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.

On International Women’s Day- Pledge for Parity

Labour Party

#Pledgeforparity. It’s the slogan for this year’s International Women’s Day celebrated across the globe, tomorrow 8 March.

This year the theme, pledge for parity, is inspired by the troubling estimate from the World Economic Forum that it will take until 2133 (having revised its 2095 figure from a year earlier) to achieve global gender parity.

If this estimate is correct it will take more than a century before the gender pay gap is closed. This is despite the fact that women contribute to and accomplish all sorts of global achievements from science to politics to global economic success; and yet the gap remains.

We can, and do all have a responsibility to close the gap. International Women’s Day is about just that-about challenging work place bias, ensuring the workplace is not a hostile environment for women but is somewhere they are able to flourish because there are modern inclusive and flexible workplace policies firmly and fully developed.

Action must start early, form school age- girls should feel encouraged to achieve. Their ambition’s should be set high and they should feel confident that they have the ability to meet their goals. In addition girls should be taught leadership skills, and particularly be encouraged to flourish in subjects such as science, maths and technology.

Global events are planned to mark International Women’s Day tomorrow in all sorts of cities. In Nigeria people will take to the streets of Lagos to demonstrate against gender based violence. In India female Sherpas will lead tours of their favourite parts of Mumbai and in London a ‘women of the World’ event is to be hosted. Meanwhile the not for profit organisation, Tech City, will host a celebration of women’s work in technology and the creative industries.

It’s great that London and other cities across the globe will mark International Women’s Day. But we must make sure that this day isn’t used to pay lip service to this incredibly important issue by big businesses, governments and others. If we are serious about closing the gender pay gap in less than 115 years then we must continue to fight for parity, and that starts in education, where we can change the mind sets of future generations of leaders- male and female.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Yesterday was International Women’s Day (IWD) and Radhika Sanghani, writing in the Telegraph, provided an excellent analysis of why we need to celebrate IWD. “It isn’t just a hashtag,” she writes, “it’s a reminder that women worldwide are subjected to shocking abuse from sexual violence in warzones and female genital mutilation, to forced marriage and becoming child brides.”

In addition to Sanghani’s observation of how women suffer, in many countries across the globe, we must not forget that they face discrimination in even the most subtle forms; women across the world still suffer from a gender pay gap which despite much awareness has yet to close.

The first IWD was held in 1911 and was marked in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. Over a million men and women joined rallies where they campaigned for women’s rights to vote, be educated and be able to hold public office.

Since then it has grown significantly and some countries treat the day as a national holiday, even Google joined in the marking of the day with a doodle!

The theme this year is ‘make it happen’ and it aims to encourage effective action for advancing and recognising women.

In other news this week it was also revealed that large firms will have to reveal differences between average pay for male and female workers under a change to a law passing through Parliament.

A BBC article online stated: “Firms with more than 250 employees that don’t comply with the new rules could face fines of up to £5,000.”

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian Labour leader, Ed Miliband promises has the strength of character to be Prime Minister.
It’s a very personal interview and he admits he worries about his role as Father if he does become Prime Minister.

Asked for a defining policy, he said: “On inequality, I’ve moved Labour on from where New Labour would have been. I care about the gap between the rich and the poor.”

He is adamant the gap between rich and poor is very important and it’s not good enough to say if the rich pay their taxes then it’s OK.

He also said that decency shouldn’t be confused for weakness and insists he has strong convictions. “The moment you become arrogant, you stop listening, and when you stop listening, you don’t understand what’s actually happening. If people know me as a decent guy who does things his own way, I think that’s incredibly important.”

You can read the interview here.

Going Swedish – my article for Progress

Labour Party

On Saturday I wrote an article for Progress Online for International Women’s Day. You can read the article below, or go to the original post by clicking here.

International Women’s Day this year came on the heels of a big few months in the battle to end the ‘oldest profession’. France, Ireland and Northern Ireland have made moves towards changing their prostitution laws in the last year. All three are looking to shift towards the Swedish model, whereby it is the buyer (invariably the man) who is criminalised, with the sale of sex made legal.

Moreover, Germany has appeared for the first time to be willing to re-evaluate legalisation, and the British parliament, which has traditionally had a muddled position, has shown signs of going Swedish. An all-party group on the subject, chaired by Gavin Shuker MP, concluded that current laws ‘prioritise the gratification of punters at the expense of often-vulnerable women and girls’. The current law fails to address the problem of demand, and as a result it sustains the status quo.

The process has been helped along by my own report, recommending the Swedish model, which was passed by the European parliament in February. With countries as far away as Canada weighing up the merits of the Swedish model, it appears a genuine international shift is taking place. At long last governments are taking sustainable and ambitious steps.

