Further EU Action against Trafficking

Labour Party

Anna Hedh MEP: 'More than 80% of the victims are women'.

 A new EU Directive on human trafficking will oblige the UK to prosecute British nationals who have committed trafficking crimes in another country.  The legislation allows for a higher standard of assistance to victims, including free legal counselling and legal representation and will also bring in special protective measures for child victims of trafficking. The Directive highlights the need to avoid confusion and duplication which can stifle efforts to prosecute traffickers and for effective coordination between relevant public authorities.

 Having already successfully campaigned earlier this year to save the Metropolitan Police’s specialist human trafficking unit, I am closely following  the progress on this Directive .

 The recently ratified Treaty of Lisbon has strengthened EU action in the field of judicial and police cooperation in criminal matters, including trafficking, and the European Parliament, as a co-legislator, has a vital and full role to play.

 Everyone agrees that trafficking is a violation of human rights; yet it is a phenomenon which persists on a wide scale across Europe. It occurs for a variety of purposes related to exploitation, including sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, exploitative labour, benefit fraud, organ transplantation and criminal activity. Despite the seriousness of the crimes involved, convictions against traffickers are rare. A recent study by the Fundamental Rights Agency found that in five EU Member States in the period from 2000 to 2007, there was not a single final conviction issued.

 I  strongly support introducing a European-wide legal instrument which will ensure successful prosecution of perpetrators, better protection of and assistance to victims, and prevention of trafficking. My only criticism is that the gender perspective in this Directive is not as strong as it could be. According to UN figures, women are victims in more than 80% of trafficking cases. I intend to work closely with Anna Hedh, the Swedish MEP who is steering the legislation through the European Parliament, and all my colleagues in the Women’s Rights Committee to ensure that the European Parliament produces as robust an instrument as possible, which will have a real and lasting impact on the lives of  victims.

The Dark Side of Mother’s Day

Labour Party

Mother’s Day fell this year in Belgium on 9th May.  Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld, who is the President of the European Parliament working group on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and development (EPWG), used Mother’s Day as a way of introducing a roundtable discussion entitled ‘The Dark Side of Mothers’ Day: Maternal Mortality’.

Unsafe motherhood, and its disastrous consequences, are wholly preventable. As Nicolas Beger, Director Amnesty EU Office, explained, the situation would be much improved if national governments, development agencies and international actors put safe motherhood and reproductive health initiatives at the top of their agendas. 

Burkina Faso-based representative, Madame Traore, who works for Family Care International, one of several non-governmental organisations seeking to make pregnancy and childbirth safer around the world explained that while improving maternal health is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by the 192 United Nations Member States in 2000, it remains the most off-track of them all. This, in her opinion, says a great deal about the way that the world views women. The issue of maternal mortality is too often deemed as ‘women’s business’, and not something about which everyone, both men and women alike, should be concerned.

The situation as it stands is extremely bleak. In sub-Saharan Africa the chances of dying during pregnancy or childbirth can be as high as one in eight, compared to one in 8000 in Western Europe, and pregnancy and childbirth remain the primary cause of death among women of childbearing age. Women in developing countries make up almost all of the 500,000 mothers who die each year from either being pregnant or giving birth, with many more deaths falling off the medical map given the difficulty of measuring them. Unsafe motherhood is caused by a number of factors, including poor hygiene and care during labour, poor health and nutrition prior to pregnancy, and inaccessible or unaffordable healthcare. Social, economic and cultural issues, including poverty, female genital mutilation and early marriage amplify the risks.

Protecting Children Online

Labour Party

In March, a proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography was published by the European Commission. It is now being taken up by the Committee on Civil Liberties in the European Parliament, and the two committees that I sit on, the Committee on Culture and Education and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, will be writing an opinion on it. This document, it is hoped, will lay the foundations for a new forward-thinking approach to tackling child safety online, incorporating provisions on the blocking of internet sites that display abusive images of children and on the need to punish those who ‘groom’ children online. It is also a proposal which, in some respects, has caused a great deal of controversy amongst certain human rights groups.

