Launch of my new ebook: Women Parliamentarians

Labour Party

I’m delighted to be publishing a set of eBook’s on Women Parliamentarians. They are available in three volumes:

House of Lords women

House of Commons women

European Parliament women

Women in Power 2012

These books are taken from my successful Women in Power pages on my website

I decided to do this because thousands of people have visited these pages and a number of people including schools and colleges suggested that I make the information available for download.

With much thanks to my staff, the three books are freely available to download. They are up to date as of now and I will endeavour to keep them up to date as representatives change committees and/or stand down.

I would welcome any feedback on these books (or corrections) and hope you find them to be a useful resource.

House of Lords Women

House of Commons Women

Women MEPs

Honouring unsung female heroes

Labour Party

A student of history would be forgiven for thinking that for the vast majority of the course of world history the earth was populated almost entirely by men. In any list of the greatest leaders, scientists, explorers, entrepreneurs, etc nearly all of them are men.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, many great women have been rather successfully written out of history. My own experience of undertaking research on the history of women in the Labour Party has demonstrated this all too clearly – while women were at the forefront of change and pioneering action, the men were the ones mentioned in the history books.

The second is that the work women have often done has been of the kind that is largely invisible, but without which the world would not exist as we know it. I have always liked George Eliot’s (one of the greatest female writers in the English language but condemned forever to be remembered as a man) ending to Middlemarch:

“the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs”

For this reason I am delighted to have discovered that this October One World Action will be holding an event to celebrate the achievements of the unseen powerful women who change the world, called “One Hundred Women”.

These hundred women’s actions have been of great benefit to the world within their chosen spheres, be they entrepreneurs, or involved in media and the arts, human rights, public services, or business. The full list can be accessed here.

So, for what I am sure will be an excellent night where women who really have made a difference will be honoured, go to The King’s Fund, 11 Cavendish Square, London, W1G 0AN at 6.30pm on Thursday 27th October.

International Women’s Day 2011 – 100 years on

Labour Party

International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated for the first time on 8 March 1911. This makes 2011 the global centenary, celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. Even more importantly, it reminds us of gender inequalities still to be redressed. At the beginning of the 19th century women fought against oppression and against inequality; they fought for better pay and for voting rights. However despite many positive developments over the last 100 years, huge gender gaps still persist between women and men.

Women are still not paid equally to their male counterparts. Across the EU there is currently a gender pay gap of 17.8%. Globally the situation concerning women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. We are witnessing a feminisation of poverty, with single mothers and their children, elderly and migrant women all especially vulnerable. Moreover women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Women account roughly for only 24% of Members of national parliaments and governments in Europe.

Today, in light of the 100 year anniversary of IWD, I am officially launching a second electronic version of my popular Women in Power booklet. This takes a look at the wide-ranging successes and achievements of female MPs in Westminster. It compliments my earlier directory (which you can find on my website) profiling the 257 female MEPs in Brussels. Each individual is listed with a full biography and image so that readers can gain more information on Members. It is an essential guide for anyone wishing to learn more about the female demographics of the UK Parliament.  Please do have a look by clicking here.

The far-reaching successes of women in politics were celebrated at a special IWD event in the European Parliament on the 3rd March. This was organised by the Women’s Rights Committee and brought together an impressive list of speakers. Among them were Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, Jerzy Buzek, current President of the European Parliament, and Nicole Fontaine, former President of the European Parliament. Nele Lijnen, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities, Alena Gajdůšková, Vice‐President of the Senate in the Czech Republic, and Marlene Rupprecht, Member of the Committee on Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in Germany, also said a few words.

Later today, my Socialist colleague Karin Kadenbach MEP will be chairing a small meeting in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to celebrate women’s achievements and to discuss the challenges for the next century.

More Women in Top Jobs Key to Economic Growth

Labour Party

Only one in 10 board members of Europe’s biggest listed companies is a woman and all central bank governors in the EU are male. This is quite scandalous, not least because, according to a new report from the European Commission the economy would benefit by having full representation of both men and women in top positions.

The report, “More women in senior positions – key to economic stability and growth,” shows that women continue to be severely under-represented in economic decision-making.  In the corporate world, men account for nearly 89% of the board members in Europe’s biggest listed companies. The disparity is widest at the very top where only 3% of such companies have a woman in charge.  Norway stands out as the only country with anything approaching gender balance: 42% women and 58% men on the boards of the largest listed companies – a result of a legal quota.

At the same time several studies have now shown that gender diversity pays off and that there is a positive correlation between the share of women in senior positions and company performance.  For example, a study conducted in Finland found that firms with a gender-balanced board are on average 10% more profitable than those with an all-male board.

