Radio Interviews On Prostitution

Labour Party

As you will have seen on this blog yesterday, my report on prostitution and gender equality has been approved by the European Parliament Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee.

I did two major radio interviews during the course of this last week on this subject. The first was for Iain Dale’s LBC Drive programme. I was also fortunate to be invited on to the BBC World at One.

You can listen to both of these here:

BBC World at One Interview

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Iain Dale on LBC 97.3

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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Part 4

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Part 5

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Punish sex buyers to reduce prostitution

Labour Party

Poverty and economic problems have led to an increasing number of women and girls being forced into prostitution. In my report adopted today by the Women’s Rights Committee I call for measures to reduce prostitution by criminalising sex buyers, and Europe-wide awareness-raising campaigns and prevention strategies, especially for socially-excluded, vulnerable and poor females.

I am pleased the Women’s Committee voted through my report on sexual exploitation and prostitution, and its impact on gender equality.  It is good that the Committee has come together to state its position on this growing phenomenon, at a time when a number of member states are considering how to reduce it.

My report, approved by 14 votes to 2 with 6 abstentions, stresses the need to reduce prostitution and trafficking and to help victims of sexual exploitation to reintegrate again into society. Education should play an important role to prevent prostitution.

Reducing the demand for prostitution

My colleagues in the Women’s Rights Committee and I agree that the best way to combat the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is the so-called Nordic model, which criminalises sex buyers and not the prostitutes. This model views prostitution as a violation of women’s human rights and as a form of violence against women. My report calls on member states to take the Nordic model as a reference.

Prostitution linked to human trafficking and sexual exploitation

My report highlights that prostitution feeds human trafficking.  According to Commission data, 62% of humans are trafficked for sexual exploitation and 96% of the identified and presumed victims are women and girls.

EU countries should therefore strengthen policies to combat human trafficking, and provide social services for victims and help women leave prostitution.

Poverty and desperation

My report calls on national authorities to help prostituted women to find alternative ways to earn money other than prostitution and to put exit programmes in place.

Prostitution and exploitation can damage the health of women in prostitution, and cause physical or psychological trauma or alcohol and drug addiction, especially in children and adolescents.

I call on member states to tackle the on-going economic and social crisis which, in some cases, forces women, men and children into prostitution and to support women who want to get out of prostitution.

I also call for member states to ensure different sectors, such as NGOs, the police, judicial, medical and social services, work effectively together.

Interview on Women With Disabilities

Labour Party

Last week there was a hearing in the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee on the subject of women with disabilities.  I was interviewed by Quadrant about the many difficulties women with disabilities face across Europe.  You can listen to the interview using the audio player below.

Comissioner Reding shares her concerns about gender pay gaps

Labour Party

The Women’s Rights and Gender Equality committee met Commissioner Reding yesterday who shared with us some of the work she has been doing in the Comission over the last year.

 One of the things she discussed was the need to review the current status of the gender pay directive.

The gender pay gap remains an issue across almost all European countries. It is true that some do better than others, such as in Slovenia where the gap is low (2%) compared to Estonia (27%).

The majority of EU countries recorded a higher gender pay gap in the private sector than in the public sector in 2011.

Collective pay agreements protect public sector workers to an extent and employers in the UK are more observant of this especially following recent high profile cases in Birmingham City Council, for example.  It became liable for equal pay claims that reportedly rose to £757mn following a claim bought by female care workers, cleaners and other employees who said they had been paid significantly less than their male counterparts for similar work.

While the gender pay gap is still an issue, we need to monitor it closely and address it in the same way that we continue to tackle the issue of female representation on company boards.

Women need safe and accessible contraception

Labour Party

Yesterday’s “Daily Telegraph” reported that the number of girls under 15 in England who have sought contraceptive implants has increased sixfold in just half a decade, according to government statistics. Nearly 5,000 teenagers below the age of consent were given the devices last year, compared with about 800 just five years ago.

The NHS Information Centre  showed that about 7,400 girls aged 15 or under had implants or injections last year, up from 2,900 in 2005/6. This included 2,500 who had injections last year, up from 2,100.

