Speaking on Woman’s Hour about growing support for the Swedish Model

Labour Party

Yesterday I appeared on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to discuss the new laws on prostitution currently being passed in France.

It was great to be on the programme again – you can listen to the interview here:

Francois Hollande’s socialist government are moving towards adoption of the Swedish Model, and this week announced fines of as much as €3,750 for prostitute use. The aim of the bill, which is being pushed through by Moroccan-born women’s minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, is to shift emphasis away from those selling sex and onto consumers.

The full proposal, which includes provisions for a €20m fund to help those who want to leave prostitution, will be voted on in the Assemblée Nationale later this week. It will then go to the upper house of the French parliament, the Sénat, for approval.

France is a perfect example of why we need better joined up thought on this issue. Prostituted women in the country are now 90% foreign – up from 20% in 1990 – with most coming from Eastern Europe and China. Human trafficking convictions have gone up by 30% there in the last three years, and there are accounts of sex tourism too, with some French men now crossing the border to liberalised Germany to make us of new ‘mega-brothels’. The situation in France shows that prostitution is a problem which has become globalised – and which now needs more internationally focussed solutions and greater consensus.

For that reason I am delighted to be taking my own report, calling for the Swedish Model, to the Women’s Rights and Gender equality Committee today.

Last month I discussed this with Radio Nantes – you can watch this by clicking here.

The committee will vote on it in January, with the aim of taking it to the plenary stage in February. If my proposals go through then it will add to pressure on domestic governments to adopt more nuanced policies towards tackling the sex trade, so that we can move beyond the blanket ‘Prohibitive vs. Permissive’ binary.

Norway and Iceland – two countries with world-class gender equality records – both adopted the Swedish Model some time ago. It looks as though France will now follow them. As I have said before, my hope is that, if the European Parliament as a whole approves the Nordic Model when we vote on it next year, then we can build on this momentum and see an overall shift of the centre of gravity across Europe. Member States will not be bound to implement the Swedish Model if they do not want to. But as other countries adopt it – and it receives EU approval – they will be more likely to examine whether their own systems are working.

For me this illustrates what the EU does best. In spite of what the Daily Express would have people believe, we are not a clunky regulator but a means of building international consensus and learning from each other, so as to overcome global challenges.

The Guardian should not have accepted Ryanair sexist adverts

Labour Party

I am disappointed that the Guardian and the Independent accepted advertisements from Ryanair deemed sexist by the Advertising Standards Authority. I very much take the view that both these left-leaning titles should have been more careful about the advertising they allow on their pages. While I accept that times are hard, it is still important not to compromise for the sake of advertising revenue.

Two UK newspaper adverts for budget airline Ryanair have been banned after complaints from readers that they were sexist and objectified women. Having received 17 complaints, the ASA said they were likely to cause offence.

The ASA are absolutely right, and are to be congratulated for their stance. They have been very clear that these adverts must not appear again.

The adverts showed women posing in bra and pants with the headline “Red Hot Fares & Crew! One way from £9.99”.

The advertising watchdog found the women’s appearance, stance and gaze – together with the headline – would be seen as linking female cabin crew with sexually suggestive behaviour and breached the advertising practice code. “We considered that the ads were likely to cause widespread offence, when displayed in a national newspaper,” it said.

The airline had the brass neck to say the adverts promoted its cabin crew charity calendar and used images taken directly from it. This is the very same calendar I have attacked on many occasions on this blog. I have even debated the calendar with Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. The calendar in its entirety is sexist and objectifies women.

Ryanair has, of course, been reprimanded by the ASA on a number of occasions over the years. The Guardian and Independent should, however, know better. I say this as a Guardian reader for over 40 years who has always enjoyed and respected its renowned women’s pages.

Not enacting equality legislation and no female candidates for the GLA – the shameful Tory record on women

Labour Party

Interesting to see in today’s Guardian that Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May has asked firms to publish information on the gender pay gap – the discrepancy in pay between men and women – and male/female promotion rates. The Tories are obviously getting worried, evidenced by Theresa May’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and David Cameron’s suggestion in the House of Commons that the coalition government will look at female representation in boardrooms and at Westminster.

We should take the Tory attempt to improve the position of women for the cynical move that it really is. The Conservative Party still has no real commitment towards women. The most damning piece of evidence is the fact that all, yes all, of their candidates selected so far for the Greater London Assembly election next year are men. Not one woman, unbelievable in this day and age.

I find it hard to accept that a political party which cannot field any female candidates for an important regional body is at all serious about women. According to a policy memo, commissioned by the Lib-Dems and leaked to the Guardian, the coalition is very worried about their poor showing with women voters. Yet the government has still not enacted existing laws that would make gender auditing mandatory. May’s response to a question about this on Woman’s Hour was telling, exposing the Tories’ utter lack of commitment to equality for women: “The mandatory power is still available in the Act but I think if you make something mandatory they do it but only to the point at which they have to do it. We’re encouraging companies to look more widely at their equality issues in their workplace.”

