European Commission want to axe the Pregnant Workers Directive

Labour Party

Four years ago the European Parliament passed the Pregnant Workers Directive. It was a difficult and not without some controversy, but we passed it and the normal process of negotiation between the three EU institutions should have begun in earnest. Since then, nothing has happened. It has been sitting in a drawer; the European Council seemingly having little appetite to tackle the issue.

Now we have a new mandate and the European Commission is going through the bits of legislation left over from the last term and deciding what to do; it has suggested that we simply scrap the Pregnant Workers Directive.

The European Commission has basically given up the fight and now wants to kill the draft law under its REFIT programme aimed at simplifying EU law.

In a communication dated 18 June, the EU executive wrote, “The Commission considers it good legislative management to withdraw proposals that do not advance in the legislative process […]. These include proposals on […] pregnant workers […].”

This is a very troubling development. The fact is that the European Parliament adopted its position and never received a follow-up official response from the Council, despite the co-decision procedure. Therefore, no further discussions on the Maternity Leave Directive took place to enable a second reading and subsequent decision. I could perhaps understand the decision if the report had been mired in the back and forth between the three institutions with no progress being made, but given that there has been nothing done for four years, surely the solution is not to bin it, but to actually start the discussion.

The European Women’s Lobby have written to Jean-Claude Juncker asking to reconsider, saying “The decision to withdraw this Directive is scandalous as potential and pregnant women workers are being taken hostage but so too are men as the proposed directive also includes provisions on paternity leave.”

I completely agree. There will be a debate in Strasbourg next week, where I can only hope that the European Parliament can persuade the Commission to change its mind. It’s a terrible shame that we haven’t managed to pass this important directive in the four years since the European Parliament first adopted its position. Let’s not compound that shame now by simply giving up.

‘A Europe free from prostitution’?

Labour Party

The European Women’s Lobby visited the European Parliament earlier this week to put forward their proposals for a ‘Europe free from prostitution.’

They have identified six key recommendations they would like Brussels to adopt. These are:

EWL’s six key recommendations to EU Member States:
1.    the suppression of repressive measures against prostituted persons
2.    the criminalisation of all forms of procuring
3.    the development of real alternatives and exit programmes for those in prostitution
4.    the prohibition of the purchase of a sexual act
5.    the implementation of policies of prevention, education, to promote equality and positive sexuality
6.    the development of prevention policies in the countries of origin of prostituted persons.

Following the EWL’s calls I said “I fully supported the adoption of a model similar to the one in place in Sweden.”

While I agree, and support the EWL’s recommendations I also believe we must focus attention, effort and resources on the issue of human trafficking which helps fuel the demand for prostitution.

If we are to tackle the problem of prostitution we must also acknowledge and fight equally hard to abolish the very violent crime of human trafficking.

Statistics show that between 76-79% of reported trafficking in humans is for sexual exploitation. This is a worryingly high statistic, and, in reality, is likely to be even higher because not every crime of this nature is reported.

I therefore support the criminalisation of all forms of procuring, and the creation of effective exit programmes for sex workers, in line with the views of the EWL.

In Sweden, legislation which criminalises those who pay for prostitutes had had a very significant impact in reducing the number of persons exploited in street prostitution, reducing it by half. In 1996, 13.6% of Swedish men said they had bought someone for prostitution purposes. In 2008, the figure had dropped to 7.8%.

Tackling this issue while simultaneously deploying more resources to help victims of human trafficking makes sense but also provides the best chance to help every victim of sexual exploitation.

Prostitution Gets a Red Card From the European Parliament

Labour Party

A campaign aimed at cracking down on the sexual exploitation of women at sporting events has just been launched in the European Parliament.

I was one of 20 MEPs who participated in the launch of this campaign organised by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL). In a message to athletes, officials, fans, journalists and decision-makers ahead of the London Olympics and the UEFA European Football Championships in Poland and Ukraine, we all held up red cards which read ‘Be a sport. Keep it fair… Say NO to prostitution.’

The police and others are concerned there will be on increase in prostitution in the run up to the Olympic Games in London.  Major sporting events are regularly coupled with a boom in prostitution, fuelled by the trafficking of women and girls. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, national authorities noted an increase in the number of prostitutes in host areas.  The 2010 South African World Cup brought about a ‘huge’ increase in the sex trade, with the number of women and girls involved in prostitution, as well as the number of brothels, doubling.  Worryingly, there was research conducted in 2009 that had already found signs of increases in prostitution in the London boroughs hosting the Olympics.

I agree with the EWL’s position that prostitution is a form of violence against women which hinders the realisation of gender equality.  Women in prostitution face regular violence and rape, as well as lower life expectancy and serious mental and physical damage.  The abuse of women’s bodies and sexuality inherent in the system of prostitution feeds into a broader pattern of widespread violence against women.

I am a big supporter of the London Olympics and can’t wait for games to start, but I hope with awareness raising campaigns such as this, and the support of the police in London, we can make sure that we don’t see an increase in the trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls and women this summer.

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.