Women are more likely to vote Labour than Conservative

Labour Party

With the Scottish referendum successfully out of the way and Labour Party Conference concluded, it’s time to start reporting again on women, Brussels, London and related matters. I should, of course, also add that the European Parliament went back on 1 September and that we’re now beginning the hearings for the Commissioners designate. But more on that later. In the meantime, I was very interested in this opinion survey.

The excellent Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest network for parents which aims to make their lives easier by pooling knowledge, advice and support, has teamed up with Ipsos MORI to find out how women are intending to vote next year.

It’s very good news to hear from this survey that women are still more likely to vote Labour than Conservative

Thirty-nine per cent of women back Labour while the Tories have thirty per cent

Howver, the survey also found that the female vote is still up for grabs, and six out of 10 women (58%) say they may change their minds between now and next May

Mums Net Graphis

The lesson for Labour surely is that we need to be vigilant about women voters and always take women’s views on board. Women could make the difference between winning and losing.

Although Labour has done better among women than the Tories for several years, this has not always been the case. I well remember the Conservatives being well ahead during the 1980s. There is nothing automatic about women voting Labour. We need to earn this support which could mean forming a government or spending another five years in opposition.

Amnesty’s proposal to legalise prostitution is wrong – we can’t let men who exploit women off the hook

Labour Party

At the end of January I wrote for Mumsnet, the popular parenting forum, on the subject of prostitution. It’s a subject which really seems to have caught people’s imagination, and there was an extensive discussion on the Mumsnet forum afterwards. Some argued from a libertarian stand-point, and many others seemed to share my disappointment in Amnesty. Given that reports have suggested a rise in single-mums turning to prostitution following the 2008 crisis, I was particularly interested to see the different ways that mothers engaged with the issue.

My full piece is printed below:

An Amnesty International document leaked this week argues for the legalisation of prostitution. It says that approaches like the Swedish Model – which criminalise buying sex, but legalise selling it – are guilty of “devaluing” prostituted women and “criminalising the contexts in which they live”. In essence, the proposals say that most women who become prostitutes make a rational, informed choice – effectively , that they enter into a relationship of equals with the men who purchase their bodies.

I’m really disappointed in Amnesty. I’m a long term supporter of the Swedish Model and, for me, the idea that we should simply accept prostitution as a fact of life is totally wrong. It is particularly irresponsible at a time when it’s being reported that austerity is driving many women – and in particular single parents – into prostitution.

I believe Amnesty have got it wrong. Firstly, I don’t believe prostitution is, in most cases, “consensual sex between adults”, as the policy document describes it. The idea that women who go into prostitution are exercising ‘free choice’ just doesn’t stack up. Abuse and lack of alternatives are almost always a factor – many enter the sex trade young, and come from backgrounds fraught with suffering and abuse. Of course there are exceptions to the rule but, all things being equal, I believe most women don’t ‘choose’, in the true sense, to become prostitutes.

Secondly, I disagree with the idea there can be any real equality between a woman who sells her body and a man who buys it. As Amnesty admits, the conditions of the sex trade are “imperfect” to say the least. British ‘prostitute review’ sites like ‘Punternet’ – as well as the male-led ‘Hands off my whore’ campaign in France – show what so-called clients think of the women they buy sex from.

A large proportion of prostitutes say they experience aggression while working, and nearly seven in ten suffer the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The dynamic between buyers and sellers of sex ranges from the disrespectful to the downright abusive – but there’s almost always an inequality at play.

Of course, there’ll always be some who say that prostitution is “the oldest trade” and that there’s not much we can do about it. But this argument is as untrue as it’s depressing. In Sweden, for example, stopping the purchase of sex changes social attitudes, making men less likely to purchase sex and more likely to support prosecutions for others – and there’s no reason why this can’t happen in the UK. Amnesty need to aim much higher. We can do better, surely, than just make the exploitation of women better regulated.

The role of charities like Amnesty should be to lift standards up, not drive them down. Amnesty are supposed to be an ambitious organisation. They shouldn’t just shrug their shoulders and say “c’est la vie”. Over the years they’ve done an indispensable job in ending exploitation, improving human rights, and reducing inequalities. Legalising prostitution runs counter to all these things. It has turned Germany into a “giant Teutonic brothel”, as the Economist puts it – and, according to Equality Now, has “empowered pimps and traffickers” in Amsterdam.

Women at risk or in economic need require more opportunities and better protection – not to be told their only option is a demeaning last resort. For the sake of women and mothers everywhere I sincerely hope Amnesty will rethink their position.

The discussion is still going on among Mumsnet users. You can read it in full by clicking here.

International Women’s Day

Labour Party

Yesterday I was invited to speak at a conference hosted by the European Parliament to mark International Women’s Day. The panel included Conservative MEP, Marina Yannakoudakis, the CEO and founder of Mumsnet, Justine Roberts, the academic, Roberta Guerrina and Jacqueline Minor who is the new head of the Commission Representation in the UK.

mary Honeyball IWD

We discussed what role the EU has played in shaping gender equality in the last 40 years.

Leading up to the event Mumsnet ran a thread on its website to ask its members what it thought about the effects the EU had had on women and gender equality. I read the thread in preparation of the event and was struck by the feeling from those who really believed that little had been done by the EU.

Indeed Justine Roberts confirmed this sentiment during the panel debate when she said people don’t necessarily know that many gender rights are a result of EU directives. And I think that’s a fair point. We have done a huge amount of work in the area of equal pay for work, improved the area of maternity rights and worked to achieve better paternity provision so that parents can have more of a choice in how they bring up their children among many other things.

Jacqueline Minor made the point that while we have come a long way, there is still a lot of work to do citing the 20% pay gap in the UK which still exists. In the Commission there is a better gender balance in the middle echelons but the top three per cent still has a disproportionately high number of men she explained.