So that’s all right then. The Tories will cozy up to their friends and supporters in business and hope that it will somehow all become OK for women because the Home Secretary thinks it should be. Women deserve better. We deserve equality legislation to be implemented and we deserve a government which will actually work for women not merely spout warm words in the hope of electoral advantage.   

It looks to me as if the Tories are being pushed by their Lib-Dem coalition “partners”. Maybe the Liberal-Democrats are feeling the need to stretch their wings following the unhappy outcomes of the two constitutional measures they wanted. Both the result of the referendum on the alternative vote and the recently published review to cut the number of seats in the House of Commons to 600 have been disastrous for the coalition’s very junior partner. Maybe the Lib-Dems have moved on to gender equality. If so, let’s hope the curse of Clegg doesn’t hit women’s rights as well as constitutional issues.

Tories vote against Women in Boardrooms

Labour Party

Yesterday the European Parliament took a historic step forward in ensuring women’s leadership in business by urging the Commission to propose legislation including quotas by 2012 for increasing female representation in corporate management bodies of enterprises, if voluntary measures do not manage to increase the number of women.  

Women currently make up 10% of directors and only 3% of CEOs at the largest listed EU companies. The Parliament voted by a very large majority to address this inequality by adopting a resolution that calls for women to make up 30% of top management in the largest listed EU companies by 2015 and 40% by 2020.

Unsurprisingly, Tory MEPs were once again shown to support the extremist ring-wing position in the Parliament, an honour previously reserved for UKIP. The 17 out of 26 Tories that bothered to turn up to the vote voted against any legislation that would ensure women take their rightful place in business leadership. They also voted against the report as a whole, showing that not only do they disagree with legislation to enforce women’s equality but they disagree with encouraging women in business leadership at all.

This just goes to show just how out of touch with real issues the Tories are. Firstly, such legislation would only come into effect when voluntary measures fail, giving businesses an opportunity to change their practices voluntarily. Secondly, not only have several countries, notably Norway, the Netherlands, France and Spain, pioneered this approach already but our own experience in the UK shows that quotas are a necessary tool for breaking down the barriers to women’s access to high power jobs. They are one of the only ways in which the masculine culture of boardrooms and politics can be forced to change. The Tories’ however have shown that they have no interest in such change, nor in having women in positions of power.

I have always been a supporter of the introduction of gender quotas and spoke in their defence on Women’s Hour yesterday morning which you can listen to here:

I wholeheartedly welcome this decision and congratulate the Parliament’s Vice-President Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou who drafted this resolution. I hope that the Parliament’s decision yesterday will lead to real changes for the women of Europe. It is shameful however, to know that so many of the MEPs Britain sends to the European Parliament only seek to block and derail the best of its work.

The Interview with Michael O’Leary

Labour Party

The exchange between Michael O’Leary and myself on “Woman’s Hour” yesterday has received some attention, including in the Times this morning. You can listen to the full  interview with Michael O’Leary presented by Jane Garvey by clicking the media player below:

Interestingly O’Leary felt unable to leave it there and produced this press release. This is what I sent out a my response:

Ryanair attacks Labour MEP following radio debate

 MEP defends her position following ‘cheap’ and ‘personal’ dig by O’Leary

London MEP Mary Honeyball has responded to a press release issued todayby Ryanair accusing her of “false claims” against his airline and calling her “dreary”.

Ms Honeyball said: ‘Rather than explaining its actions, Ryanair has responded to me by using cheap publicity slogans, which are potentially slanderous. If O’Leary and his team cannot think of anything useful to say, then perhaps they shouldn’t say anything at all’.

Appearing alongside Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour yesterday Honeyball maintained that the Ryanair’s 2010 calendar, which features scantily clad young women in sexually provocative poses, is demeaning.

The women -all of whom are Ryanair employees – were, according to O’Leary, willing volunteers. However, O’Leary does not allow trade union representation at Ryanair, leading Mary Honeyball to wonder whether some of the young women faced pressure to strip off for the calendar. With no trade union to defend them, Mary questioned whether the young women could be especially prone to such coercion.

Replying to O’Leary’s jibe that she was just out to get “cheap publicity” Ms Honeyball said: ‘As an elected representative I have the right to draw people’s attention to matters like this. Since I currently sit on the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in the European Parliament, it is my responsibility to speak out about issues important to women.’

When Mr. O’Leary pointed out that the proceeds from the calendar go to charity, Mary Honeyball said there were much better ways of raising money for good causes which did not involve demeaning images of women.’

