Zita Gurmai's Blog

Yesterday morning, on 18 November and only a day before top EU jobs are decided, my female Members of the European Parliament (MEP) colleagues and I left the warmth of our EP offices to march together to Schuman square, where we demonstrated for a fair representation of women in the EU. While Commissioner candidates are being named by Member States, we actually went to the Council and Commission wearing ties, waving CVs and calling for a Commission that represents European women.

We wanted to raise our concerns once again with the President of the Commission regarding the current nomination process of the new college of Commissioners, in which, in the foreseeable scenario, there will not be more than five women among the 27 Commissioners.

I believe this small proportion does not, first and foremost, represent women in Europe, where around 53%, a clear majority, are women. In this perspective I wonder how one expects women to respect and identify with such an EU Commission. Or even, what image the European Commission wants to portray?

If we do not take into account all the talent that society has to offer, it should come as no surprise that women are Eurosceptic and reluctant to vote in European Elections.

That is why PES Women are calling on Mr Barroso pdf and all EU heads of state to ensure that the new college of Commissioners will be gender balanced and will represent women in Europe. I am glad that we were several MEP from the PES and other political families, ensuring an impact in our effort to defend women’s interests in Europe.

The PES campaigned for a gender-equal European Commission and gender-equal European Parliament and we also called for the creation of a European Commissioner for Gender Equality. Now is the time for Mr Barroso to deliver on the Commission.

In the name of PES Women members I therefore urge:

  • the Commission President José Manuel Barroso to make another round of consultation with Member States’ governments, making it clear that anything less than was already achieved by the former Commission will not be acceptable (i.e. at least 27% women Commissioners);
  • the EU Commission to adhere to international commitments made by all EU governments for gender-balanced representation in all EU decision-making positions;
  • all MEPs to reject a Commission which is in such stark contrast with the principles and values of the EU.

This whish of a better gender balanced commission is not just supported by politicians that are concerned but from all women across. I invite you to visit the website of the campaign “gender balanced commission” initiated by members of civil society. On the website, you can sign a petition asking for the new Commission to be at least as gender balanced as the outgoing one and calling on the European Parliament not to approve the Commission until this is achieved.

 

Posted by Zita Gurmai

Saturday 17 October was a special day for French women, and for anyone who happened to be in Paris, myself included. It is not every day that you see over 15,000 people filling the Bastille behind banners that proudly call for «une réelle égalité», a real equality.

It was a special day for French women and men as well: they both came out to the streets in thousands. I spoke with many of the men, who were not only there as husbands, partners and fathers, but as concerned citizens to support the idea of promoting women’s rights. I strongly believe that their participation is an invaluable asset for real gender equality in the twenty-first century.

I was particularly delighted to see my friends from the PS from all over France in the streets: Martine Aubry, First Secretary of the PS, Anne Hidalgo, first deputy mayor of Paris, Pascale Crozon, MP from Rhône and Gaelle Lenfant, Deputy Secretary for Women’s Rights in PS and, together we braved the rainy weather to answer the call of the Collectif National pour les Droits des Femmes, who have been organising the annual demonstration since 1996.

It was inspirational to see that all those thousands of people – those women and men – wanting their demands translated into realities. In France only 34% of business executives are women, while women’s salaries are on average 26% lower than men’s for the same positions (compared to the EU average of 17,5%).

No social movement or political family other than the social democrats can take the lead in the new direction of feminism of the twenty-first century. It falls to us to create these new realities. Not only because we have always been at the forefront of struggles for women’s rights, but because more than anyone else, we realise that they remain a struggle.

As I always say, socialists are feminists and I am looking forward to discuss this topic at the next PES Women Annual Conference on 5-6 December in Prague.


Photos by Bruno Lapeyre

Posted by Zita Gurmai

On the weekend my friend and colleague Poul Nyrup Rasmussen published an appeal to vote in this week’s European elections. I wholeheartedly support this, and would like to add a special call to women voters:

Dear Sisters, dear friends:

You have a vote in these European elections. Many of you do may not see the “use” of this vote; surveys show that women are more skeptical about the EU than men. Moreover, in the Europe of 2009 we women have to do more housework than men, in most Member States we are still responsible for the vast majority of childcare tasks, and we have to work 54 days a year (17%) longer than men in order to earn the same as they do. Is it really worth taking time out of our already busy lives in order to vote in these elections?