You will see from my Women in Power directory on this website that the European Parliament is now at its most gender-balanced level since its inception in 1979, with 35% women and 65% men.  The proportion of women members of national parliaments (single/lower house) across Europe as a whole has risen from 16% in 1997 to 24% in 2009. However, it is still well below the so-called critical mass of 30% deemed necessary for women to exert meaningful influence in politics.

In national governments, the situation is improving steadily with the share of women senior ministers in EU governments at 27%.  The European Commission counts nine women Commissioners (33%) and eighteen men (67%), the best gender balance yet – up from 5.6% in 1994/1995.  Needless to say, the UK is low down this scale with only four women full Cabinet members (those invited to attend but without permanent places have not been counted) out of a total of twenty-three.

To show how very out of touch and old fashioned we are in Britain, over half (55%) of the Europeans polled in a recent Eurobarometer survey thought that the female/male ratio in parliaments should be addressed “urgently”.

With the worldwide economic crisis, women’s role in businesses is increasingly important. For companies to survive and manage during the crisis, they need to have the best governance and attract the best talent possible. According to a study conducted under the Swedish EU Presidency in 2009, eliminating gender gaps in employment in the EU Member States could lead to a potential 15% – 45% increase in Gross Domestic Product.

The European Commission’s Report will be presented at a European conference on “Equality between women and men as a basis for growth and employment” and an informal meeting of gender equality ministers in Valencia on 25-26 March 2010.

International Women’s Day 2010

Labour Party

Today, as you may or may not be aware, is International Women’s Day. It is an annual event which seeks to celebrate the cultural, economic, social and political achievements of women. It comes, this year, just one day after the announcement at the Oscars that Kathryn Bigelow is this year’s winner of the much-coveted best director trophy, for her film The Hurt Locker – she is the first woman in the history of the Academy Awards to win this prestigious title. It also comes on a day when a law in India is to be put forward before the legislature, requiring that a third of seats in the country’s Parliament must be reserved for women.

It has been argued in the past that International Women’s Day should be abolished altogether on the grounds that if we have to mark such an event it must mean that we do not have equality. Two years ago Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, agreed. If full gender equality had already been achieved, then perhaps Commissioner Reding would have a point. Yet despite the fact that 53% of the population of Europe are women, they unfortunately occupy just 34.9% of seats in the European Parliament. Politics continues to be dominated by men, and as Gordon Brown pointed out today the numbers of women in senior management posts across Europe remains dismally low.

There are, however, many changes to be proud of. Since the last parliamentary term, there has been an increase of 4.7% in the numbers of women who are elected to the European Parliament. The number of women chairing the various committees and sub-committees in the European Parliament has increased by 50%, while the number of female Vice-Presidents of the parliamentary committees has risen to six out of 14. Within the European Parliament there are several organisations and bodies with a mandate to tackle gender equality, including the Equality and Diversity Unit, which seeks to devise, monitor and implement equality and diversity policies within the General Secretariat of the European Parliament. In addition to this, the European Parliament boasts an Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities (COPEC), which has the task of proposing and monitoring gender equality measures in the European Parliament Secretariat.

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2010, several special events have been planned within the European Parliament. I am pleased to say that this year looks set to be as action-packed as ever. As my colleagues and I will be busy voting in Strasbourg this week, most of the events have been scheduled to take place in Brussels in one week’s time. Today, nevertheless, a debate on violence against women has been organised between MEPs, the Association des Journalistes Parlementaires Européens and representatives of women’s associations. On 16 March, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, will be opening a debate on the theme of violence against women, and this will be followed by the inauguration of the contemporary art exhibition ‘Women & Women’, organised by José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil MEP. Several key political figures have been invited to speak at the Parliament on this day, including Bibiana Aído Almagro, Spain’s Minister for Equality, and Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Gender equality and gender mainstreaming have become priority issues for the European Parliament, and International Women’s Day is an ideal occasion for thinking about how these aims can be achieved. You will see from my now complete Women in Power project that representation of women in politics has advanced a great deal in recent years, and although there is still a great deal more to do to improve their status, we certainly have a lot to be pleased about. Women in Power was launched with the aim of drawing attention to women’s achievements, and I believe that it has been successful in doing this. Let’s just hope that by International Women’s Day 2011 there will be even more women occupying powerful political roles than there are at present.

Women in Power – European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (EPP)

Labour Party

This week sees the launch of the largest group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (EPP), previously known as the European People’s Party-European Democrats. It is a group which, like the others, is made up of many successful women who come from numerous walks of life and have enjoyed a variety of different experiences. At least two of the women in the EPP group, including Danuta Maria Hübner of Poland and Sandra Kalniete of Latvia, were Commissioners before entering Parliament.

