International Women’s Day 2016: The EU is a leading light in the fight for women’s equality

Today is International Women’s Day, and with the EU referendum just three-and-a-half months away, Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on women’s rights and gender equality, looks back on what the European Union has achieved for women, in Britain, in the rest of Europe and throughout the world:

– Women in the workforce have more rights as a result of our membership of the European Union. Many of these hard won rights would be at risk if we were to leave the EU.

– Nearly half of all British women workers work part time – part-time workers now have equal rights to pro rata paid leave, pensions, maternity rights, access to training and other company benefits.

– More than half of British agency workers are women – agency workers now have more clearly defined rights, like better access to childcare, and the same rights as permanent staff, including pay and leave after 12 calendar weeks on an assignment.

– Previously, women had to work for the same employer for two years before being entitled to maternity rights – that threshold is now 26 weeks working for the same employer continuously into the 15th week before the baby is due in order to get maternity rights.

– Women can no longer be sacked for being pregnant and pay and conditions are protected when returning to work after maternity leave.

– Women with a child under five now have the right to a minimum of 13 weeks’ unpaid parental leave to be taken when they choose before the child’s fifth birthday.

– Pensioner poverty is a real problem for women, many of whom have been excluded from company pension schemes because they took breaks to have children or because they worked part time – such discrimination is now outlawed, with women guaranteed equal rights for all social security benefits.

– There is now an EU directive on trafficking in human beings, and an EU anti-trafficking coordinator. Traffickers in human beings will face tougher penalties for their crime and victims will be entitled to better protection and assistance.

More, however, much more, still needs to be done, and Labour MEPs will continue to stand up in the European Parliament for women’s rights and gender equality:

– We support action to get more women on company boards, and back the 40 per cent target for women’s representation on the boards of all listed companies in the EU by 2020. The current figure for the UK is only 21%.

– We have backed proposals to end gender-based violence, including barbaric practices such as female genital mutilation; programmes aimed at preventing violence against children, young people and women; and the European Protection Order, which brings in new measures to protect women who have suffered abuse, granting Europe-wide protection from abusive partners, for example via a restraining order.

– Labour MEPs are calling for all the UK governments to immediately ratify the Istanbul Convention – the EU is leading on this and the UK government needs to get a move on. The convention is the first European treaty which specifically addresses violence against women and creates binding obligations. These include tackling gender stereotypes, training professionals who work with survivors, and providing specialist, adequately resourced support services.

– €100 million is already allocated to concrete measures specifically targeted to improve women’s and girls’ rights. In 2012, 28% of the EU’s aid included gender equality and women’s empowerment as a principle or significant objective. We will continue to work to ensure women’s rights are at the forefront of EU development policy.

Only 37% of MEPs are women. In the UK, only 29% of MPs are women. Globally, just 17% of government ministers are women. In most countries, women earn on average 60-75% of men’s wages. More than a third of women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. 34% of women with a health problem or disability had experienced violence by a partner in their lifetime. In conflict and post-conflict countries, maternal mortality is on average 2.5 times higher…

We are still very far from achieving equality, but we will continue to strive for a world in which barriers are broken down, glass ceilings smashed, discrimination, inequality and abuse are consigned to history, and only by being in the EU can we make that world a reality.