Women Given a Poor Deal by the Banks

Labour Party

Evidence has come to light today that women are being discriminated against by banks.

The report, entitled ‘Women and Banks: Are Female Customers Facing Discrimination?’, by Noreena Hertz, looks at several cases where banks have discriminated against pregnant women and those on maternity leave. It also looks into the different treatment of male and female entrepreneurs when applying for venture financing loans. 

One bank manager told a mortgage applicant: women “get all indecisive about whether they’re going back to work” after child having children, according to Helen Rumbelow’s excellent article in The Times today.

In itself this comment in incredibly sexist, reminiscent of the 19th Century when women were frequently diagnosed with hysteria. Perhaps even more shocking is that the bank manager who made that comment is a woman.

I find it absolutely appalling that banks may be discriminating against women in this day and age. I am also surprised to find that the Financial Ombudsman supports the banks in this action, who said that was a “legitimate commercial judgement”.

Not only is denying an individual access to funds based on their gender ethically wrong, it is also completely illegal both in the UK and in Europe. These legal protections are the products of many years of progress through laws such as the Equality Act and pages of legal case work.

The sexist discrimination in the financial services industry does not stop here though. The report also highlights that women-owned firms are charged higher interest rates on their loans than comparative firms owned by men.

I struggle to see how women-owned businesses present a greater risk to financiers than their male counterparts. In fact several studies have shown that women owned businesses have a better credit rating overall.

It appears that the whole culture of this industry is geared against women succeeding in business. A study undertaken by the Labour Government in 2004 found women owned businesses were “more likely to face discouragement when applying for external finance”.

Such barriers to women becoming home owners, or their full participation as entrepreneurs are particularly disheartening at a time when they are being hit the hardest by Tory cuts and are looking for new ways to support themselves.  This is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with in the most robust way possible.  I only hope that this government, supposedly pro-business and home-ownership, will do everything it can to address this staggering inequality.

More older women on TV please

Labour Party

Two news items today on women gave me pause for thought.

The first was this excellent Guardian piece on women in comedy. The second was the BBC survey showing the Corporation marginalises older women.

I fully agree with Hadley Freeman when she argues that within mainstream comedy women are, on the whole, considered to be unfunny and demoted to their own special categories. Younger women are either passive benign objects of sexual desire, or the neurotic wives (apparently on their wedding day all women get an obligatory brain transplant).

For older women however….well…..it’s hard to say exactly….it’s not as if there’s really enough to be able to tell. In much of the media world it appears that women only live until they’re 35 and spend vast amounts of that time either shopping, putting on make up or scheming….and lacking a sense of humour.

This isn’t the world I know. In the world I live in, where I now class myself as une femme d’un certain age, plenty of women are way over 35. The overwhelming majority are functional human beings, are just as capable as men, and are very funny. While I acknowledge there has been some progress in certain genres, in much of the media women are still portrayed as one-dimensional characters, really only valuable for their aesthetic qualities.

There are still not enough women in influential media positions such as production and direction. Many people seem to be under the illusion that this is no longer a problem. Even the Guardian proudly proclaimed that 4 women were competing for the top title at the Cannes film festival. This was, you may remember against 16 men, which is not so good when you realise that more than 20% of the media industry is made up of women.

Popular media not only reflects public perceptions but also influences and to some extent determines them. This is why it’s important to change the message the media is giving out about women. Reality and the media have a symbiotic relationship. This is why I, as a female MEP, care how the media is portraying women.

The BBC does have a duty here as our public service broadcaster with the highest of reputations. The BBC must act reasonably and fairly towards women over 35 and make sure they are as fairly represented on our television screens as the Corporation’s army of middle-aged men.


Yesterday I sent a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority, complaining about Ryanair’s latest derogatory ad campaign. Please feel free to use this letter as a template if you would also like to write to the ASA and to register your complaint.

Advertising Standards Authority
Mid City Place
71 High Holborn
24 September 2008
Dear Sir / Madam

RE: Ryanair’s Charity Calendar Advertisements

I recently received a publicity email from Ryanair, which included a large advertisement for their 2009 charity calendar featuring semi-naked female cabin crew. The advert also included a link to a ‘soft-porn’ style video on the making of the Ryanair calendar.

This advertising appears to contravene paragraphs 2.2 (social responsibility) and 5.1 (decency) of the non-broadcast CAP code.

I have highlighted some issues below that are of particular concern:

o Have Ryanair checked that the recipients of this mass email are not minors? If not then they are ignoring their social responsibility to consumers and the wider public.

o Have all of Ryanair’s staff consented to this calendar being made? This calendar clearly sexualises Ryanair’s female cabin crew and may undermine them professionally. The calendar will, I hope, have been made with the consent of the staff appearing in it. But such advertising will have ramifications for the wider body of staff. It may contravene paragraph 13 of the CAP (protection of privacy). Ryanair does not recognise trade unions, making it vital that their advertising does not adversely affect a body of workers who must remain voiceless.

Ryanair’s advertising has caused wide concern, as can be seen in the facebook campaign group that has been set up to raise awareness of the issue.

I ask you to take up these issues with Ryanair.

Yours faithfully

Mary Honeyball MEP


Guardian, ryanair
Just a year on from its Britney Spears style ad of a scantily clad school girl was formally reprimanded, Ryanair has again done the dirty in a desperate bid for profits and pimped out its “sexiest” airline stewards in a “bare all” calendar.

You might like to read my Guardian Comment is Free article on Ryanair’s advertising, or vote in the poll on the left.


