Debating Europe Discuss Reproductive Rights in the EU

Labour Party

Last month I was involved in a discussion over Skype where I was asked a number of questions by young people about the EU.  The conversation was recorded and the first segment was published a few weeks ago and you can read that blog here.

Last time we were talking about EU-US relations, this time it was on the subject of reproductive rights.  I answered the very interesting question of whether the EU was the right forum for discussing social policy.  You can see the answer I gave by watching the video above.

Also answering questions was Johanna Westeson, Regional Director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights and my fellow Labour MEP Michael Cashman.  Chris Wigram, International Director of the European Christian Mission, gave a written response as well, so there were man different perspectives provided.

The whole piece is worth looking at, and you can do that by following the link here.  You can also contribute your own opinions at the bottom of the page in the comments section.

Homophobic Nick Griffin may face European Parliament sanctions

Labour Party

Labour Members of the European Parliament have formally reported Nick Griffin’s controversial tweets to the President of the European Parliament. The BNP leader faces possible sanctions under Parliament rules.

On Thursday last week, British National Party Leader Nick Griffin, MEP for the North West of England, tweeted the private address of a gay couple, inviting his supporters to ‘give them a bit of drama.’.

Griffin disagreed with a county court ruling that refusing the couple to enjoy their B&B reservation because they were gay was discrimination.

The couple’s house was placed under police protection, and Griffin’s aggressive tweets are now investigated by the police.

Michael Cashman, Labour MEP for the West Midlands, who represents Labour on LGBT issues commented: “I brought this to the attention of the President of the European Parliament, who should act swiftly and officially.

“Under European Parliament rules, MEPs’ conduct ‘shall be characterised by mutual respect, and be based on the values and principles laid down’ in EU treaties, including respect for minorities’ dignity. Nick Griffin certainly failed those values when he incited his followers to give a gay couple ‘a bit of drama’.”

Michael, and all Labour MEPs, hope the European Parliament will take serious action. Griffin’s appalling behaviour is a sad reminder of the homophobia and violence LGBT people still face.

The struggle to fight gender-based violence in crisis states

Labour Party

An important roundtable discussion looking at gender-based violence (GBV) programmes in (post-) crisis settings was held at UN House in Brussels last week. This issue is of crucial importance for women’s rights organisations operating in parts of the developing world. It is also one the EU has been working tirelessly to address.

In the last decade, GVB has received recognition as a systematic and life-threatening problem in states torn apart by conflict or destroyed by natural disasters. The international community has been mobilising for more attention to be brought to this problem. It has also begun providing increasing amounts of funding to address women’s and girls’ needs in these contexts. Thanks to these efforts, the number of organisations carrying out GBV programmes has grown. So too has the body of standards, guidelines and research that have laid the foundations for action.

Despite this enormous progress, however, GBV remains a relatively new field. There is still confusion among many within the humanitarian community about what a comprehensive GBV programme should look like. Very often the various pieces of programming – be it health responses, economic initiatives, efforts to improve justice or community-based programming – are presented as separate and/or competing activities.

Last week’s roundtable, organised by the Brussels Ad Hoc Working Group on Violence Against Women in Crisis, brought clarity to this issue by presenting the big picture of GBV programming. Amongst the panellists were Maha Muna, a Gender and GBV initiatives specialist from UNFPA; Luisa Cremonese, Senior Coordinator (Gender Equality) from UNHCR; Elisabeth Roesch, Women’s Protection and Empowerment Advoacy Officer at the IRC; and Rose Amulen, GBV Advisor for the Northern Ugandan Women Empowerment Programme.

They outlined the essential elements of a comprehensive response to GBV. They also discussed how humanitarian actors can work together to ensure holistic programming.

One of the big problems it seems to me is that many good policy declarations are not followed up by strong enforcement mechanisms. What’s more, in some states where coordinated efforts to tackle GBV are desperately needed, there has been a lack of international attention. The Côte d’Ivoire is a primary example. I will be using my position as a member of the Women’s Rights Committee to highlight these issues. I will also work with my Labour colleague on the Development Committee, Michael Cashman, to campaign for greater awareness.

Tory MEPs Refuse to Support EU Targets on Aid to Developing Countries

Labour Party

David Cameron is today attending a summit of European leaders which will seek to agree the EU’s approach at a major United Nations summit on the UN Millennium Development Goals due to be held in September.

Meanwhile a large proportion of his Tory MEPs yesterday refused to vote in favour of a report in the European Parliament on the EU’s progress in meeting these very same Millennium Development Goals.  Fortunately the report was adopted by a large majority, which only goes to show just how out of touch the Tories are with mainstream opinion.

In the final vote on the report authored by my Labour colleague Michael Cashman MEP, there were no Tory votes for the report and no outright rejections.  However, the following Tory MEPs abstained: Jacqueline Foster, Ashley Fox, Daniel Hannan, Roger Helmer, Syed Kamall, Sajjad Karim, Emma McClarkin, Kay Swinburne, Charles Tannock and Marina Yannakoudakis.

The refusal of such a large proportion of the Conservative MEPs (10 out of a total of 25) to back the report must call into question the wider support for international development within the Tory party.  It also makes you wonder about David Cameron’s attitude in that most of these MEPs supported Cameron for Tory leader and are clearly close to him.

