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Monday, 15 September 2008


I was very pleased to be asked to speak to the National Alliance of Women's Organisations yesterday. I was a member of NAWO during my time as Chief Executive of Gingerbread so it was good to go back.

One of my themes was "What has the EU ever done for Women?" Well quite a lot actually! For example if we look at the accession countries, especially Turkey, we can see that they have moved a long way towards gender equality. This is because these countries want to be part of the EU and so have been forced by our assessment criteria for entry to make these necessary changes.

There has been much work done on other legislation - environment and climate change. These are important issues in today's world and arguably these are of more interest to women.

We can also learn a lot from what other member states are implementing in their countries, for example Sweden is particularly progressive in terms of parental leave and women's rights. We can and should look at what other Member States are doing and question what can work here.

I also talked about the European Parliament itself. The EP is the only directly elected multinational political assembly in the world.

The EU has three main institutions: the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. The European Commission acts as the executive and proposes legislation, while the Council and Parliament work - as a bi-cameral legislator - to amend this legislation. The Parliament itself works through Committees where the drafting and amending is done, so therefore a lot of lobbying starts here.

Each of the UK political parties sit as part of larger pan-European political parties, so the Conservatives sit as part of the European People's Party (EPP-ED), and Labour sit with the Party of European Socialists (PES). We don't sit as a national block, but work together with like minded politicians from other countries.

Parliament itself is comprised of 30% women compared to just 20% in Westminster. Yet this doesn't tell the whole story as some parties are much better represented than others. The Labour party has 8 women out of 19 MEPs, while the Liberal Democrats have 7 female MEPs out of a group of 11. They actually have more women then men! The Conservatives on the other hand have only one female MEP out of a group of 28, while UKIP actually have none.

Some countries are also better represented then others with the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Estonia and Sweden doing particularly well. Cyprus and Malta on the other hand have no female representation. It goes without saying that an equal balance of men and women is important for representative democracy, and it remains a cause for great concern that in the 21st century women still do not have a voice equal to that of their male counterparts.

Since NAWO were interested in lobbying, attempting to influence legislators in the formation of policy, I spent some time on this. Lobbying is definitely on the increase in the European Parliament. Many different groups seek to lobby their MEPs on many different causes. MEPs differ from their Westminster counterparts in that they regularly table amendments to reports which are adopted, so therefore they have much more influence on the legislation that they pass than backbench MPs do.

Lots of people lobby their MEPs, and MEPs actually like to hear the views of their constituents! All of this information is readily available on the European Parliament's website at

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