For me this process is essential in the effort to bring about a world where women have a genuinely fair crack. With the sex trade overwhelmingly populated by women, the existence of prostitution is an affront to the battle for gender parity. It is a totemic issue; a persistent and uneasy monument of the economic and physical dominance of women by men. As a delegation of nearly 80 academics wrote in an open letter to members of the European parliaments last month:

The prostitution system is a reminder of continuing inequalities between women and men: the gender pay gap; the sexualisation of female bodies in popular culture; the histories of violence and abuse in both childhood and adulthood that underpin many women’s entry into the sex industry.

The alternative to the Swedish model is blanket decriminalisation. This has a degree of support – including from some sex workers’ groups – as a means of regulating the sex industry better. Advocates say it would prevent prostitution being ‘driven underground’ and therefore make it safer.

This claim is undermined somewhat by the case of Germany, perhaps the most controversial example of decriminalisation. Since legalisation there in 2001 there has been an explosion in prostitution levels. So-called ‘super brothels’ now operate on the country’s borders and there are reportedly around 400,000 sex workers (compared to less than 50,000 in neighbouring France). Just 44 of these have registered for benefits, suggesting the supposed ‘regulation’ of the industry is something of a myth. The effect has been simply to ingrain prostitution and normalise the inequalities which sustain it.

I hope that by International Women’s Day 2015 the number of countries to have ‘gone Swedish’ will have increased, and we will be approaching the point of critical mass where the Swedish model can become accepted as the norm. To protect women everywhere we must go beyond sticking plaster solutions and look to root causes.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Last week was of course International Women’s day, the theme was equal pay. I spent a lot of time covering the subject and also the issue of introducing mandatory quotas for women on boards.

The day was not restricted to this debate only, so the Guardian asked some influential women what they considered to be their priorities for women and what they were going to fight for on the day. Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray said affordable child care was paramount while author Katy Lette questioned marriage and suggested that, at times, it can resemble slave labour.
You can read their reasoning’s here.

It’s a pity we still consider there is much to fight for in 2012, but there is and we must not lose sight of this and continue to improve opportunities for the generations of women to follow us.

I came across a powerful blog last week, in which I learnt a total of 1000 women die each day somewhere in the world due to preventable complication in pregnancy or childbirth.

The World Bank boasts it’s a ‘global leader’ in reproductive health but fails to mentions that it has committed little more than 0.2% of its $43bn for the financial year (2011).

The Guardian blog reports that almost half of its reproductive health projects in Sub-Saharan Africa are funded by loans. The loans will obviously have an adverse effect on countries already suffering all sorts of problems, many of which are already in debt and will likely discourage administrations from further investment. Those who will suffer the most? The answer is women, the poorest women to be precise.

Spending cuts like these are devastating to poor women who, as the report states, ‘suffer directly from reduced access to healthcare but are responsible for the health of their households.’

Writing a blog for the Guardian, Elizabeth Arend, programme coordinator at Gender Action, called on The World Bank to re-evaluate its strategies for reducing maternal mortality if it is ever going to live up to its claim of being a ‘global leader’ in improving reproductive health.

She also calls for The Bank to ‘increase the number of grants it provides to expand access to reproductive and maternal healthcare — including post-abortion care — and eliminate any fees attached to these vital services.’ Certainly if The Bank would like to hold onto its title of a world leader in this area then it really must show the world how well it’s leading us. You can read the full article here.

Having worked in and run charities for many years, I was concerned, but not surprised to learn more about the true impact of brutal Tory cuts revealed in yesterday’s Sunday Mirror. Vincent Moss’ excellent article found how charities lose billions, £5.5bn, this year alone, and it’s the poorest being hit the hardest.

The claim comes from a leaked report by charity bosses which says: “We estimate that cuts to the charity sector in the UK in 2011/12 will range from just under £1billion (£970 million) in the very best scenario, to just over £5.5billion in the very worst.”

The result is that much needed services provided by charities are being forced to close daily. I’m not entirely sure how Mr Cameron thinks the Big Society works, but relying on the good nature of people and charities to provide services without any budget is not practicable or sustainable in any way.

You can read Vincent Moss’ full analysis here.

A woman’s place is in Europe

Labour Party

Last Friday I spoke at the European Parliament’s offices in London about International Women’s Day. My thanks to Paola Buonadonna for all her work in putting the event “A Woman’s Place is in Europe” together. Our moderator was the BBC’s Europe expert Shirin Wheeler, and I sat on the left with Emma Reynolds MP Shadow Europe Minister. On the right at the event, and politically were Marina Yannakoudakis Conservative MEP for London and Heather McGregor businesswoman and Financial Times “Mrs. Moneypenny” columnist.

