New rules on FGM announced

Labour Party

There are some issues which regardless of what political persuasion you are transcend party politics. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one such issue, for which there is a cross party consensus.

New measures have been announced which will end the practice of FGM “once and for all”.

The new rules and guidance provide much action and investment into this terrible crime and were announced as a new study revealed the numbers of women living in England and Wales with the effects of FGM are twice as high as previously estimated.

The report, by Equality Now and City University, found that more than 137,000 girls and women in England and Wales are victims of FGM. Although it has been illegal to carry out FGM in the UK since 1985, the research found approximately 103,000 migrant women aged 15 to 49, 10,000 girls under 15 and about 24,000 women aged 50 or above are victims of FGM.

The new measures announced today will make it the parents’ responsibility to protect their daughters from FGM. If they fail to do so they will be punished. In addition there will be a £1.4mn investment into preventative measures under the ‘prevent programme’ which will both help to stop the practice been carried out on girls but also support and care for victims.

Training will also be given to health and social workers, police and teachers who will be taught to identify those who are a potential risk of being subjected to this most brutal form of abuse.

And a new Border Force child protection unit has been set up which will work alongside the police to target specific flights into and out of the UK in an attempt to identify and prevent young girls being taken out of the country for this purpose.

This is an important step that will go a significant way to stopping this terrible crime. We must also continue to support victims in this country alongside the urgent preventative work which is now being undertaken.

Efua Dorkenoo of Equality Now told the Guardian professionals needed clear guidance to identify at-risk girls but also that action was urgently required: “The government needs to get a handle over this extreme abuse of the most vulnerable girls in our society by implementing a robust national plan to address the issue,” she said.

“There is no time to waste on platitudes as thousands of girls living in England and Wales are having their life blighted by this damaging practice.”

International consensus is the only solution to the horrors of the sex trade

Labour Party

This is an extract from a longer piece for Policy Review. Click here to read it in full.

Prostitution is an outrage which takes place on a global scale. Like many of the international challenges we now face, the sex industry transcends jurisdictions and spills across borders. As recently as September a police raid on an Ilford brothel revealed a house of Asian women, brought to the UK and made to work against their will.

Trafficking and ‘sex tourism’ mean that, at both the ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ ends, unilateral solutions are no longer enough. We need cross-border consensus if we are to achieve anything.

I believe the EU must set the direction of travel. Globalised crime networks and legal disparities between countries mean that, for example, Romanian prostitutes can now be transported en masse to London – or that British men can go on sex ‘holidays’ to Amsterdam. These problems will only be solved by a pan-European approach.

At present policies vary hugely from one country to another. In the UK we have blanket criminalisation. Prostitution is effectively illegal for both women providing services and men using them. This doesn’t address the core problem, and sometimes perpetuates it; prostitutes are convicted, criminalised and deprived of a route out, and thus return to the streets. As a result the UK system creates a subterranean economy, which is demeaning at best and dangerous at worst.

Holland and Germany’s ‘hands off’ approaches are no better. The Netherlands has become the top European destination for trafficking since decriminalisation, and Germany has seen steep increases in prostitution levels. The Mayor of Amsterdam has admitted it is “impossible” to create a “safe zone not open for abuse by organised crime”, and international women’s charity Equality Now say Holland’s system is “a failed experiment” which has “empowered buyers, pimps and traffickers”.

Moreover, neither the UK system nor the Dutch Model acknowledges the inequality which takes place when a man pays a woman for sex. Despite the fact that 96% of sex trafficking victims are female – and that 89% of prostitutes say they would escape the industry if they could – both systems effectively collude with the idea that women ‘choose’ to sell their bodies.

Later this year I will be reporting to my colleagues on the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee on how we can address prostitution across Europe. I favour the Nordic Model, which permits selling sex but criminalises buying it. The approach was introduced in Sweden in 1999. It has halved street prostitution there and caused a marked reduction in trafficking. There is evidence, too, of a knock-on effect for social attitudes, with Swedish men now three times as likely to oppose paying for sex. Experts who have seen it up close say it has also increased trust between police and prostitutes.

For me the Nordic Model represents the ideal compromise – a middle way, which is neither overly judgemental of women forced into the sex trade, nor laissez-faire when it comes to dealing with the men who exploit them. Unlike the alternatives it makes a distinction between buyers of sellers of sex, and I believe it is the only solution which brings real gender parity.