In yesterday’s vote, the European Parliament specifically expressed its support for policies on voluntary family planning, safe abortion, treatment of sexually transmitted infections and the provision of reproductive health supplies consisting of life-saving drugs and contraceptives, including condoms. Maternal mortality claims over half a million women’s lives a year and progress has been negligible. Teenage pregnancy is still high and contraceptives and family planning have become only slightly more accessible.

Yet the Tories refused to support amendments to the report on these issues.  The first part of amendment 42 dealing with safe abortion and the provision of condoms was rejected by Richard Ashworth, Robert Atkins, Giles Chichester, James Elles, Vicky Ford, Daniel Hannan, Malcolm Harbour, Roger Helmer, Syed Kamall, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin, Struan Stephenson and Charles Tannock while Ashley Fox, Sajjad Karim, James Nicholson, Kay Swinburne and Marina Yannakoudakis abstained.

Both these Conservative MEPs and more importantly Prime Minister David Cameron need to explain why they do not wish to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and improve the lives of women in poverty in developing countries.

We know that David Cameron has promised there will be no cuts to overseas development aid.  The big question now is: “Will Cameron make good on this promise or will he renege on all those vulnerable people who so badly need our assistance?”

Is time running out to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?

Labour Party

The deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is only five years away, and while some progress has been made at the international and national levels, it has until now been too slow and partial. Decision-makers have a tendency to think about problems in statistical terms, and this can mean that what is really happening to people on the ground gets lost.

To persuade the powers that be to get a move on, , my colleague in the European Parliamentary Labour party, Michael Cashman, hosted an event in the European Parliament earlier this week  in which six remarkable women from the developing world came to let politicians, lobbyists and media bodies hear first-hand their experiences.

Professor Leonor Magtolis Briones, the convenor of Social Watch Philippines, was the first to speak.  She opened by expressing her deep concern for the so-called ‘lost generation’ in the Philippines; that is those babies born during the period of structural development, who, now in their 20s, are in poor health and lack education.  In one Philippine province of 835,000 people, there are only 14 medical doctors, 16 nurses and one nutritionist.  She observed that specific issues on health and education are more pressing for women and girls, but that at present not enough of them have adequate access to these provisions.  Professor Magtolis Briones is now playing a leading role in the access to health and medicines campaign in the Philippines.  Using her extensive knowledge of public finance, she is helping to put together an alternative budget on the government – one in which more money is spent on essential services.

Nicaragua-born campaigner, Elba Rivera Urbina, was the second speaker.  She remarked that Nicaragua currently has the worst education standards in South America, with the most poorly-paid teachers in the region.  According to the World Bank, people typically need at least the equivalent of a baccalaureate to get out of poverty; yet, in a country like Nicaragua, only a small minority of children leave school with such a qualification.  Since a literacy campaign brought Elba out of illiteracy at the age of 18, transforming her life, she has been working tirelessly on the Nicaragua campaign for better education.  Her aim is to put pressure on the Nicaraguan government to recognise the importance of education, as she believes that this is the only way to get her mainly agricultural country out of poverty.

The final personal account was given by Kadiatou Baby Maiga, who is President of the Malian coalition for Education for all.  She reiterated the claim of the previous two speakers that education is the basis for everything.  She explained that in her year at high school, only two out of the 80 pupils in her school were girls.  She saw that education for girls was not the norm, and has therefore been striving ever since to ensure that greater numbers of girls have the opportunity to go to school.  If the status of women is to be lifted then it is vital that this goal is achieved.

The testimonies of these three women gave a fresh and welcome perspective to the widely-discussed issue of poverty in the developing world.  While it is important that politicians keep pushing for changes in the law, it is also essential that those affected are involved at every stage in this process.  Aid works, as these three women highlighted, and it is a vital component on the fight against global poverty.  Between now and 2015, the European Union must focus on increasing its aid to the world’s poorest countries, on improving the quality of its aid, and on supporting free public services at both the technical and political level.


Labour Party

STRASBOURG14.7It was, in fact, the queue to cast my vote for the President of the European Parliament.  Having seen Griffin at the end of the queue in which I was due to cast my vote, I truly felt I couldn’t voluntarily go anywhere near the man.  I therefore did that very un-British thing and jumped the queue, insinuating myself further up the line.  My small discomfort at pushing in was far less than the anger and rage I would have felt had I had to share the same space as the leader of the racist, fascist BNP, now elected to the European Parliament to our great shame.   

Just to explain how I came to be in this position.  The ballot for the President of the European Parliament is done by hand with MEPs filling  in their forms then placing them in the ballot boxes.  A number of these boxes are distributed around the Chamber alphabetically and each box typically takes ballot papers from MEP surmanes beginning with three lettes per ballot box, eg “A -C”.  I therefore cast my vote in the F – H box, the same box as Griffin.  Queues form to put the ballot papers in the boxes as each vote, which is completely secret having been put into an envelope, has to be ticked off by Parliament staff.  Hence  the queue and Griffin. 

The BNP presence is not going unremarked.  Far from it.  The “Not in Our Name” campaign organised by the anti-fascist “Searchlight” magazine is very acive and presented a petition yesterday to Michael Cashman, the outgoing Vice-Chair of the Petitions Committee.

Pictured in the photo are Nick Lowles from Hope not Hate and my fellow London Labour MEP Claude Moraes.