out cultural tolerance of this practice.

Locally everyone can make a difference by helping to integrate immigrant families more successfully. Female genital mutilation is carried out in accordance with tradition in certain communities in the UK. These traditions come from other parts of the world and flourish in other European countries.

There therefore needs to be a massive global effort to break through these barriers and protect girls from this barbaric practice.

A very good video explaining the effects and attitudes towards FGM in Somaliland can be seen here:


Women MPs, Women's Rights

In the run-up to the Euro elections, One World Action is running a More Women More Power campaign, which aims to both challenge and highlight the relatively low number of women represented in public and political life.  Since women’s political representation is an issue dear to my heart, I am asking for as many signatures as possible for One World Action’s e-pledge which commits signers to advocating whenever possible for the full inclusion and representation of women in our own parliaments and international bodies. It will only take a couple of minutes to sign, but would make a big difference to the organisation!



If any of you have any further questions about the One World Campaign or what what they do at One World Action or are interested in taking the message of women’s political inclusion further, please get in touch with them.

Sign the More Women More Power Pledge!
Support women’s political participation worldwide.

One World Action is a company registered in England and Wales (registered number 2822893) with its registered office at Bradley’s Close, 74/77 White Lion Street, London N1 9PF, UK and is a registered charity (no. 1022298).Phone +44 (0)20 7833 4075 / Fax +44 (0)20 7833 4102


Labour Party, Women's Rights

singledout1This time I’m pleased to write about a book I actually enjoyed.  “Singled Out” by Virginia Nicholson published by Penguin last year (yes, I know it’s taken me a while to get round to reading it) is an enthralling account of the two million women left single after the carnage of the First World War.  They were true pioneers.  Previous generations of women had generally been secure in their expectations to get married and have a familiy.  That was, quite simply, the way it was.

The Great War changed all that.  At a stroke what came to be unkindly known as the “surplus women” found themselves single and, unless very wealthy, in need of gainful employment to keep body and soul together.  Hence the entry of women into the workplace on an unprecedented scale, especially the less well off middle class women who in earlier times would never have even thought about paid work.  The advent of the “business girls” was an extraordinary phenomenon, changing attitudes to women in the workplace.  Although we still need to improve the position of women at work, these were the ones who ploughed the first furrow, often facing not only patronising but downright appalling attitudes.

It almost goes without saying that women’s wages were low, in very many cases hardly enough to live on.  Many lived in less than pleasant hostels or other sub-standard accommodation, though on a brighter note there were those who shared houses and flats.  State pensions were not at that time paid to women and many of the professions, including teaching –  a haven for single women – operated a marriage bar whereby women had to leave work when they married.  Though all had to grin and bear it, many of these women led very fulfilling lives.  In 1935 Florence White set up the National Spinsters’ Pensions Association to fight for pensions for single women, while Mary Milne was a reforming matron at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. 

It was, indeed, a new way of life, a social change which has received very little attention.  Women were well and truly out of the home and into the workplace and the modern world had begun.  From the 20s and 30s onwards there would be more to life than marriage and the family.


Women's Rights

Today I want to draw readers attention to a hard hitting but I hope effective campaign by Women’s Aid to stop domestic violence.

Keira Knightley has starred in a short two minute movie that brings home the sad reality of the violence many women face in their own homes.

Watch the video HERE – I think it speaks for itself. Please do all you can to stop this terrible crime and to help those suffering today. All the necessary information is provided by Women’s Aid on the same page as the video.



Women's Rights

Last week I gathered together with other Labour MEPs to promote the White Ribbon Alliance’s “million mums” campaign. The campaign’s aim is to raise a million pounds to help prevent women from dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth. I know that Sarah Brown, Gordon Brown’s wife, has been particularly active in supporting this campaign. You can view the campaign website HERE.

Every single minute of every day a woman dies due to pregnancy and birth related complications. In Africa and Asia, pregnancy and childbirth are the number one causes of death amongst women of childbearing age, killing more than half a million women each year and leaving an estimated 2 million children motherless.

The vast majority of these deaths are preventable if basic healthcare was provided. Sign up now to help prevent the tragedy.


maternity leave, Women's Rights

Some of you may know I was Chief Executive of the National Childbirth Trust before becoming an MEP.  I didn’t do it for very long as I was an “interim” Chief Executive, holding the fort until they found someone who wanted to do the job on a permanent basis.  I was doing a form temping for senior charity managers, a trend I think is growing in the voluntary sector.   The NCT was, as you may imagine, nearly all women;  they were good people working on things they believed in.  I had a really good time there and would like to wish then all the very best.

img1Given this I was very interested to see that the  NCT has come out against the chemical BPA which is often found in baby milk bottles and could be dangerous.  The NCT is very good at raising these kinds of issues and they publicise important matters which do not appear elsewhere.  As far as I’m concerned babies should not be put in any risk, so if there is any kind of risk to them from this chemical it should be removed.   

I have recently received the following  statement from the glassmaker O-I:

–  The announcement that six manufacturers are to remove the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles made for sale in the USA illustrates
clearly that consumers seek a safe choice for their babies.

–  While researchers seek ways to make plastic bottles  O-I has responded to this concern by opening the way to renewed volume
production of glass baby bottles. Glass is a safe, natural material, which as proved its worth for over a century as the dependable companion for
baby’s first nutrition. Made from simple ingredients, such as sand, soda ash and limestone, glass is totally inert and impermeable. This means
there is no opportunity for anything to leach from the packaging into the product. In addition, of course, the natural composition of glass means
that it can be recycled over and over again with no loss in quality and purity.

–  O-I has launched a new website where mothers can find out more about glass packaging and information on where people can buy glass baby bottles

I would like to thankk O-I for sending me this information and I hope it may prove useful to any mothers of young babies who read my blog.