International Women’s Day: a time for celebration, reflection and action!

Labour Party

International Women’s Day: The work continues

As most of you will be aware today is International Women’s Day (IWD). The day is always celebrated across the world with vigour and enthusiasm. I am with colleagues today in committee, the committee for gender and equality. We will mark IWD appropriately but also continue with our agenda which is to carry on the work to achieve equality in all forms of life (work and domestic), to fight sexist messaging in the media which objectifies women, seeking ways to close the gender pay gap and promote women in senior positions both in business and politics. And this is just the start!

IWD appeals to women and men in different ways. Each of us have priorities and areas of interest and concern which are relevant personally and/or professionally and so IWD can provide a personal day of reflection as well as a platform for vocal celebration.

For me IWD doesn’t just remind me that the fight for equality continues but another significant area where so much more work is needed is that of gender-based violence. Specifically, we need to combat acts of trafficking, domestic violence and the barbaric procedure still performed in some countries of Female Genital Mutilation.

As a member of the European Parliament, a feminist and vice chair of the FEMM committee in the European Parliament I am proud of the work we have done and continue to do across the EU to combat these areas of inequality and violence.

I wanted to share with you some of the work that is in progress across the EU institutions, so you can see how committed the EU is to combatting all forms of inequality and violence.

The Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-19 focuses on five priority areas:

  1. increasing female labour-market participation and the equal economic independence of women and men;
  2. reducing the gender pay, earnings and pension gaps and thus fighting poverty among women;
  3. promoting equality between women and men in decision-making;
  4. combating gender-based violence and protecting and supporting victims; and
  5. promoting gender equality and women’s rights across the world.

    The Commission gives further detail about the priority areas here:

    · Reducing the gender pay gap: the Commission presented a concrete Action plan to reduce the gender pay gap by 2019.

    · Violence against women: 2017 was dedicated as to Ending Violence against Women with the No Non Nein campaign. The Commission dedicated €15 million funding to NGO working in this field. The Commission extended the funding to 2018.

    · Employment of women: it continued to increase slowly but steadily and reached 66.6 % in the third quarter of 2017 (78.1% for men).

    · Gender pay gap: women still earn on average 16 % less per hour than men in the EU. The gap varies greatly from one Member State to another.

    · Women on boards: women account for just a quarter of board members in the largest publicly listed companies registered in EU Member States. France is the only Member State in which there was over 40 % of women on boards.

    · Women in politics: the situation varies greatly. National parliaments in Sweden, Finland and Spain had at least 40 % of women each gender, while in six countries (Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Latvia, Malta and Hungary) women accounted for less than 20 % of members. Similarly, governments had a as many women as men in France, Germany, Slovenia and Sweden; while women were completely absent from the Hungarian government.

    · Violence against women: remains a problem. According to the EIGE ‘Gender Equality Index 2017, when it comes to the measurement of violence against women’, on a scale of 1 to 100, the EU’s score is 27.5 out of 100. The score varies between countries, ranging from 22.1 in Poland to 44.2 in Bulgaria.

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.