Women’s Committee adopts my report on women refugees

Labour Party

Last week the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) adopted my report which explores the situation of women refugees and asylum seekers.

I was interviewed by the European Parliament immediately after the FEMM committee voted to adopt the report.

The report reveals that women flee persecution in their home countries, embark on perilous trips in the hope they will eventually reach a place of safety. However, en route the majority become vulnerable to sexual violence and other criminal acts such as trafficking. And by the time they reach reception centres they face additional barriers which can cause further harm. As a result they are traumatised, exhausted and disorientated.

The report calls for the adoption of a number of measures which would make women seeking asylum, often travelling with young children and other dependants, feel less vulnerable, safer and more comfortable on arrival in reception centres. Some of the things it calls for include:

• gender-specific training for staff including comprehensive training on sexual violence, trafficking and Female Genital Mutilation.
• gender-segregated sleeping and sanitation facilities
• the right to request female interviewers and interpreters
• access to gender-sensitive health services including prenatal and postnatal care, and trauma counselling
• Childcare”

Numbers of reported FGM cases has dramatically increased

Labour Party

Newly released figures for the number of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) cases, in England and Wales, reveal that over 1,000 women have been treated for FGM in just three months by the NHS.

The figures, recorded from April-June this year, found that 1,026 victims were treated, nine of which were girls under the age of 18. The statistics also revealed that 75% of the cases were self-reported.

The figures are likely to increase further because as of 1 June this year reporting suspected cases became mandatory for GP’s, and other stakeholders and healthcare providers.

While a lot of work has been undertaken to raise the profile of this abhorrent crime, particularly within the Home Office and the Department of Education, it is truly shocking that so many cases are still emerging. Nevertheless the work done by these departments’ means that more and more victims are starting to feel confident to seek help.

Despite the emergence of greater numbers of victims, campaigners remain concerned that they still don’t receive enough support, both physically and psychologically.

Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager at the NGO Equality Now, said: “Our figures with City University show that nearly 10,000 girls under 14 living in England or Wales are likely to have undergone FGM. Cases are likely to exist in every single local authority,” she said.

If Equality Now is right then we really are only scratching the surface of this terrible crime. As reporting becomes mandatory I fear the next figures will start to reveal an even greater number of victims.

Although FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 it remains prevalent in other parts of the world. For example, it is estimated in Africa some three million girls annually undergo FGM.

It is a global problem which we must continue to fight to eradicate. An enormous amount of work is required to achieve this and these figures tell only part of the story.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Parliament will rush through measures to protect vulnerable girls from being taken abroad to undergo the barbaric practice known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The new laws are expected to be swiftly passed through Parliament ahead of schools breaking up for the summer holidays next month. The legislation has been fast tracked amid fears that numbers of FGM victims could soar during the school summer holidays.

The new measures will mean that direct court orders can be applied to individuals suspected of trying to take someone abroad to undergo FGM. Powers will be given to local authorities, social workers and the police to monitor and apply the orders. Suspected parties will have their passports surrendered along with other travel documents with immediate effect.

The campaigning group Equality Now estimates that some 137,000 women and girls living in England and Wales have been affected by FGM. And The World Health Organisation estimates that globally 100-140 million women have undergone some form of FGM.

This is an abhorrent practice and something that should be a priority for the government to tackle. Preventing it is crucial but on-going support for victims is also essential. You can read the story in full here.

A pro- Europe Labour movement was launched last week by Pat Glass, Labour MP for North West Durham, and Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield. Almost 70 MPs joined the group which aims to give the yes campaign a distinctive left wing voice.

The group, which will be known as Labour Yes, will meet for the first time this coming Tuesday. The Co-chair Pat Glass said that it was important that Labour MPs make a pro-European case. However, Labour will also be part of the cross party pro campaign.

More on Labour Yes can be found here.

Female scientists have hit back after Nobel Prize winning scientist, Sir Tim Hunt, angered them with comments he made about finding them too ‘distracting’ romantically and that they ‘cry’ when criticised.

His foolish remarks resulted in him being forced to resign as an honorary Professor with the UCL (University College London) Faculty of Life Sciences.

He made his remarks at a conference in Seoul where he told the audience: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

He added that he was “in favour of single-sex labs” but “doesn’t want to stand in the way of women.”

A hash tag #DistractinglySexy has since been launched on twitter and women in STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) are showing how ridiculous they find his remarks by posing in, and posting images of themselves on Twitter mocking the Nobel Prize winner for his remarks. You can view some here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

All cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) involving under 18’s must be reported, new legislation introduced for England and Wales will stipulate.

The law will state that health care professionals, teachers and other social care workers will have to report cases of FGM within a month of becoming aware of it. Failure to comply could result in internal disciplinary or being referred to their professional organisation which could result in them being barred from practice and sacked.

The law will apply in all cases of known FGM in under 18s, whether it is disclosed by the victim or noticed by the professional.

