Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Conservative and Liberal-Democrat politicians were quick to deflect attention from their controversial pension’s plans last week by goading all those public sector workers. Ministers couldn’t act quickly enough to condemn those who plan to strike for the inevitable disruption it will cause.

It will be an autumn of discontent, and this is largely because the government has announced the cuts to public services pensions before completing its discussions with unions. therefore forcing them into action.

Last week Danny Alexander said the plan was to protect public sector workers for the long term. In a speech in London he said the proposals were “not an assault” on pensions and accused some unions of spreading “scare stories” about government plans.

He said a small group of unions were “hell bent on premature strike action”. I find this line deeply inflammatory and I’m certain that it will only serve to fan the flames of the already angry unions who rightly feel they are still in the middle of negotiations. You can read more on last week’s story here.

I blogged on the interview Harriet Harman gave in last week’s Guardian in which she highlighted how poorly the Tories are on the equality agenda, something which she has fought so hard to achieve but for which she gets little recognition. She said in the interview “You can’t leave equality to the Tories”, it’s a brilliant quote which frankly sums it all up. Harriet, as ever, remains true to her mission to boost women’s rights. You can read the full interview here, and more on my earlier blog here.

Despite her efforts, internationally we have some way to go. Targeted violence against female public officials, dismal healthcare and desperate poverty make Afghanistan the world’s most dangerous country in which to be born a woman, according to a global survey released on Wednesday.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Pakistan, India and Somalia feature in descending order after Afghanistan in the list of the five worst states, the poll among gender experts shows.

The disappointing survey has been compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to mark the launch of a website, TrustLaw Woman, aimed at providing free legal advice for women’s groups around the world. You can read the full report and findings 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.