We ran out of time with all the questions and contributions from the floor. I attach two videos. The first is an introduction by Shirin Wheeler, and the second is my speech for those who were unable to attend on the day.


Interview with Mumsnet

Labour Party

During the last Strasbourg session on 16 March I talked to Kate from Mumsnet. Below you will find the edited highlights. For the unexpurgated thread, please go to

 KateMumsnet Thu 03-Mar-11 13:25:03

To mark the centenary of International Women’s Day, Mumsnet has been invited to the EU Parliament for a rummage about. So we’re off to Strasbourg, in a (possibly doomed) attempt to figure out what impact, if any, this labyrinthine institution has had on the equality of women here in the UK.

We’ll be sitting in on a special IWD parliamentary session, where MEPs will be discussing what’s been achieved to date to further women’s equality across Europe, and debating what the next steps should be. The gender pay gap, the vexed issue of maternity leave, the lack of female decision-makers in business and politics, and the grim figures for female poverty across the EU are all on the agenda.

We’ll be frantically trying to make sense of it all as the day unfolds; and with a bit of luck and a following wind we’ll collar MEPs and policy bods.

 KateMumsnet Wed 16-Mar-11 12:49:46

 Here’s the summing-up of my chats with Mary Honeyball

Mary made an emphatic point about the redistributive function of the EU: “We do still put in more than we get out, [but] whatever we think about the state of our economy, we are still one of the better-off member states, so it’s always struck me as a sound principle that you redistribute money to areas which aren’t so well-off. That may not be an argument that everyone subscribes to, but one of the things which we don’t talk about is that the EU does equalize wealth across Europe – and I think that’s a good thing.”

Following on …

Mary talked about the difficulty that female high-fliers face once they’ve had children in the UK. She pooh-poohed Britain’s culture of presenteeism, and said that 70-80 hour weeks were simply unnecessary.

European countries don’t do that in the same way. In the EU Parliament for example, although we do late sessions here [Strasbourg], in Brussels you do office hours and people go at 6. We don’t do a lot of evenings, in general people don’t hang around. And the ones that do tend to be [the British]. So it’s not necessary to do 70-hour weeks, whatever you do.

We need to look much more at work life balance – but how you legislate? I’m not sure. We don’t do it in the UK because we have an opt-out [on employment law], but most of the EU countries do now have a 48-hour week. But that wouldn’t really help women in senior positions because you don’t get paid, you just ‘decide to be there’.

Mary was keen on the idea of quotas on private sector boards, citing Labour’s all-women shortlists as an example.

Mary Honeyball: ‘I’m a complete supporter of quotas. I think it’s the only way. It’s no good saying ‘we want more women in the boardroom’. If you want more women, you have to do something about it. In Norway they have 40% women in boardrooms, and it works very well – the economy hasn’t collapsed and Norwegian industry hasn’t disappeared on the face of the earth.’

Mary Honeyball voted against the Pregnant Worker’s Directive (20 weeks maternity leave on full pay), arguing that it was always clear that the Council of Ministers (national govts), who have ‘co-decision’ on all legislation, would never agree to pass it.

On the wider subject of the Gender Pay Gap, Mary called both for more legislation and for keeping the subject firmly on the agenda: “[The Equal Pay Act] was fantastic legislation but I’m not sure it’s still doing its work.

“And it’s not just a question of equal pay for work of equal value, because the sorts of jobs that women do – for example care work – tend to be lower paid. It’s a cultural thing and quite difficult to do, and when times are hard it’s even more difficult. It’s just one of those things that you need to keep talking about so that it gets into the public consciousness.”

Mary Honeyball: “UK governments haven’t particularly wanted to [legislate for equality] – it’s come from Europe. That was particularly true in the Eighties, and I suspect it’s going to be true again now.”

She called for much better childcare provision in the UK: “Women can’t go back to work if there isn’t anything that’s reasonable and affordable for their children. It’s quite straightforward really.

“Scandinavian countries are absolutely brilliant. They have massive social security budgets, but a different attitude: they think it’s important, so they’re prepared to pay for it. What I think we need is to turn it around, and say to government: ‘this is important, and it matters for the economy. If you have people at work, you’re generating wealth through tax revenue – it’s all good’”.
unpaid but it meant that a woman could look after her child till it started school and return to work without being penalised. it was a legitimate career break.

How is it that we can have such inequity between member nations and can we make sure we legislate to bring all nations up to the best practice nations standards rather than down to the mediocre ones?