The hope is that it will increase the ability to find perpetrators and this will lead to an increase in the rate of prosecutions. The move follows a public consultation which asked for opinion from a range of stakeholders including health care professionals, survivors of the practice and community groups.

We have a duty of care to protect young girls from this practice. Identifying the pathways that lead to FGM is an important step. And equipping front line staff with the right tools to identify and support victims or potential victims is a significant step in the right direction.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report last week which found that women who have endured violence in the home may have problems providing the evidence required to obtain a lawyer. And another report, published in the same week by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), found that cuts to legal aid exposed victims to a court room ordeal, some are even forced to endure cross examination by their abuser because they are increasingly forced to represent themselves in court due to legal aid cuts.

The CAB report, Victims of Abuse: Struggling for Support, found that victims give up on their fight for justice because regulations, “both in terms of evidence requirements and income or asset thresholds requiring financial contribution, leave large numbers of victims giving up on their rights to justice”.

It adds: “In some cases these restrictions expose victims to risk, leaving no alternative but to represent themselves in court facing their perpetrator.”

In other news, worrying statistics emerged last week as it was reported that young people are nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population. Almost half a million, 498,000 young people aged 16-24 are without a job and thee unemployment rate sits at 14.4% for thus demographic.

The Tories accused Labour of talking negatively of the unemployment figures, however there is no way to negatively spin these facts which are shameful.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said there could be “no doubt” that there was a genuine issue with youth unemployment that needed to be addressed.

Failing to invest in this group of people is short sighted and a disgrace.

Honeyball’s weekly round-up

Labour Party

The general election campaign is now in full swing and yesterday Labour announced plans to double the number of childcare places provided at Sure Start centres to more than 118,000.

The shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt promised to ‘save’ the Sure Start scheme. This would reverse a decision by the government in 2010 when they were freed from previous requirements to provide childcare, meaning that hundreds of the centres face the threat of closure and have had their funding cut. Indeed, Labour revealed that hundreds of centres were forced to close and others have reduced services as a result of the cuts.

In addition there are 720 fewer Sure Start centres than in 2010 and if it continues to fall at the current rate by the end of the next parliament, Labour warns that 38,000 fewer places will be available by the end of the next parliament.

Last week marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). The theme for day was “Mobilisation and Involvement of Health Personnel to Accelerate Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation”. Essentially this means stressing the importance health care professionals play in fighting this terrible and barbaric crime.

They have a duty to adopt and promote a zero tolerance attitude to FGM. This is of course just one part of the strategy. Urgent, but well thought out action has to be taken to stop the cycle being promoted from generation to generation, something Tanya Barron, chief executive of Plan UK has written about and stated before.

With the dedicated effort of all stakeholders, charities, governments, health care professionals and prosecutors the cycle can be broken. There is some hope, work carried out by charities such as Plan UK, have resulted in 60 communities declaring themselves free of FGM.

An investigation carried out by the BBC’s Panorama which will be broadcast tonight has found that the UK’s biggest bank, HSBC, helped and allowed its richest customers to dodge paying tax by allowing them to set up secret accounts in Switzerland.
HSBC, the UK’s biggest bank, helped rich customers to dodge paying tax by allowing them to set up secret accounts in Switzerland, according to a report last night. Following the investigation some £135m of unpaid tax and penalties have been handed over by those British citizens involved. You can see the film on BBC 1 tonight.  More exclusive details have been revealed on the front page of today’s Guardian.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

You know it’s serious when the EU Commission President contemplates a British exit from the EU. Jean-Claude Juncker did exactly this when he suggested, in a speech to French delegates last weekend, that if the conditions aren’t right then it is time for Britain to consider a “divorce.”

He also steadfastly refused to “get down on his hands and knees and beg Britain to stay,” comparing the relationship to a doomed romance, stating that he is against “ all forms of grovelling”.

With his constantly negative rhetoric and irrational behaviour (a style which doesn’t work well in European politics), Cameron is leading the UK on a dangerous path of which there will be no return. I have said for some time that senior EU representatives are losing patience with Cameron’s approach and this latest announcement from Juncker is designed to be a stark warning to Cameron, but will he listen?

Meanwhile plans to introduce new rules which would oblige health professionals to report cases of female genital mutilation have been attacked by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

It has intervened in the proposals arguing there is “no credible or conclusive evidence that the move would better protect children.”

In fact, the body says that mandatory reporting of FGM cases could deter families seeking medical advice.

All those who are involved in the debate regarding FGM appreciate its sensitive nature; however, we should be unapologetic about our need to protect vulnerable young girls from this barbaric, invasive and painful procedure.

Mandatory reporting is necessary because the poor statistics indicate how under reported this crime is. For example, since 1985 there have been just two prosecutions. Yet there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls who have experienced FGM, born in countries where FGM is practised who are permanent residence in the UK.

Last week Ed Miliband took David Cameron to task for saying he would refuse to participate in a leader’s debate if the Green Party was not invited to the podium. If this hadn’t rattled Cameron enough then perhaps Lord Patten’s warning to Cameron concerning the threat the Labour leader poses to him, will.