Finnish MEP Sari Essayah has a particularly diverse background. She became a member of the European Parliament in 2009 after working as Party Secretary of the Christian Democrats in Finland from 2007 and as a member of the Finnish Parliament from 2003. Like many of the women profiled in Women in Power, she has spent time working in academia, and is an active member of a several well-known organisations such as Amnesty International and the Finnish Red Cross. However, unusually for an MEP, her career began in the sporting field. Sari achieved great success as a race walker, winning the European Championships in 1994 and the World Championships in 1993 (pictured).

Monica Luisa Macovei, from Romania, also achieved major successes before entering the European Parliament, but in a rather different field. She, like Sari, sat on her national Parliament; in this case as Justice Minister from 2004 to 2007. Her major achievement was to play a lead role in implementing the justice reforms that helped Romania to join the European Union and fight corruption in the country. She is a founding member of Transparency International Romania, and has conducted research on gender in Romanian law and on violence against women. Monica has also been a civil society activist for political reform, democratisation and human rights in post-1989 Romania.

Spanish MEP Christina Gutiérrez-Cortines was too for a time a member of her national Parliament: as Minister of Education and Culture. For much of her career she worked in the cultural arena, and this is of particular relevance to my work as I am currently the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) coordinator on the Culture and Education Committee in the European Parliament. Christina was Director of cultural events at La Verdad newspaper in Murcia from 1989 to 1995, and has also been Director of Cultural Events and Evening Courses at the University of Murcia. She has a doctorate in Art History, and has been a researcher in art and architecture, urban planning and the history of urban development, as well as in the use of new technologies in the field of art history.

In the run up to International Women’s Day on the 8th March, I will be launching the remaining women members of the European Parliament on my website. I would very much welcome comments on these or any of the other profiles in the Women in Power collection.

Women in Power: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)

Labour Party

My Women in Power project continues this week with the launch of the female members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament. This group, as with the previous groups I have launched, includes a number of prominent British MEPs such as Sharon Bowles and Baroness Sarah Ludford.

While some MEPs work only in their native language, getting by in Brussels without using the two languages spoken most wildly in the Parliament, French and English, others have used their language skills as the basis for building successful careers. Bulgarian MEP Filiz Hakaeva Hyusmenova, for instance, obtained a degree in French and Russian Language and Literature from the University of Veliko Tarnovo, and went on to work as an assistant professor of French at the University of Rousse. She was also, for a time, a foreign languages expert at the Regional Inspectorate of the Ministry of Education and Science in Silistra. With this experience she moved into the political field and later became an MEP.

There are some in the ALDE group whose background, remote from the world of politics, has heavily influenced their political interests within the Parliament. Britta Reimers, from Germany, worked in the agriculture industry after completing her studies in Agriculture at the University of Applied Sciences in Kiel, Rendsburg. She has also worked as a farmer for her family’s business in Lockstedt. Now, as a member of the European Parliament sitting on both the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and the Committee on Fisheries, she has been able to put her practical experience to good use by influencing policy

Other impressive ALDE group members include Sylvie Goulard from France, and Silvana Koch-Mehrin from Germany. Silvana Koch-Mehrin had a very successful career in the world of business after completing her PhD in Economics and History. She was the co-founder and manager of a business consultancy until 2004, and is now a member of the World Economic Forum. Like many of the women described in Women in Power, she is the recipient of a number of informal awards, including ‘Woman of the Year’ (Freundin magazine) and ‘Up and Coming Politician of the Year’.

I hope that you enjoy reading these, and other, profiles of women members of the ALDE group. There remain only four sets of profiles to launch, and these will be available on the site in the upcoming weeks.

Women in Power: The European United Left – Nordic Green Left

Labour Party

For those of you who visit my website regularly, you will have noticed a recent addition to the site: Women in Power. This is a collection of profiles of women members of the European Parliament, and it follows many months of hard work by me and my Brussels staff.

Having previously brought you a set of profiles from the members of the Socialists and Democrats, the group in the Parliament to which I belong, I am now pleased to unveil the ten female members of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL). Though small in number, they have between them a remarkable array of qualifications and skills.

One individual with who I have spent a great deal of time, and with who I have been particularly impressed, is Eva-Britt Svensson. She chairs the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and always shows a great deal of enthusiasm and understanding when she talks about women’s issues. Her background is in the political field, and she has been both a member of the County Council for the Left Party and Political Secretary of the Left Party during her career.