International Women’s Day 2011 – 100 years on

Labour Party

International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated for the first time on 8 March 1911. This makes 2011 the global centenary, celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. Even more importantly, it reminds us of gender inequalities still to be redressed. At the beginning of the 19th century women fought against oppression and against inequality; they fought for better pay and for voting rights. However despite many positive developments over the last 100 years, huge gender gaps still persist between women and men.

Women are still not paid equally to their male counterparts. Across the EU there is currently a gender pay gap of 17.8%. Globally the situation concerning women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. We are witnessing a feminisation of poverty, with single mothers and their children, elderly and migrant women all especially vulnerable. Moreover women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Women account roughly for only 24% of Members of national parliaments and governments in Europe.

Today, in light of the 100 year anniversary of IWD, I am officially launching a second electronic version of my popular Women in Power booklet. This takes a look at the wide-ranging successes and achievements of female MPs in Westminster. It compliments my earlier directory (which you can find on my website) profiling the 257 female MEPs in Brussels. Each individual is listed with a full biography and image so that readers can gain more information on Members. It is an essential guide for anyone wishing to learn more about the female demographics of the UK Parliament.  Please do have a look by clicking here.

The far-reaching successes of women in politics were celebrated at a special IWD event in the European Parliament on the 3rd March. This was organised by the Women’s Rights Committee and brought together an impressive list of speakers. Among them were Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, Jerzy Buzek, current President of the European Parliament, and Nicole Fontaine, former President of the European Parliament. Nele Lijnen, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities, Alena Gajdůšková, Vice‐President of the Senate in the Czech Republic, and Marlene Rupprecht, Member of the Committee on Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in Germany, also said a few words.

Later today, my Socialist colleague Karin Kadenbach MEP will be chairing a small meeting in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to celebrate women’s achievements and to discuss the challenges for the next century.

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.

The Tories’ Real Record on Women’s Rights

Labour Party

I have been reading with some amazement recent statements on women from senior Tories, in particular David Cameron and Theresa May.  In David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party spring conference last month, he emphasised how “family-friendly” his party’s manifesto would be with the “right to flexibility to everyone with children”.  Last week Theresa May used the occasion of International Women’s Day to make a “pledge of support for women” in the Guardian online pages. 

All fine sentiments, but female voters beware!  Beyond Cameron and May’s words, there is little sense that there is any support for such policies in the core of the Tory party, or little evidence that the party leadership have the will to implement them.  Indeed, as I have blogged before, the voting record of Tory MEPs on women’s rights issues since David Cameron became leader is appalling, and exposes the fact that really nothing has changed in the Nasty Party.

For example, in 2006 Tory MEPs voted against a Report on combating violence against women, which included provisions on making rape within marriage a criminal offence, eliminating female genital mutilation, and encouraging cross border cooperation on so-called “honour” crimes, all matters mentioned by Theresa May in her Guardian article as commitments of a future Tory government. 

Yet it seems her MEPs do not share these concerns.  As recently as 2009, the Tory MEPs abstained in a vote urging member states to improve their national policies on combating violence against women, where the importance of recognising rape within marriage as a criminal offence was again underlined. 

On childcare, the EU adopted Employment guidelines as part of the EU’s Growth and Jobs strategy in 2008.  These guidelines included targets for flexible working, and access to childcare, surely a key element of Cameron’s pledge of the “right to flexibility to everyone with children”.  Again, this failed to get the Conservative MEPs’ backing.

In February of this year, the Tories voted against a report which included provisions on the need to tackle the gender pay gap – another issue Theresa May purports to be in favour of – and to link maternity and paternity leave.  The Tories in the European Parliament explicitly disagreed with the call to establish paternity leave across Europe, and against linking paternity and maternity leave to ensure fathers are able to take time off as well.  The report in question also contained a provision on one of David Cameron’s priority policies, combating persistent sexist stereotyping and degrading images.  Again the Tory MEPs voted against.

David Cameron said last month in his speech that as a parent he “dreads switching on the television and being bombarded with commercial messages”.  However, in 2008, the European Parliament discussed the issue of advertising and stereotypes in the media.  Member States were urged to ensure that marketing and advertising did not uphold discriminatory stereotypes, and consider the impact of advertising on children and teenagers’ body image and self-esteem, and yet 15 Tory MEPs still managed to vote against this measure.

I continue to be amazed at the disingenuousness of Cameron’s approach.  If he and his party were serious about family friendly policies and women’s rights, they would not let their MEPs vote so brazenly against these reports which recognise the importance of these issues. 

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, with a general election drawing near, the Tories suddenly remember that they need to try and appeal to women, who do make up over 50% of the electorate, but I would urge female voters not to fall for these well-scripted sentiments, when time and time again it can be shown that they are not supported by the Tories in any way that matters.