And finally….I would like to thank Iain Dale for his congratulations on the work I do on human trafficking.  About the Ryanair calendar Iain, I’d be grateful if you listened to this “Woman’s Hour” piece. I made the same points that you considered flimsy arguments on LBC and O’Leary conspicuously failed to answer them. Maybe they weren’t so flimsy after all?

With Michael O’Leary on Woman’s Hour

Labour Party

 Earlier today I had my very own chance to confront Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO who thinks his scantily clad all female calendar is a bit of fun.  The interview on BBC Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” with presenter Jane Garvey and O’Leary on the ‘phone from Dublin gave us the opportunity to explain our respective points of view. (I will post a link to the piece as soon as possible).

Nothing was said to change my mind that pictures of young females in suggestive poses is demeaning to women.  It is also a marketing tool for O’Leary who seems to think it’s perfectly acceptable to use virtually naked women in provocative poses to sell his no frills airline – cheap as long as you book well in advance.

Many of you will know that trade unions are not allowed in the Ryanair company.  This inevitably casts doubt on O’Leary’s claim that the young women posing for the calendar, all of them Ryanair employees, are willing volunteers.  With no recourse should any one of them decline to take part in his scheme, I feel I have to ask, are they volunteers or have they been press-ganged?  O’Leary conspicuously refused to answer this and would not deal with my question about lack of trade union representation at Ryanair.

Neither would he engage with the question of aircraft safety.  When Jane Garvey pointed out that one of the pictures in a Ryanair calendar showing a bikini clad female flight attendant blowing up a life jacket was not an appropriate way to treat the safety of air passengers, O’Leary merely reiterated that it was a bit of fun.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to talk to Mr O’Leary.  It’s good he raises money for charity (the proceeds from the calendar go to charities across Europe).  I just wish he would find a way of benefitting good causes which does not involve a bad cause, that of demeaning women.

Woman’s Hour interview on Maternity Leave

Labour Party

I spoke this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about the EU’s Maternity Leave Directive which being voted on this week in Strasbourg. You can listen to it again here .

The Directive makes provisions for women to have fully paid maternity leave for 20 weeks, and for fathers to have two weeks paid paternity leave. It also addresses other issues to protect and ensure safety at work for pregnant and breastfeeding workers, including the prohibition of dismissal following the end of maternity leave to six months, and provisions on night work and overtime and adoption leave.

The vote is scheduled for Wednesday. I will be writing more as events unfold through what promises to be an exciting and interesting week.

Britain needs more Women in its Boardrooms

Labour Party

One of the enjoyable things about being in London when the European Parliament isn’t sitting (we don’t call it “recess” though that’s as good a term as any) is being able to catch up with must listen programmes like Woman’s Hour.

I was particularly interested in this item today, trailed on the BBC website:

 “We know that women can struggle to “get on” at work if they have kids. And it seems that even at the very top, women with children are at a disadvantage in competing for jobs. The number of women in the most senior executive positions is actually decreasing, and nearly half the biggest companies have no women at all on their boards. The government says it wants to increase the number of women reaching the boards of public companies – but how can women break through the glass ceiling into the boardroom?”

I have, in fact, blogged myself on this very subject, a matter dear to my heart.  It’s one of those very difficult issues where progress seems almost impossible, a fact borne out by a recent study from Cranfield University. 

However, there are occasional rays of hope.  Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour discussed a new flexible working scheme recently introduced by the law firm Allen and Overy with their spokeswoman Melissa Samuel. 

It’s good to see a firm such as Allen and Overy taking the initiative, not, I should say, for purely altruistic reasons.  As a sound commercial undertaking, they recognise that when women leave to have children, the company loses considerable experience and expertise.  Allen and Overy therefore wants to keep their top employees and is therefore willing to look at ways of accommodating women with children.

Other firms sadly put prejudice before business sense.

24 percent of FTSE 100 companies have no women on their boards and more than half of the FTSE 200 companies have no women in the boardroom.

Norway has made it mandatory for 40 percent of company boards to ne made up of women.  There have, of course, been no detrimental effects.

Spain and Italy are looking at introducing comply or explain measures to get more women into their company boardrooms.

It’s high time we in the UK followed these European examples and introduced statutory measures to ensure women take up their fair share of top table positions.  The last Labour government made great strides.  Lynne Featherstone, Coalition Women’s Minister, should now be building on what has already been achieved.

Will the Coalition be up to it?  Watch this space.

Woman’s Hour

Labour Party

As  I said in a previous post, I recently took part in a discussion about the closure of the Metropolitan Police dedicated Trafficking Unit on BBC 4’s Woman’s Hour.  You can listen to the clip from show by following the link here.