Another EUL/NGL member who shares some of my interests within the Parliament is Marie-Christine Vergiat. Marie-Christine sits alongside me on the Committee on Culture and Education. She, like Eva-Britta, has a political background, primarily within the French Socialist Party. She has been a forceful campaigner for the party, and has worked alongside the likes of Martine Aubry, First Secretary of the Socialists, and François Mitterrand, who was President of France until 1995.

As I am sure you will agree, the women members of the EUL/NGL group are an impressive bunch. Despite being small in number, they continue to have a powerful role within the European Parliament.

Women in Power 2010

Labour Party

After many months of hard work this parliamentary term, I am pleased to announce the launch of a very special project of mine, called Women in Power. It follows an earlier publication of the same name, which I launched as a hard-copy back in 2008. This project is intended to do two things. Firstly, by presenting personal profiles of all the current female members of the European Parliament, it draws attention to their individual achievements. Secondly, it illustrates just how far collectively women have come. I want to place on record my thanks to all of my staff who have assisted in this work, especially Nicola Whitehead my Brussels Assistant who takes the lead on women’s issues and who has cajoled and persuaded information from many of my busy colleagues. A big thank you Nicola!

Women, unfortunately, still make up only around one third of the total number of MEPs in the Parliament, and a great deal more must be done to improve this. Nevertheless, this directory celebrates the fact that large numbers of women have managed to succeed in politics, despite the hurdles they face. As demonstrated, some actually go into this field because they wish to respond to the concerns of other women and help enrich their day-to-day lives.

On a regular basis (hopefully weekly!) I will add to my website a new set of profiles from one of the different groups in the Parliament (there are eight in total, including the non-attached members). I start, today, with the group to which my fellow Labour Party MEPs and I belong: the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). Since the European elections in June 2009, there have been fewer S&D members in Brussels than there were during the previous parliamentary term. Yet, despite this reduction, they remain an incredibly strong and diverse group of women who boast a range of different backgrounds, experiences and skills, and who come from a host of different countries.

Not all were involved in politics early on in their careers. Irish MEP Nessa Childers, for instance, first became a mental health professional after graduating from university in 1986, and ran her own psychotherapy practice. She went on to manage a Masters programme at Trinity College Dublin from 2001 to 2006, before being elected to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and later the European Parliament.

Others, such as Chrysoula Paliadeli, worked in academia before being elected into political office. Paliadeli, who gained a degree in Archaeology in 1971 and a PhD in Archaeology in 1984, became a university assistant at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She later taught ancient Greek painting, architecture, sculpture and epigraphy, whilst working hard to improve the quality of the educational system in her country.

In contrast to this, there are several women in the S&D group who held high positions of power in their national governments before moving into European politics. Prior to becoming an MEP in 2009, for example, Liisa Jaakonsaari was a member of the Parliament of Finland, where her roles included chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament and acting as Minister of Labour in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen’s First Government.

As you will see, there is no typical or identifiable route for women to becoming a member of the European Parliament; MEPs come from many walks of life. I am proud to be a member of a group, and an institution, that comprises of so many gifted and talented women who hold such a wide variety of skills. I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading their profiles and that you will take an interest in the coming weeks in the profiles of MEPs from other groups in the European Parliament.

A quick guide to Women in Power

Women in Power has been designed so as to make searching through and finding MEPs’ profiles very easy. You will see that the MEPs are divided up in three ways: according to their political group, committee membership and country. Each category, which has its own page, incorporates a full list of MEPs who falls into that particular category.

On the individual profiles themselves, there are links back to the main parent pages. For instance, by going onto my page and clicking ‘Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality’, you will automatically be transferred to this committee page and can see all the other MEPs who are members of this committee. If you simply wish to go back to the previous page, you can click on the link in bold at the bottom.

As ever, I would very much welcome feedback and suggestions as to how Women in Power can be developed and improved. If you exprience any problems with the site, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


albania, electoral reform

Recently I co-signed a letter with my colleagues in the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee to the Albanian Parliament. We congratulated the Parliament for passing a new Gender Equality Law which included gender quotas of 30% for women. We wrote at the request of women’s organisations in Albania and asked the Parliament to maintain the gender quotas in the upcoming reform of the Albanian Electoral Code.

The Committee has recently heard back from one of the women’s organisations. I have copied the letter below. It is great to hear that our work has helped the situation of women in the Balkans.

‘I am writing to say a HUGE thank you for your support to women’s organisations in Albania. The letter you sent to the Albanian Parliament was distributed shortly before the vote took place on the revised Electoral Code and greatly contributed to the outcome. On 20th November, the Committee voted in favour of a 30% gender quota. This is truly a historical moment in Albanian history for women’s rights and gender equality.

Thank you so much for your support and for the great difference you have made.’