Murdoch’s Sun ate women’s dignity

Labour Party

Congratulations to campaigning MP (and fellow blogger) Tom Watson for exposing the bullying of women members of staff at the tabloid Sun.

According to Watson, Sun editor Dominic Mohan, told the Leveson enquiry “it is wrong to suggest that the Sun trivialises offences against women.”

Not so, says Watson, and I know who I believe. Watson tells us on his blog he has inside knowledge that at least five female journalists on the paper have been sacked in the last eight years. At least two of the sacked women went on to win compensation after challenging their dismissals. Two out of five strikes me as a high percentage and provides strong evidence of serious discrimination against female employees.

More recently, Whitehall editor at the Sun Clodagh Hartley had a complaint of bullying against her upheld by an independent adjudicator. This will, of course, be of great concern the beleaguered Mohan, who has a lot on his plate after the recent arrests of Mike Sullivan, the paper’s crime editor; the former managing editor, Graham Dudman; executive editor, Fergus Shanahan; and Chris Pharo, a news desk executive.

Appalling though this is, unfortunately it’s not the whole story. The Sun still publishes topless and virtually naked women on page three – a practice deeply disrespectful to women, which I believe should immediately be consigned to the scrapheap.  

The Sun is not just a newspaper, it’s theUK’s largest selling national daily with a circulation of 7,774,000. It’s our most popular newspaper and it behaves in a totally unacceptable way towards its female staff. It also publishes demeaning images of women.

I wholeheartedly agree with the four women’s groups – End Violence Against Women, Equality Now, Object and Eaves – who appeared before the Leveson inquiry arguing that the Sun should ban sexualised images which would not be shown on television before the 9.00pm watershed. As Former Labour MP Clare Short, who has campaigned against page three, said in the Guardian “The bottom line is that pictures that would not be permissible in the workplace or on broadcast media before the watershed can still be published in a daily newspaper.”

What is more, the newspaper reading public do not want page three, perhaps understanding how degrading it is to women. According to the Huffington Post, Platform 51, formerly the Young Women’s Christian Association, commissioned a nationally representative poll which showed that twice as many women would support a ban on pictures of topless women appearing in daily newspapers as would oppose it. And it’s not just women. Almost a third of the men questioned also supported a ban.

So it’s actually the Sun “wot ‘as got it wrong”.

Disrespect to women and actions such as bullying at work and publishing pictures of undressed women are no longer acceptable. Thankfully the world has moved on from the 1970s when the Sun introduced page three. It’s about time the Sun itself caught up with the modern world.  

Closure of the Women’s National Commission

Labour Party

I was going to write a post about the closure of the Women’s National Commission but this letter in today’s Independent captures my thoughts:

“A vital voice for women silenced

Regarding the Women’s National Commission (WNC), the Commons Public Administration Committee’s assessment of the quango cull (“MPs say bonfire of the quangos is a damp squib“, 7 January) is right on target.

For more than 40 years, the WNC brought the voices of women from across the nations to government on issues of violence against women. Through it, women’s groups big and small were able to bring their expertise to engage positively with Government.

Its abolition now leaves a void, insofar as the Government has not developed any meaningful plans for achieving its stated goal of greater transparency, accountability and engagement with women.

We have heard a vague idea about using more social media. However, a few tweets will not replace the expert consultation and representation brought through the WNC. The WNC was the embodiment of the Big Society at negligible cost. We continue to wish to engage, but by dissolving the WNC the Government has made this task harder, more costly and inevitably less representative.

We agree with the chair of the committee that the whole process was rushed and not thought through properly. It is not too late for the Government to admit its mistake and reinstate the WNC.”

Jacqueline Hunt

Equality Now

Davina James-Hanman

Against Violence & Abuse

Moira Dustin

LSE Gender Institute

Holly Dustin

End Violence Against Women

Naana Otoo-Oyortey

The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development

Dr Aisha Gill

Roehampton University

Heather Harvey

Eaves Housing for Women.

Claudia da Silva, Richard Chipping

The London Centre for Personal Safety

Annette Lawson

The National Alliance of Women’s Organisations

Lynda Dearlove

Women@thewell / Sisters of Mercy

Vivienne Hayes

Women’s Resource Centre