Women are safer with Labour

Labour Party

It was good to see that the commission on women’s safety chaired by former Solicitor General Vera Baird QC with assistance from Labour MPs Kate Green and Stella Creasey has just had its first meeting.

 Now it is established, Labour’s commission will scope out the key current issues on women’s safety with the leading national women’s sector groups. In the New Year, it will go nationwide to gather evidence and find out whether current concerns are justified and whether the reality is better or worse.

 The commission will be looking for fresh ideas and investigating what legislative measures might safeguard women in the future.

 Meanwhile, intense work has taken place in the European Parliament to safeguard the Daphne programme, the only EU programme combating violence against women, children and young people.

 Set up in 1997, the Daphne initiative supports small scale projects that bring NGOs together from at least two EU member states to co-operate on data collection, research, analysis, sharing good practice, training and raising awareness of domestic violence, amongst other things. Daphne funds NGOs public authorities and institutions such as universities. In recent years the annual Daphne budget has been around EUR 20 million.    

 It has generally been recognised that Daphne has been successful and has provided much needed funding and encouragement or projects tackling domestic violence.

 However, there have been attempts to reduce the reach of the Daphne programme. Many MEPs, including myself, were concerned a few months ago when the European Commission put forward plans to wrap Daphne up with other subjects under a catch-all heading of justice, rights and citizenship.

 The European Parliament Women’s Committee took up the baton on behalf of the Daphne programme, insisting that domestic violence be kept as a specific issue under the new proposals.

 Today the Women’s Committee passed a report defending Daphne, which included the following:

 “……..calls on the Commission, when promoting the programme Rights and Citizenship, to make it possible to still identify the projects concerning the objectives of the Daphne programme, which is wisely known, so as to keep the program me’s profile as high as possible.”

 The battle may not yet be won, but I am feeling more confident that the excellent work done by the Daphne programme will continue and that those women and children so desperately needing help will still be able to access EU funds.

The Hungarian Presidency addresses the Culture and Education Committee

Labour Party

MEPs have during this week listened to the Hungarian Presidency outlining their priorities for the next six months. Yesterday I blogged on the presentation to the Women’s Committee and today I want to look at Culture, Education and Sport.  The practice whereby the presidency in office talks to European Parliament Committees is, I believe, useful providing as it does an opportunity for Committee members to question the national ministers and get a clearer idea of where the Council wants to go.

We were fortunate to have four Hungarian Ministers come to the Culture and Education Committee earlier in the week Attila Czene, Sport;  Rozsa Hoffman, Education; Geza Szocs, Culture and Miklos Soltesz, Social Policy.

The Presidency is organising a number of conferences and events on each of these topics, including one on early years education and care at the end of February at which I am speaking on my report. Early years is one of the Hungarian Presidency’s top priorities which I think is very good news as it’s been neglected for far too long.

At the other end of the age range, I was pleased to see that the Hungarians are promoting sport for senior citizens. Sport Minister Attila Czene is a former Olympic swimming champion so I expect to see more strong sport initiatives.

Moving on to culture, Mr Szocs talked about the Presidency’s support for the European Heritage Label legislation and for our S&D rapporteur Chrysoulou Paliadeli. He also told us how Hungary will continue the work to protect minors online. However, we did not get anything further from him on the new media legislation and the perception that Hungary is stamping out media pluralism.

Last but by no means least we heard from the Minister for Social Policy, Miklos Soltesz. As you nay expect her was particularly interested in the European Year of Volunteering and hoped that active participation in society may help to bring down youth unemployment.

I would like to thank the Hungarian Ministers for their presentations. They were all well-informed and took the concerns raised by the Committee seriously. However, I fear the media question will dominate unless the concerns of the European Parliament are taken on board by the Hungarian Parliament. I can only hope this will happen so we will be able to work together n a reasonable and constructive way.


Labour Party

The European Parliament is now in full swing following the summer break.  We traditionally reconvene on the last Monday in August – it’s a public holiday only in Britain and a normal working day in all other Member States.  Hence the Brits draw the short straw and are required to work when everyone else is taking it easy.  Still, never mind.  It really would be churlish to complain.

So I’m now back in Brussels.  We have just elected the S&D (Socialist Group) Co-ordinator on the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee and chose the excellent Britta Thomsen from Denmark who is a long standing member of the Committee and a strong advocate for women.  Very best of luck to you Britta.

Each of the political groups appoints a Co-ordinator on all the European Parliament Committees.  As the second largest Group in the Parliament the S&D Co-ordinator can be compared to the United States House Minority Leader in relation to the Committee.  Although the EU set up is not directly comparable to that in the USA it is much closer to the American system that anything we have in Britain.  Hence House Minority Leader is the best brief description of what is an important role.  