To debate this upcoming piece of legislation, a conference was organised last Thursday in Scotland House, Brussels, bringing together experts from NGOs, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. John Carr, a Board Member of the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online (eNASCO), was first to take the floor. He presented eNASCO’s agenda for creating a safer and fairer online environment for children, suitably dubbed ‘The Right Click’. Mr. Carr stressed his support for the EU’s proposals on combating child abuse on the internet, and spoke out against those who claim that blocking will be ineffective, that it will undermine our human rights, and that it will lead us towards enhanced political censorship.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, agreed with him. Despite having only taken up her post in the Commission three months ago, she has already made extensive progress in her department, notably in the field of the protection of children online. During her presentation, and later in a panel discussion between John Carr, Birgit Sippel MEP and Roberta Angelilli MEP, she emphasised that the crimes committed by adults online are of a truly horrible nature and that there can be no justification for suggesting that blocking unwanted websites now will lead to political censorship later. What this new piece of legislation will bring, she said, is better protection for potential victims, increased penalties for perpetrators, and a broader policy framework. It builds upon the advice that children’s rights groups and activists have been giving to political leaders for years.

As a regular blogger and member of the Committee on Culture and Education, I believe that the internet offers a fantastic opportunity for learning, creativity and social interaction, and this is an opportunity from which children, too, should be able to profit. As adults, it is out duty to support children and young people and encourage their new discoveries. We should be treating them first as active participants in the new digital age before we treat them as victims, and help them to develop a sense of digital censorship and responsibility.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to ignore the fact that with all the advantages of the new digital age, the internet has brought with it some negative consequences. Many of these concern children, who are most vulnerable of all to abuse. The recent publication of the Proposal for a Directive combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children is a huge step forward for the European Union. This is a document that in my view must have the maximum possible support across the whole of the EU, and I for one am wholly in favour of it.

More Women in Top Jobs Key to Economic Growth

Labour Party

Only one in 10 board members of Europe’s biggest listed companies is a woman and all central bank governors in the EU are male. This is quite scandalous, not least because, according to a new report from the European Commission the economy would benefit by having full representation of both men and women in top positions.

The report, “More women in senior positions – key to economic stability and growth,” shows that women continue to be severely under-represented in economic decision-making.  In the corporate world, men account for nearly 89% of the board members in Europe’s biggest listed companies. The disparity is widest at the very top where only 3% of such companies have a woman in charge.  Norway stands out as the only country with anything approaching gender balance: 42% women and 58% men on the boards of the largest listed companies – a result of a legal quota.

At the same time several studies have now shown that gender diversity pays off and that there is a positive correlation between the share of women in senior positions and company performance.  For example, a study conducted in Finland found that firms with a gender-balanced board are on average 10% more profitable than those with an all-male board.

You will see from my Women in Power directory on this website that the European Parliament is now at its most gender-balanced level since its inception in 1979, with 35% women and 65% men.  The proportion of women members of national parliaments (single/lower house) across Europe as a whole has risen from 16% in 1997 to 24% in 2009. However, it is still well below the so-called critical mass of 30% deemed necessary for women to exert meaningful influence in politics.

In national governments, the situation is improving steadily with the share of women senior ministers in EU governments at 27%.  The European Commission counts nine women Commissioners (33%) and eighteen men (67%), the best gender balance yet – up from 5.6% in 1994/1995.  Needless to say, the UK is low down this scale with only four women full Cabinet members (those invited to attend but without permanent places have not been counted) out of a total of twenty-three.

To show how very out of touch and old fashioned we are in Britain, over half (55%) of the Europeans polled in a recent Eurobarometer survey thought that the female/male ratio in parliaments should be addressed “urgently”.

With the worldwide economic crisis, women’s role in businesses is increasingly important. For companies to survive and manage during the crisis, they need to have the best governance and attract the best talent possible. According to a study conducted under the Swedish EU Presidency in 2009, eliminating gender gaps in employment in the EU Member States could lead to a potential 15% – 45% increase in Gross Domestic Product.

The European Commission’s Report will be presented at a European conference on “Equality between women and men as a basis for growth and employment” and an informal meeting of gender equality ministers in Valencia on 25-26 March 2010.

