Fighting for gender equality in Europe

This week MEPs debated and voted on a Report on Progress on equality between women and men in the European Union in 2013. The Report looks at the state of gender equality in the EU and what issues are hampering this. I spoke on this debate last night – you can view the video above.

Gender equality is central to EU policy – in fact it is a core value of the European Union. Right from when the EEC came into being in 1957 the founding treaty included the principle of equal pay for equal work. Sadly we are still fighting this battle – along with several others.

Gender inequality is a scourge on society, the social agenda, the economy and human rights. We have to enable woman and girls to achieve their potential, we have to end the gender gap and make equality a reality.

Striving for gender equality across Europe means tackling the many problems faced by women – unequal pay and pensions, underrepresentation of women in decision making positions, violence against women, the issue of in-work poverty… The list goes on.

As well as looking at the issue of women’s rights, the 2013 Report is seeking to introduce ten days of paid paternity leave for new fathers as well as recognising a woman’s right to abortion and contraception. It examines a number of areas where we do not have gender parity and how we can address this.

When the European Institute for Gender Equality looked at gender equality throughout Europe it found that the widest gaps tend to be in the areas of “time” and “power”.

We see this everyday – women are still under-represented in politics. While 36.9% of MEPs are female, every day we see male dominated committees and meetings. In the UK the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has said he wants 50% of his Cabinet to be women. And, in fact, if you look at the composition of the Shadow Cabinet, we’re almost there – just under half of the thirty-two members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet are women.

Meanwhile, look across the aisle at the Tory/Lib Dem front bench and you will spy a sea of suits and ties – a frontbench that is vastly dominated by men.

In their conference this year, UKIP announced that they would get rid of the position of Minister for Women and Equalities and halve maternity pay if elected in May.

Women remain under-represented in many sectors and we will not see changes to this unless we take action. Removing this position would damage the good work being done to advance gender equality in the UK.

Yet again, it is Labour leading the way in terms of gender equality and political parity in the UK.

Violence against women and girls, particular domestic violence, remains one of the most serious human rights violations across Europe. One woman in three in the UK experiences violence every year and a woman is raped every six minutes.

Domestic violence also has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime. That is why it is so important we address it and ensure victims are supported right across Europe.

Violence against women is a crime that involves victims and perpetrators from across all ages, educational backgrounds, incomes and social positions. It is both a consequence and a cause of gender inequality.

We need to be doing more at every single level, particularly in the face of cuts, to support services across Europe. Supporting victims and providing education to professionals who come into contact with these victims is imperative to reducing the numbers of women affected and improving the quality of support victims receive.

The EU has achieved so much over the years in terms of the recognition and enjoyment of women’s rights. Let’s make the elimination of violence against women the next big thing the EU has done for women…

I have called on the UK Government and other Member States to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, also known as the Istanbul Convention. This Convention would oblige the State to protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence and ratifying this Convention demonstrates a true commitment to eliminating violence against women and girls.

The Report we debating this week and the monitoring done by the European Institute for Gender Equality are invaluable – they point out to us the work that still needs to be done and what we need to do to tackle gender inequality in Europe.

We need to ensure gender equality and parity in politics in the UK and right across Europe and Reports like this show us the way.