The increase follows a push by the government to encourage the use of such devices in order to cut teenage pregnancies.

Although parents have apparently complained that their daughters were being fitted with the implants without their knowledge, I for one am absolutely certain that having such a device is better than an unwanted pregnancy. Although it is true that the long-term effects of such implants are unclear, the girls may well not use the devices for very long. They will eventually start a family at an appropriate age or switch to an alternative method when older.

Access to contraception is vitally important and reproductive freedom lies at the heart of public health and equity across the world.

Here in the EU the European Commission has always and supported policy and co-ordination and exchange of good practice to combat health inequalities between member states.

However, access to contraception is not always easy or cheap in several EU countries, due in part to lack of state subsidy and poor information on availability. This has detrimental effects on the health and well-being of low-income women in particular. It also does nothing to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in these countries.

Unfortunately the European Commission does not at present prioritise women’s reproductive health and access to contraception. The 88 health indicators developed by the Commission do not include availability of contraception or the unmet needs for such provision. What is more, the Commission’s Health for Growth Programme (2014 – 2020) contains no references to sexual and reproductive health.

To try and put this right, members of the European Parliament Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee are putting an oral question to the Commission – similar to Prime Minister’s Questions without the loudness and rudeness – on the issue.

 The Question will ask:

  •  What is the Commission doing to collect data on contraceptive use?
  • Is the Commission sharing best practice across Member States?
  • How is the Commission breaking down the barriers – high cost, lack of insurance cover, lack of helpful information – limiting access to contraception?
  • In what ways will the Commission follow up on the outcomes detailed in its report on health equality initiatives?

It is absolutely right that we push the European Commission on this important subject. Safe and reliable contraception has transformed women’s lives allowing pregnancies to be planned and the size of any given family size to be decided by the parents concerned. Those of us who live in countries where contraception is free and easily accessible have a real duty to do all we can to bring the same benefits to women who live in less fortunate circumstances.

Interestingly United States President Barack Obama recently announced modified plans to require that all women to have access to contraception. The president was uniquivocal when he said the policy “saves lives and saves money”. The White House even hanged the scheme to allow health insurers to provide cover directly if employers object in order to allow access to contraception where employers may not wish to support it on religious grounds.


BBC Record Europe – Women on Boards and the Gender Pay Gap

Labour Party

On Saturday I appeared on the BBC’s Record Europe to discuss women on boards, the possibility of introducing quotas, and the gender pay gap.  The BBC’s  Shirin Wheeler was chairing the discussion and we were joined by Mikael Gustafsson MEP, chair of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, from Sweden.  Alongside him was Pedro Oliviera from Business Europe and Marina Yannakoudakis MEP, the Tory spokesperson on Women’s Rights and a member of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee.  It was an interesting discussion focusing on the necessity of tackling this issue on the European Level.

In case you missed it, I have posted the clip above.

Maternity Pay and Paternity Leave – The Record Europe

Labour Party

I recently appeared on the BBC Record Europe  talking about the proposed changes to maternity leave and pay as well as mandatory paternity leave in the draft Pregnant Workers Directive currently before the European Parliament. 

While I support the idea of 20 weeks maternity leave on full pay and two weeks mandatory paternity leave in principle, I do not believe that now is the right time to legislate on such measures.  During the current economic downturn, our aim must be to get our national economy and, indeed, the European economy as a whole , back on track.  Unfortunately, some of the proposals in the draft Directive will be unhelpful to our recovery and should not therefore be introduced at the present time.     

As many of you will know, I was not able to attend the vote in the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee on 23 February as I had to be at a meeting of the Culture and Education Committee held at the same time.  As you are aware I am the Socialist and Democrat Group Co-ordinator on the Culture Committee, and as the S & D Group lead member, I need to be present at the Committee at all times.

It is, of course, unfortunate that European Parliament Committee meetings clash in this way.  I am hoping that timetables may be set in future to avoid this happening, but for the time being we have to live with it.

Please click here if you would like to watch the Record Europe

I am afraid it is technically too difficult it to put the piece up on this blog and also that those of you outside the UK may not be able to access it.