International Women’s Day Event on Violence against Women

Labour Party

This year International Women’s Day was celebrated a week later than usual in the European Parliament, with most of the major events taking place on 16th March rather than the 8th. On Tuesday morning, members of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee organised a hearing on the theme of violence against women, with national parliaments, press and NGOs invited to discuss the issue. Violence against women is a subject that I have blogged about on several occasions, and it is an issue that the European Parliament has tried to address at every available opportunity, particularly since the take over of the Spanish Presidency.

The event was opened by the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, giving a supportive speech for women subject to violence. It was followed by an address by Bibiana Aído Almagro, who is the Spanish Minister for Gender Equality. She underlined that no society can hope to achieve full gender equality if violence against women cannot be eradicated, and stressed the need for EU Member States to develop national strategies to deal with violence, including trafficking. A Bulgarian journalist who attended the event described a horrifying practice in his country whereby acid is thrown on women, leading to blindness and disfigurement. He highlighted that in Bulgaria violence against women is far more accepted than other parts of Western Europe, with large numbers of women affected. It is true that in many parts of the world certain forms of violence are treated not as crimes but as private family business in which the state should not interfere. The distinction between the public and the private is one of the main reasons why violence against women is not always investigated and prosecuted.

One proposal put forward during the discussion was that of setting up a Europe-wide hotline for victims of abuse. In Spain, a hotline has already been established, providing advice and support for women who have been subject to violence. To implement a similar system at the EU level would offer a valuable support network to women who need it, and could, I believe, have a hugely positive impact. The problem is deciding what form this hotline would take. We already have in operation a Europe-wide hotline for missing children; yet many Member States simply haven’t made full use of this service. It is not enough to put in place a hotline with a number that victims can ring. It is also necessary to set up an infrastructure, with a link to police, NGOs and other bodies. This requires money, and a strong willingness on the part of national governments to implement it.

We know that violence against women, in whatever form, violates human rights and presents a significant obstacle to the achievement of equality between men and women. It imposes huge costs on society, and creates a major public health problem. For this reason, it is indispensable that the EU continues to address this issue and encourages Member States to do the same. As I explained in previous blog posts, in 2000 the EU-funded Daphne programme was set up to prevent and fight all forms of violence against women, adolescents and children, taking place in either the public or the private sphere. At present, an ad hoc committee is also drafting a European convention which will establish common standards aimed at preventing and fighting the problem of violence against women.

There are just five years to go before we reach the deadline for implementing the Millennium Development Goals and there is still an awful lot more needing to be done. However I will strive to ensure, along with my fellow members of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, that violence against women remains at the top of the EU agenda. I hope that when we reach International Women’s Day in 2011, we will have seen more substantial improvements in the fight against this grave crime and a greater level of awareness about its damaging effects.

Flawed Roadmap for Gender Equality criticised by European Women’s Lobby

Labour Party

The success of the Roadmap for gender equality has been marred by a lack of comparable data across the EU, a lack of targeted financial resources, and difficulties of coordination at national and EU level with gender mainstreaming.

This is the hard-hitting conclusion of  a report entitled, ‘From Beijing to Brussels: An Unfinished Journey’, which evaluates the progress made at European level towards the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). It is the third Alternative Report that the European Women’s Lobbly, the Brussels umbrella group for women’s organisations, has produced, following their earlier Beijing +5 and Beijing +10 reports.

Adopted at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the Bejing Platform for Action is an agenda aimed at empowering women by speeding up national governments’ implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. Twelve areas were identified in Beijing in 1995 as being most critical, including women’s economic empowerment, women’s human rights, the girl child, and violence against women.

Sadly, some areas, such as women and the media, education and the training of young women, and women and health, have been all-but neglected at EU level, even though the achievement of full equality between women and men is one of the main goals of the EU and all 27 Member States are signatories to Beijing Platform for Action. However, despite the problems with the equlaity Roadmap,  the EU has taken a number of important steps in recent years to comply with the BPfA. One of the most significant of these, in addition to the Roadmap, was the founding of a European Institute for Gender Equality which I worked on as a member of the Women’s Committee. I was therefore pleased to see that the Institute began operating at the end of last year.