Meanwhile Dr Roberta Guerrina, who is the head of the politics school at the University of Surrey specialising in gender and EU politics, suggested that women in Italy are effectively on strike from having babies as a result of gender inequality at work, and the tough economic climate. The reality is, she argued, that in some southern European countries parity is so low that women are not having children hence Italy has a seriously low birth rate, one of the worst in Western Europe. In contrast Scandinavian countries have some of the highest rates, and unsurprisingly the latter countries have significantly higher levels of gender equality.

The event was a fitting way to mark International Women’s Day, and while we have much to celebrate, we must tell people what the European Union has done for women. That’s why events such as yesterday’s panel debate are important to participate in. The provide a platform, but we must also seek to encourage the media not just to write about the European Union in a negative way but to write of the success stories too.

Finally, I was disappointed to hear of a survey published by BBC Sport which found how undervalued international sportswomen feel. Not just in terms of their financial remuneration but in terms of the support they receive to help them reach full potential in comparison to the male counterparts. So much more must be done in this area.

But today, let’s celebrate International Women’s Day and the leaps we have made so far.


Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The website Netmums (not to be confused with Mumsnet) asked their users what their attitudes towards feminism are and the majority felt that it was an old-fashioned word with little relevance to their lives.  This has led to articles in the Observer and the Independent asking whether or not feminism is dead.  Needless to say, both have concluded that it certainly isn’t.

It’s a strange question, especially when it seems every day there is a new story that demonstrates how the fight for gender equality is far from over.

The week began with the news that research conducted by the industry body Women in Journalism has shown that the front pages of British newspapers are dominated by sexist stereotypes, humiliating photographs of women and male bylines.

It transpites that male journalists wrote 78% of all front-page articles and men accounted for 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces, according to analysis of nine national newspapers, Monday to Saturday, over the course of four weeks.

The only females to be regularly pictured in the period were the Duchess of Cambridge; her sister, Pippa Middleton, and the crime victim Madeleine McCann. The three males most likely to be photographed were Simon Cowell, whose biography was published that month; Nicolas Sarkozy, who was fighting an election, and Prince William.

We then were treated to a pretty interesting demonstration of Romeny’s real feelings on gender equality in the second round of presidential debates this week as well.

It says something when a man trying to become the next president of the United States can make such a spectacular gaffe when talking about employing women, but Mitt Romney did just that this week.  As governor of Massachusetts, he explained: “We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said: ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”  And this was supposed to show people his feminist credentials.

Instead, he managed to conjure an image confirming every feminist’s worst fears about a Romney presidency; that he views women’s rights in the workplace as so much business admin, to be punched and filed and popped on a shelf. Worse still, it was irrelevant to the question he’d actually been asked, about pay inequality. And, according to several fact-checkers, untrue. He didn’t ask for the binders full of women. The list was compiled before he even took office. It wasn’t just a gaffe: it was a Freudian slip, a filibuster and a falsehood.

It also wasn’t even the daftest part of his answer. That would have to be this bizarre promise: “We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.”

So anxious, they’ll hire women. Subtext: so desperate, they’ll hire anyone. Even women.

Again, not only is it stupid, but it’s addressing a question no one has asked. The problem is that women are paid less for the same jobs, not that the labour market isn’t flooded enough for employers to take a charitable gamble on them.

Romney’s attempt to paint himself as a feminist only proved he doesn’t know what the word means. That’s why whole binders full of women won’t be voting for him.

Ryanair Again

Labour Party

It’s that time of year again. But it’s nice to know that the reach of Ryanair’s infamous calendar has spread far and wide. You may like this piece on the NY Daily News.

BY Lindsay Goldwert

Thursday, November 3 2011, 12:50 PM

The airline Ryanair issued its annual Cabin Crew Charity Calendar on Wednesday filled with sexy women in lingerie and underwear.

The airline Ryanair issued its 2012 cabin Crew Charity Calendar on Wednesday filled with sexy women in lingerie and underwear.

Take our Poll

Ryanair calendar

Do you think the no-frills airline’s annual calendar is sexist?

The flight crew is taking off — its clothes, that is.

Dirt cheap airline Ryanair has released a their annual “Girls of Ryanair” calendar of bikini-clad female flight attendants.

Proceeds from the cheesecake calendar go to a charity that aids children withe the genetic skin ailment epidermolysis bullosa.

The airline was been putting out the calendar to raise money for various charities since 2008.

“The 2012 Ryanair Cabin Crew Charity Calendar is the sexiest ever, featuring 13 cabin crew stunners in swimwear and lingerie,” the airline crowed in a press release.

The calendar can be purchased in-flight for 10 euros ($14).                                                           

Critics of the calendars say that the skin shots are more about publicity for the ultra-cheap airline, best known for removing toilets on some flights to make room for more seats and charging big bucks for to check even one bag.

In 2009, Mary Honeyball, a Labour party leader in the UK, accused Ryanair of “sexualising” the airline industry in “a desperate bid for profits,” the Telegraph reported.

Michael O’Leary, the airline’s chief executive dencounced the female polititian as as “anti-fun” and sent her a copy of the calendar.”

Sadly the New York Daily News poll referred to above showed 89 % of respondents thought the calendar was ok while only 11% agreed with me. However, there is more to it than that. Since blog audiences are ultimately self-selective, I thought I’d look at Mumsnet. Almost all of their comments were on my side, from castigating O’Leary for the way he behaved during the “Women’s Hour” interview last year to objecting to the fact that the calendar’s models were Ryanair staff.

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 http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/site_stuff/1163303-Mumsnet-goes-to-the-European-Parliament-your-thoughts/AllOnOnePage?reverse=1

 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?