The sexy calendar features Ryanair’s staff posing in skimpy bikinis wielding hoses and sprawling across aircrafts. But worse still the links I received in a promotional email took me to a YouTube soft porn-style video of Ryanair staff being stroked by greased-up men and scintillating camera close-ups. I received this depressing advert in a spam email, with no age limit, to titillate its customers to “click on the video link to bare all”. Be warned!

On a serious note, these women have no access to trade union representation. Ryanair does not recognise any worker organisation and accordingly no trade union has been able to establish itself in Ryanair to defend cabin crew. Even though some of these women could be happy to take part, who do they turn to if they’re not?

The Struggle for Equality

David Heathcoate-Amory, Dawn Butler, Diane Abbott, Equalities Bill, Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Racism, Theresa May, William Hague

At the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee here at the parliament the other day we were discussing the 2008 report on ‘Equal Opportunities for men and women’. Many of my colleagues on the committee expressed their absolute frustration that for yet another year the pay gap between men and women has remained infuriatingly static. Our work trying to give equal opportunities and equal outcomes to every member of society is certainly an uphill struggle.

Back from committee this led me to think that it is 80 years since women won the right to the vote in the UK and with that the right to a political life. But women are still denied the top jobs. In Europe, as I have blogged recently, the senior jobs are consistently awarded to men and that trend looks set to continue into the next term. In the UK our Tory colleagues have only paid lip-service to the promotion of women: in the absence of both Gordon Brown and David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Question Time in April Harriet Harman, as deputy leader stood in for Gordon Brown but on the Tory side David Cameron was replaced, not by his deputy leader Theresa May, but by William Hague with May demurely seated behind. As Harman rightly pointed out, this looked like women should be seen but not heard on the Tory side.

It is 40 years since the Equal Pay act meant that women and men should be paid an equal salary for equal work. However, the pay gap in the UK is still alarming. In full-time work women get paid 17% less than men and in part-time a shocking 38% less. The UK’s pay gap is fairly much in line with the pay gap between the sexes that is felt right across the EU.

It is 20 years since the first black female MP, Diane Abbott entered the House of Commons. To date there have only been three black, female MPs sitting in the Commons. Dawn Butler, MP for Brent South, has experienced racist and sexist attitudes within the Commons itself. One such incident the Tory (it’s always them isn’t it?) MP David Heathcote-Amory questioned why Butler was on the members’ section of the terrace asking if she was an MP. When she replied that she was he said “they’re letting anybody in nowadays”. He later denied that his comments were racially motivated but it is hard to see how they could be interpreted otherwise. In the European Parliament there are only four non-white female MEPs out of a total of 785.

So it is obviously with pleasure that I welcome Harriet Harman’s Equalities Bill. This legislation is not the beginning of this is issue in the UK, and it is certainly not the end, but another step in an 80 year old journey that will hopefully lead us to a truly equal society. In the UK we serve as a ‘best practice’ example to our European colleagues on a number of issues my hope is that in the future we will lead the way on equality as well.


glamour models, soft porn

Late yesterday evening I watched “Am I Normal”, introduced by psychologist Dr Tanya Byron, on BBC2. (I get BBC2 in Brussels on cable).

The programme looked a sexual behaviour and attempted to define normality. Much of it was disturbing, not least the sequences dealing with paedophilia and the sexualisation of children, usually girls.

Dr Byron spent some time examining lad mags such as “Loaded”, interviewing the editor of one such publication and the female models who posed for the photographs. I was struck by the way both the young women and the equally young male editor thought the subject matter – a certain portrayal of women and a certain view of male sexuality – was quite OK, nothing out of the ordinary, just what we all do, and why not make some money out of it.

The “Loaded” approach dehumanises both men and women. It views sex as a commodity to be bought and sold via its soft porn pages. I recently read that, according to one survey, something like forty percent of teenage young women aspire to be glamour models. In my time it was air hostesses. At least there was, and still is, dignity in being an airline steward.


Employees, Employers, Gender, Guardian, work

Today I have had an article published on the Guardian website about the gender pay-gap which has stirred up a lot of controversy.


Many commentators say that the feminist fight has been won and that sexism in the work place no longer exists but reading some of the comments I have received it is very obvious that this is not the case.

Here are some of the responses to my article, which have frankly shocked me:

“Why should employers have to pick up the tab for a woman’s fertility? You want to be an executive? Fine. You want to be a mother? That’s fine, too. But anyone with a functioning brain cell knows that there are major conflicts between devotion to a demanding career and diligent motherhood. “

“When women read as much as men, they’ll be ready for equality.”

“Women in every culture I’ve every visited have been bitchy and into how they look. It is obviously part of your programming the same way boys like playing soldier etc. The insistance that its all a biog conspiracy just shows how outdated you are.”

“Most working-class women I know would rather serve tea to old folks or look after toddlers in a nursery while your old man goes out and earns the lion’s share of the family income.”

“in my experience the women who try the hardest to get to the top do pretty much anything they can to stop other women from joining them.”

“it’s easier to go on about these splendid bright women who just want to have babies and come back to work and are stopped by men. No, they’re not. They’re stopped by their own desire for status, greed and a belief in self-entitlement.”

“Frankly any girl who would rather be Jacqui Smith than Coleen Mcloughlin needs to be hunted down and locked up as a danger to herself and the rest of us.”

“If I were an employer, I would want to be sure that any prospective employee was going to be able to satisfy my expectations and devote the time that I’m paying them for to doing my bidding and at my convenience. So I wouldn’t employ a woman of childbearing age in this day-and-age either unless I was satisfied that her fertility wasn’t going to get in the way of my business.”

It is perfectly obvious that this is fight that is not even close to being won.

I will be thinking hard about the comments I’ve received today, from all sides of the argument, and will be writing about this again in the very near future.