The EWL report particularly draws on the need to apply more rigorously, at both EU and national level, a policy of gender mainstreaming to all the areas of concern that are not uniquely ‘women’s’ issues. Note that in the field of education, where the perpetuation of gender stereotypes is leading to a lack of uptake in certain subjects by both girls and boys, this is having a hugely limiting impact upon their subsequent life choices. It is crucial we acknowledge and address demographic trends such as these in order to promote lifelong learning and ensure that potential future skills shortages are avoided.

This EWL report is extremely comprehensive, offering a critical assessment of the EU’s record in implementing the commitments that it made in Beijing 15 years ago. It highlights that positives changes have been made, particularly in the areas of violence against women and women in decision-making, but notes that there is still a long way to go. Only when all 12 areas of concerned identified in Beijing have been fully addressed can the EU be satisfied that it has had a significant impact on the progression towards a truly equal society.

Majority of Conservative MEPs oppose greater Gender Equality

Labour Party

Every year, at the request of the European Council, a report is produced on the progress towards the achievement of gender equality in the EU. It also presents challenges and priorities for the future. This year my fellow Socialist and Democrat (S&D) member in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Marc Tarabella, took the lead on this report in the European Parliament. He went on to produce a very comprehensive and coherent document which was voted on during the plenary session in Strasbourg last week.

In his report, Tarabella tried to highlight  in particular the different ways that the economic and financial crisis has affected women’s circumstances. Women were not initially hardest hit by the crisis, because the sectors that they dominate are mainly the public services, for instance health and education. However, in recent months the public sector has suffered terribly as a result of the crisis, and increasing numbers of women who typically benefit from the services in question, for instance childcare, are finding themselves in a position where they must assume these tasks themselves. Tarabella has acknowledged that the crisis, while having a damaging impact on both women and men, offers an important potential for the EU and national governments to rethink and restructure their approach to policy making.

This report is highly significant for several reasons. It addresses the challenges and the policy responses for removing barriers to women’s and men’s full participation in the labour market. It also addresses the importance of correcting the gender imbalance in decision-making. Amongst other things, it calls on the European Commission to establish a European Day for combating violence against women and children; it calls for a European charter of women’s rights to be established as soon as possible; it asks the Commission and Member States to run awareness-raising campaigns in schools and workplaces to combat persistent sexist stereotyping; and it highlights that women must have control over their sexual and reproductive rights.

While I am pleased to say that the report was successfully adopted during the vote in plenary on 10 February, it is unfortunate that the Tory-led ECR group opted to vote against the report. Only eight members of the ECR group voted in favour of the report, with 24 voting against and 14 abstaining. By contrast, nearly 96% of the S&D group members voted for the report. There can be no doubt that full gender equality will be much more difficult to achieve with groups like the ECR stifling the hard work of those in the Parliament committed to its achievement.

Women in Power: Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA)

Labour Party

To follow up my launch of the female members of the Socialists and Democrats and European United Left – Nordic Green Left groups in the European Parliament as part of my Women in Power project, I am presenting today a set of profiles from the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA). This group, which compromises a large number of French and German MEPs from Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens) and Europe Écologie respectively, also includes three women from the United Kingdom.

At 30, Franziska Katharina Brantner from Germany is one of the youngest female members of the European Parliament. Despite her age, however, she already has an extremely impressive CV. Before becoming an MEP in 2009, she was a consultant for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), where she helped to design a European action plan for UN Security Resolution 1325. After this she worked for the Bertelsmann Foundation consulting on EU foreign policy issues. Franziska was for a short time a research fellow at my own university, Oxford, in the European Studies Centre at St. Antony’s College, having graduated in 2004 with a double diploma in Political Science.

Another young and highly impressive woman MEP is Marije Cornelissen from the Netherlands, who sits alongside me in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. She has been a forceful anti-discrimination campaigner, and was even Director of North Holland’s Anti-Discrimination Bureau. Like me, she has a strong background in women’s rights, having been Chair of the Feminist Network of the GreenLeft between 1996 and 2001 and a parliamentary assistant in Brussels from 1996 to 1997 where she followed the Committee on Women’s Rights.

