Patrick Stewart on domestic violence shows up right-wing MEPs

Labour Party

The actor Patrick Stewart wrote movingly in the Guardian yesterday about how domestic violence blighted his childhood. He condemned the decline in statutory funding going to Refuge, the leading charity in this field.

Sadly some MEPs on the right of the political spectrum take a view diametrically opposed to Patrick Stewart’s. When the European Parliament voted through a Report commending the success of the anti-domestic violence Daphne Programme last week,  Tory MEPs Daniel Hannan, Roger Helmer and Syed Kamall abstained  while UKIP Members Farage, Dartmouth, Agnew, Bufton, Clark, Nuttall and London MEP Gerard Batten voted against.

Voting against the excellent Daphne Programme is really quite reprehensible. Such behaviour just goes to show the right’s views about violence against women are truly prehistoric. Despite what Tory women like Louise Mensch try to tell themselves, David Cameron has still not managed to challenge the “dinosaur attitudes” obviously still rife within his Party.

The Daphne Programme, run by the European Union, is the only EU-wide programme combating  violence and abuse against women and children.  Established in 1977, it has effectively contributed to hundreds of projects that work towards the elimination of domestic violence, despite continual concern about its funding from the European Commission. I have blogged about this excellent programme on several occasions.  Sadly, it now looks as if Daphne is under further attack, as shown in the  European Commission’s plans for Daphne (or lack of them).

Unfortunately a similar thing to that described by Patrick Stewart is happening with EU work on domestic violence and abuse.  The priority given to the elimination of violence against women by the European Commission has moved down their agenda. It has not even been mentioned as an objective in its proposals for the new ‘Rights and Citizenship’ programme of 2014-2020.  Even though there are some legislative measures in place, including the EU anti-trafficking coordinator and the recent Victims Protection Order, these measures are few and far between. To seriously bring an end to violence against women, an issue which does not discriminate between countries and is, in the case of trafficking for example, a cross border issue we must work with our European neighbours. To think that this is an issue on which we can go it alone is a display of ignorance.

Women are safer with Labour

Labour Party

It was good to see that the commission on women’s safety chaired by former Solicitor General Vera Baird QC with assistance from Labour MPs Kate Green and Stella Creasey has just had its first meeting.

 Now it is established, Labour’s commission will scope out the key current issues on women’s safety with the leading national women’s sector groups. In the New Year, it will go nationwide to gather evidence and find out whether current concerns are justified and whether the reality is better or worse.

 The commission will be looking for fresh ideas and investigating what legislative measures might safeguard women in the future.

 Meanwhile, intense work has taken place in the European Parliament to safeguard the Daphne programme, the only EU programme combating violence against women, children and young people.

 Set up in 1997, the Daphne initiative supports small scale projects that bring NGOs together from at least two EU member states to co-operate on data collection, research, analysis, sharing good practice, training and raising awareness of domestic violence, amongst other things. Daphne funds NGOs public authorities and institutions such as universities. In recent years the annual Daphne budget has been around EUR 20 million.    

 It has generally been recognised that Daphne has been successful and has provided much needed funding and encouragement or projects tackling domestic violence.

 However, there have been attempts to reduce the reach of the Daphne programme. Many MEPs, including myself, were concerned a few months ago when the European Commission put forward plans to wrap Daphne up with other subjects under a catch-all heading of justice, rights and citizenship.

 The European Parliament Women’s Committee took up the baton on behalf of the Daphne programme, insisting that domestic violence be kept as a specific issue under the new proposals.

 Today the Women’s Committee passed a report defending Daphne, which included the following:

 “……..calls on the Commission, when promoting the programme Rights and Citizenship, to make it possible to still identify the projects concerning the objectives of the Daphne programme, which is wisely known, so as to keep the program me’s profile as high as possible.”

 The battle may not yet be won, but I am feeling more confident that the excellent work done by the Daphne programme will continue and that those women and children so desperately needing help will still be able to access EU funds.

The European Commission refuses a Directive on Combatting Violence against Women

Labour Party

This blog can today reveal that the European Commission will not now be introducing the long-awaited Directive to Combat Violence against Women. The European Parliament Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (Femm) Committee has championed such a Directive for several years, and the Parliament itself adopted a resolution calling for the directive almost unanimously in April this year.

During a seminar on EU action to end violence against women, hosted by FEMM chair Mikael Gustafsson, a representative from the Commission explicitly put forward that there were no plans for a directive in the near future. 

The representative suggested that this was because the EU lacked the competence to put forward such a Directive and said there was no real legal basis for it.  You may be interested to know that the excuse of no legal basis is sometimes used when there is a lack of motivation to act on a subject. 

Violence against women is an attack on basic human rights. As far as I am aware the Charter of Fundamental rights, which came into force in 2009, protects the human rights of all European citizens regardless of gender.   

I struggle to understand, that when 98% of European Citizens have said they are aware of the phenomenon of domestic violence why there remains a lack of political will at the top to bring it to an end! 

The spokesperson of Women against Violence Europe (WAVE) drew parallels with the old argument of the “private” nature of domestic violence. This was a time before people fully grasped the insidious effect that this crime has throughout society and didn’t see the need for it to be dealt with in the public sphere. 

This blow comes on top of the changes to the excellent Daphne programme, a key instrument in bringing an end to violence against women, which I recently spoke about

The Commission seems to believe that stopping violence against women is too insignificant to deserve a programme of its own. 