I will report more news as the week unfolds.  In the meantime the weather here is bright and sunny – the perfect August bank holiday.


Women's Rights, workers' rights

As the number of people employed topples the two million mark this week, the front pages are not dominated by striking women rising placards for fairer distribution of pay across the sexes, flexible working in tough times and protection of maternity rights. Instead they are filled with pictures of men at industrial plants, Honda car yards closed down, and bankers losing their bonuses. That’s why I was pleased to welcome Harriet Harman to the European Parliament to discuss these issues (see video below)


The face of this recession is not a woman’s. It is already ingrained in my mind as a snow whipped man waving a laminated placard. But behind the headlines women are being silently slain, laid off at a rate of increase that doubled that of men last year. A two and a half per cent increase in the female redundancy rate in 2008 doubled the rate of the male increase  of 1.2 percent, according to the recently released Trade Union Congress’ figures.

As women tend to work in smaller workplaces, their redundancies go by unnoticed by the media, and former bastions of working women are slipping back into the home at such a pace that the Female Eunuch might never have been written.

Just a fortnight ago, the Sunday Times Style magazine reported a new ‘Prommies’ phenomenon. Professional mummies, who, due to dwindling business, City cutbacks and lay-offs, now find themselves at home with a new job description: mother. Slouching about with her mac photo albums waiting about for the economy to kick start, the lifestyle of this new brand of ‘super mum’ didn’t sound too bad. But this is not the reality for anyone, but the super rich. In reality being a Prommie will mean poverty, frustration and an increasingly daunting gap between being a woman and the workplace.

International fiscal stimulation packages have until now shared the same face as the banner bearing strikers. Obama’s promises of “Building roads, bridges and schools; investing in green technologies” concentrate on construction and engineering industries, where the fact is very few women are employed. It does not offer help to service sectors, more nurses, teachers and retailers are employed. Closer to home, Brown’s concentration on rescuing ailing car plants and banks may later filter down to more women dominated industries, but in the meantime these industries are going bust. Leaving female shaped holes in the job market that are not being filled.

Fortunately women’s minister Harriet Harman appears to be on the case. Yesterday evening she addressed the women’s committee of the European Parliament, of which I am a member, with urgent pleas to make women’s voices heard in this recession. To continue the equalities agenda at full steam as it is even more important now. And to keep at the forefront of all politician’s minds the impact of this recession on families, on women and on equality.

Our women’s minister revealed, to the collected audience of MEPs representing women’s interests from all around Europe, that in a recent polling of public attitudes in the recession  one third of women say their lives have already been affected by the economic downturn. Ms Harman also said the poll revealed that more women than men report an increase in arguments in the home as a result of this recession. From which we can conclude, that the economic downturn is affecting men’s ears or, that women are bearing the brunt of financial cut backs and renegotiating finances such as pocket money, school trips and shopping budgets, within the home.

Fortunately within the sea of grey suits at this year’s G20, women’s issues will be gain prominence with its very own section of speeches and debates between women ministers in April. But as Ms Harman expressed her fears, that without the combined pressure of female politicians from across Europe pushing for this section it could easily slip off the agenda, it is clear that the fight to keep women’s toehold in the economy will be as hard as the one that got us it in the first place.

The same hard fought for employment rights that made it possible for women to combine a career with a family; flexible working, increased maternity rights and part-time hours, are now the very things that are making some women vulnerable to desperate employers looking to cut costs, no matter how illegal this practice may be. Even back when credit crunch sounded more like a cereal than a recession, business mogul Alan Sugar received wide ranging support for his opinion that the current equality laws are “counter-productive for women… You’re not allowed to ask [about planned pregnancies] so it’s easy – just don’t employ them [women].” Ominously he ended this ill-thought tirade with: “It will get harder to get a job as a woman.”

If the economic doom mongers are correct then the threat of this sort of discriminatory action can only get frighteningly worse. To halt this increasing threat, women across Europe need newly devised policies aimed at protecting them from from unfair job losses. They need legislative and fiscal crampons of protection and more money for training to keep their toehold in the economic landslide. If we do this, when the rubble clears then there will still be some women holding onto their hard fought for posts and we will have a once in a lifetime moment for progressive politics. A chance to rebuild sectors such as banking without the 40 per cent pay gap between men and women and culture of lap dancing, strippers and chauvinism.

As our sisters in Iceland and Norway are leading the way in proving, with their new female Prime Minster and 40 percent representation on women on company boards, it may have been men that got us into this problem, but to get out it’s essential that women play a full part.