Swedish MEP Isabella Lövin has rather a different background, having spent most of her career in the media industry. She received a diploma in Radio Production from the Dramatic Arts Institute in Sweden in 1994, and went on to work as a radio producer and a reporter of debate programmes on the Swedish channel P1. She has also edited several high-profile magazines. Her strong writing and researching skills have brought her numerous successes, including 14 different prizes in Sweden for her book Tyst hav (Silent Seas) on the European Common Fisheries Policy.

As ever, you will see in these profiles a group MEPs embodying a wide range of talents, which have been manifest both in and outside the world of politics. I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading their profiles, and that they provide a useful reference point for learning more about women in the European Parliament.

Women in Power 2010

Labour Party

After many months of hard work this parliamentary term, I am pleased to announce the launch of a very special project of mine, called Women in Power. It follows an earlier publication of the same name, which I launched as a hard-copy back in 2008. This project is intended to do two things. Firstly, by presenting personal profiles of all the current female members of the European Parliament, it draws attention to their individual achievements. Secondly, it illustrates just how far collectively women have come. I want to place on record my thanks to all of my staff who have assisted in this work, especially Nicola Whitehead my Brussels Assistant who takes the lead on women’s issues and who has cajoled and persuaded information from many of my busy colleagues. A big thank you Nicola!

Women, unfortunately, still make up only around one third of the total number of MEPs in the Parliament, and a great deal more must be done to improve this. Nevertheless, this directory celebrates the fact that large numbers of women have managed to succeed in politics, despite the hurdles they face. As demonstrated, some actually go into this field because they wish to respond to the concerns of other women and help enrich their day-to-day lives.

On a regular basis (hopefully weekly!) I will add to my website a new set of profiles from one of the different groups in the Parliament (there are eight in total, including the non-attached members). I start, today, with the group to which my fellow Labour Party MEPs and I belong: the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). Since the European elections in June 2009, there have been fewer S&D members in Brussels than there were during the previous parliamentary term. Yet, despite this reduction, they remain an incredibly strong and diverse group of women who boast a range of different backgrounds, experiences and skills, and who come from a host of different countries.

Not all were involved in politics early on in their careers. Irish MEP Nessa Childers, for instance, first became a mental health professional after graduating from university in 1986, and ran her own psychotherapy practice. She went on to manage a Masters programme at Trinity College Dublin from 2001 to 2006, before being elected to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and later the European Parliament.

Others, such as Chrysoula Paliadeli, worked in academia before being elected into political office. Paliadeli, who gained a degree in Archaeology in 1971 and a PhD in Archaeology in 1984, became a university assistant at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She later taught ancient Greek painting, architecture, sculpture and epigraphy, whilst working hard to improve the quality of the educational system in her country.

In contrast to this, there are several women in the S&D group who held high positions of power in their national governments before moving into European politics. Prior to becoming an MEP in 2009, for example, Liisa Jaakonsaari was a member of the Parliament of Finland, where her roles included chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament and acting as Minister of Labour in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen’s First Government.

As you will see, there is no typical or identifiable route for women to becoming a member of the European Parliament; MEPs come from many walks of life. I am proud to be a member of a group, and an institution, that comprises of so many gifted and talented women who hold such a wide variety of skills. I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading their profiles and that you will take an interest in the coming weeks in the profiles of MEPs from other groups in the European Parliament.

A quick guide to Women in Power

Women in Power has been designed so as to make searching through and finding MEPs’ profiles very easy. You will see that the MEPs are divided up in three ways: according to their political group, committee membership and country. Each category, which has its own page, incorporates a full list of MEPs who falls into that particular category.

On the individual profiles themselves, there are links back to the main parent pages. For instance, by going onto my page and clicking ‘Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality’, you will automatically be transferred to this committee page and can see all the other MEPs who are members of this committee. If you simply wish to go back to the previous page, you can click on the link in bold at the bottom.

As ever, I would very much welcome feedback and suggestions as to how Women in Power can be developed and improved. If you exprience any problems with the site, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.