Unlike the Tory-led coalition government in the UK, the European Parliament boasts a thriving women’s rights agenda.
This week’s plenary session in Strasbourg saw two reports addressing equality between men and women.
The first report concerned women in political decision making, calling for gender parity in participation at all levels in the political process. Slightly cheekily, the report recommended that member states support parity at the top of the European Union by proposing mamber states put forward both a female and a male candidate for the office of European Commissioner. The final decision would then be taken by the European Council and the European Parliament.
The report, in addition, called for increased promotion of women through the media and the education process, including a demand to challenge stereotyping thereby encouraging the portrayal of positive images of women as leaders.
This is an important, positive and progressive report, which offers a real chance to change attitudes.
Political representation is an area where the Labour party has made impressive steps. All women shortlists for Westminster selections have been particularly successful and we also, of course, have a system of ensuring women are placed in winnable positions on the lists for the European Parliament. We still have some way to go, but there is definitely more balanced representation within the Labour Party than in other parties. We have already shown that the proposals in this report are not unattainable pie in the sky.
Unsurprisingly the Tories voted against the entire report.
The second report concerned equality between women and men in the EU, providing a general overview of the position of men and women in 2011.
The Tories, who, having left the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) are now the leading lights in the rag-bag hard-right European Parliament political group the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), put forward a number of regressive amendments to the report. Interestingly the same amendments were also tabled by the UK Independence Party (UKIP)
Having previously tried and failed to get these amendments through the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, Tory MEP Marina Yannakoudakis should, I suppose, be given credit for dogged determination.
It is worth outlining the gist of the worst amendments put forward by the Tories to illustrate how backward looking they are in the European Parliament where they are obviously far less scrutinised than the House of Commons. Yannakoudakis tried to get the European Parliament to reconsider its decision (to make it worse of course) on a Directive on maternity leave currently being considered by the European Council. She also wanted to delete the paragraph in the report which called for the European Commission to present comprehensive data on female representation, the Tories’ aim being to halt European Commissioner Viviane Reding’s recent proposals for binding measures to address the imbalance of women on company boards
Thankfully the Tory amendments were defeated. A strong message has been sent to them and UKIP as well as women across the EU, saying: ‘The European Parliament takes women seriously. Women deserve the choice to live their lives to the full, including the opportunity to break through the glass ceiling. The European Parliament will support these efforts.’
Mary Honeyball is a Labour MEP for London.