In an appearance on BBC radio 4’s the Week in Westminster the former Conservative Party Chair, Lord Patten, described Mr Miliband as “highly intelligent” and a “good debater”, and went on to warn: “the Tories should be much more worried about Ed Miliband than Ukip’s Nigel Farage.”

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.”

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week saw Conservative MEPs vote against a Europe-wide initiative to provide aid for those struggling with food poverty. The £3 billion EU fund, known as ‘European aid to the most deprived’, would have sent £3 million in the direction of Britain. The choice to try and block the fund was made on the grounds that “It is not for the EU to dictate…how to help the needy. Individual countries must be allowed to decide for themselves.” It left the Tories among a tiny rump of MEPs voting against, making the Coalition the only European Government to oppose the fund.

With the Tories under pressure to address the explosion in the number of food bank users since they’ve been in office, their approach to Tuesday’s vote baffled many. It comes at a time when pressure is building on the Coalition to address the food poverty crisis, with religious and third sector organisations condemning the effect welfare cuts are having on UK rates of poverty. This week Richard Howitt, my Labour colleague in the European Parliament, called the Tories’ decision to vote against the fund “heartless and callous”.

Blocking European Aid is just the latest in a string of instances which have seen Conservatives adopting indefensible positions in the name of Euroscepticism. Before Christmas they blocked the Estrela report – a strategy to, among other things, end FGM – and they have also obstructed the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, a market-based solution to environmental challenges. They’ve done so on the grounds that endorsing such plans would represent a concession to the EU. This is despite the government’s Balance of Competences review so far finding that the weighting between EU powers and domestic autonomy is roughly right.

David Cameron’s increasingly hostile noises about the EU appear to have been taken by Tory MEPs as a license to indulge their most reactionary instincts. They do this irrespective of morality or the UK’s national interests. As a result we are approaching a state of Tea Party-style fanaticism among some on the British right in Brussels; a new and virulent brand of Euroscepticism. It’s vital that those of us who support the EU do not allow this self-defeating ideology to triumph.

Also this week, UKIP’s Spring Conference was overshadowed by the embarrassing revelation that Nigel Farage’s campaign slogan – “Love Britain: Vote UKIP” – was a rehash of a strapline used by the BNP. Nick Griffin’s far right party campaigned under the same banner in 2010, using the wording “Love Britain: Vote BNP”. The comparisons did not appear to end there, with Farage using his “Love Britain: Vote UKIP”-branded plinth to launch an excoriating attack on immigration, which he claims has made Britain “unrecognisable”. When the BNP link was pointed out Farage argued, bizarrely, that he’d been trying to ‘reclaim’ the slogan.

So far Ukip have resisted calls from the European far right to join ranks. Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen have both attempted, unsuccessfully thus far, to reach out to Farage, pointing out the common ground their respective parties share with his. But with UKIP MEP Gerard Batten’s ties with the far right attracting increasing controversy – not to mention Farage’s recent admission that he supported the “basic principle” of Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of blood’ speech – the overlap between UKIP and the extreme right is becoming hard to disguise.

To avoid a return to the ugly politics and racial tensions of the 1970s Labour must contest UKIP’s narrative every step of the way.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Andrew Rawnsley discussed what he called the ‘omnishambles’ that is the government in his column for the Observer this week.

As he said, ‘it’s a great word which encapsulates the government’s serial misjudgements and misadventures, from granny taxes and petrol panics to the boomeranging budget and Theresa May’s lost day.’

Miliband managed to make use of the word during last week’s Question Time, and as Rawnsley pointed out it was a public space in which to get the word out there in the hope that it enters the British lexicon.

Rawnsley questions whether this current situation is a blip or something more significant for the coalition government, after all the Budget was over a month ago and that kicked off this period of omnishambolism which has yet to show signs of improvement.

Rawnsley suggests we are seeing something more significant than a blip. You can read his full article here.

Something of a shocking statistic was revealed over the weekend in the Sunday Times which suggested that some 100,000 women in Britain have undergone female genital mutilations (FGM) with medics in the UK offering to carry out the illegal procedure on girls as young as 10, the paper reported.

Investigators from the Sunday Times said they had secretly filmed a doctor, dentist and alternative medicine practitioner who were allegedly willing to perform FGM or arrange for the operation to be carried out. The doctor and dentist deny any wrongdoing.

The practice of, or arranging for, FGM to be carried out is illegal and can carry a sentence of up to 14 years.

That anyone would face this kind of barbaric treatment is incredible, that it is happening on our doorstep is shocking and indicates just how little we know about this terrible crime.

You can read more here.

The first round of the French Presidential elections is complete and François Hollande has moved a step closer to becoming the new President, the first socialist in a generation.

For President Sarkozy it is particularly humiliating because this is the first time an outgoing President has failed to win a first-round vote in the past 50 years. You can read more on the first round of the election here.

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.