If Commissioner Reding’s proposals for the future financial programme are agreed in the Parliament and the Council, the six core elements that make up Daphne will be merged. Some actions will fall under the umbrella of Rights and Citizenship whilst the others will come under the heading of Justice. 

One NGO has suggested that these changes could lead to budget cuts equivalent to 16% of the already under funded programme in EU action on combatting violence against women. 

It appears to me that whilst the citizens of Europe are becoming increasingly enlightened about the damage caused by violence against women, those at the top are looking away at the very moment when they need to be taking action.

The Daphne Programme is at risk

Labour Party

I  was disappointed and incredibly concerned to hear that the Daphne Programme is once again at risk of being withdrawn. Daphne is one of the key tools in preventing violence against women at the European Level.

I have talked about the great work of the Daphne programme several times before. This fantastic programme is aimed at the protection of children, young people and women against all forms of violence and at attaining a high level of health protection, well being and social cohesion for vulnerable groups.

Just a few of the issues the programme deals with are the prevention of domestic abuse, trafficking, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation and sexual assault.

The programme has been running since 2000 and is now in its third cycle. In 2011 the budget allocated to the project was just over 18 million Euros or around 0.001% of the overall EU budget for the year.

Violence against women is believed to have affected up to 45% of the EU female population. It is estimated to cost EU Member States as much as 16 billion Euros every year – or one million Euros every half hour.

The difference to people’s lives that has been made by investing the equivalent of just over 1% of the total cost felt by member states into the Daphne programme is massive. I simply can’t understand why the commission isn’t instead increasing its support for this programme.

In the UK alone, funding has been provided to over 120 organisations since the programme began. These range from the Met Police and several London Boroughs to charities such as Banardos, Refuge and Childline.

Some of the vital projects that have received funding from the Daphne are Eaves Housing for Women who assessed the health needs of victims of trafficking. Funding has also been used to advance cooperation between Member States on issues such as missing children.

A cut in EU support would be another blow to charities working in the prevention of violence and abuse. So many, like the Poppy Project which I have long been a supporter of, are already suffering following he recent UK government cuts to their funding.

Coalition for a European Year to End Violence against Women

The issue of violence against women is not going away in the EU. In light of the danger faced by the Daphne programme it even appears support for bringing it to an end is getting weaker.

This is why I support the European Women’s Lobby’s Coalition for a European Year to End Violence against Women. A dedicated European Year would refocus attention on a problem that continues to persist across Europe yet is increasingly ignored. It would definately mark a step towards a more proactive approach to ending violence against women.

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.

FGM – A European Issue

Labour Party

FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) is a controversial and divisive issue which tends to spark strong feeling from those on all sides of the debate. This practice, which in my view is deeply abhorrent, is typically associated with countries such as Somalia and Nigeria. Yet what most people fail to realise is that this harmful custom is also increasingly affecting girls and women in parts of Europe, including the UK.

While figures on FGM are patchy (particularly in Europe as it is often not reported to authorities), it is nonetheless estimated that almost 130 million women throughout the world have been subject to mutilation. The UK has in recent years seen a rise in the numbers of cases. A study by the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development estimated that 66,000 women living in England and Wales had been circumcised, usually prior to leaving their country of origin. The 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act is supposed to protect girls and women taken overseas for the purpose of genital mutilation; yet, shockingly, there have been no prosecutions under the law to date.

In order to raise awareness about this issue, I was asked to host an event yesterday in the European Parliament, ‘Abandonment of Social Norms Harmful to Girls and Women’, which focused on the practice of FGM. It was organised by UNICEF, and brought together speakers, predominantly women, from all over the world. I opened the event with a few words about how the problem of FGM has been addressed at the European level. Others, such as Francesca Moneti, who is a Senior Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF’s office in New York, spoke about how the practice has been impacting upon women generally.

While there is currently no harmonised EU legislation on FGM, the EU has nonetheless made some important gains. The EU-funded Daphne programme, which seeks to combat violence against children, young people and women, has been the prime source of funding for awareness-raising, prevention, and protection of those who experience, or are at risk from, FGM. As of September 2008, it had financed 14 FGM-related projects, involving a total of €2.4 million.

During the past two years, The European Network for the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation (EuroNet-FGM) has supported the establishment and development of National Action Plans for the elimination of female genital mutilation in 15 EU countries. It also organised an International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation in the EU, held in Brussels in April 2009.

The problem is that measures like these, while praise-worthy, have so far been ineffective in stopping FGM in Europe. So what more should we expect of the European Union? In a 2008 report by the Women’s Rights Committee, it was suggested that a European Health Protocol should be established to monitor the numbers of women who have undergone FGM. It is true that the gathering of scientific data might be an important tool to assist efforts in ridding the world of FGM. Yet before that can happen, I believe that all European governments should publicly recognise the problem of FGM in Europe and bring it up as a key issue at all levels. One opportunity to do this would be on ‘International Zero Tolerance to FGM day,’ which began in 2003 and takes place on the 6th of February.

However, simply denouncing FGM and condemning perpetrators cannot alone bring about the necessary change. FGM will only disappear if people, both women and men, are satisfied that they could give up the practice without doing away with important aspects of their culture.  For this to happen there needs to be more dissemination of information and appropriate education about this issue.