The truth is that the European Parliament can make a huge difference to women’s lives; and it already has done in a variety of areas, especially in the fields of gender equality and women’s rights. The EU’s Daphne Programme provides EUR 116 million to fight sexual, psychological and physical violence, having had its funding doubled on the intiative of my good friend Lissy Gröner MEP. Or take the example of the report by PES MEP Edite Estrela, which, if passed, will raise the minimum maternity leave from 18 to 20 weeks and will introduce a minimum of two weeks of paid paternity leave. The women of Europe also suffer disproportionately from low pay, exploitation and social exclusion, and it is the PES which has fought tirelessly for progress in these areas, for example by voting for a universal 48-hour working week. These are just some of the ways in which the EU can make a progressive difference. And all of these moves have had the support of PES MEPs, almost always in the face of opposition from conservatives.

PES Women in Lithuania

And PES Women has played a central role in putting women’s issues on the European agenda over the course of the last five years.

In 2006 we organised a petition against people trafficking and sexual slavery in advance of the World Cup, which was presented to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, and we brought together PES justice and home affairs ministers in support of this. This coordinated action put the issue firmly in the spotlight. It was discussed by the EU Council, leading to increased monitoring of prostitution and people trafficking over the period of the World Cup. What’s more, just this year we led efforts to block right-wing proposals by the Czech Presidency to water down European childcare targets. By coordinating MEPs and PES ministers from Spain, Hungary and Slovenia in opposition to the moves we made sure that Europe continues to work towards the high quality, universal childcare facilities that families across the EU deserve.

But there is also much more to do. In the PES manifesto we propose a Women’s PES Women - MarseilleRights Charter, improved parental leave, increased childcare targets, the protection and extension of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, a commitment of 0.7% of EU GDP to external aid and a European Charter for the Integration of Migrants. These are all proposals that will have a real effect on the 260 million women living in the European Union, and millions more outside our borders. Indeed, the European Women’s Lobby recently gave the PES the highest score of any European political party in its Gender Equality Audit.

Of the three largest groups in the last European Parliament, the PES Group was the most politically coherent, had the best attendance record, and had the highest proportion of women MEPs. This all goes shows that we have the policies to improve the lives of Europe’s women, and the political will to make them a reality.

Street campaigning - LithuaniaBut above all, my message to you is: vote! Vote to make Europe what you want it to be, vote to support women everywhere, vote for women and men that will fight for equality, dignity and justice. The EU can and does make a difference in our lives: the question is whether that difference is positive or negative.

And above all, think of all those women who fought so hard for us to have the right to decide. Each one of us owes it to them to express her democratic choice in these elections.

 

Posted by Zita Gurmai

Les Marseillaises

After my trip to Berlin I went to Vienna to meet women candidates for the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), then after a busy weekend’s campaigning in Hungary, last Tuesday I travelled on to Marseille to join my very good friend Martine Aubry, General Secretary of the French Socialist Party. I made the visit both in my capacity as President of PES Women, and as PS National Secretary for Women’s Rights. Together with Vincent Peillon, PS head of list in the South-East region, we visited La SavigneLa Savine, a very disadvantaged area in the 15th arrondissement of Marseille. Unemployment is high there, and the district has suffered a great deal at the hands of both the conservative city authorities and of the conservative government of Nicolas Sarkozy.

In La Savine we visited a social housing apartment block, which the local authorities (led by UMP mayor of Marseille, Jean-Claude Gaudin) have just ‘renovated’. As a result of the (inadequate) renovations – which meant that many residents were kicked out of their homes with little notice and nowhere else to go – the rents have been increased by 150 euros a month. This comes on top of utilities costs which were already too high for many of the residents: despite the vast potential of solar energy in this sunny Mediterranean city the building is still powered and heated by inefficient, expensive means, and with little insulation. This is meant to be social housing, yet many of those who live there now can’t afford to do so and have to move out. They don’t know where to go.

La SavigneOne women told me that she had received a letter telling her to leave the building by the end of the month, and another told me of families with such little living space that children have to sleep in the bathroom. Many say that local government wants to push residents out so that it can put up expensive private housing to ‘cash in’ on the beautiful views of the sea from the site where the housing block is. Amongst the women’s representatives whom Martine, Vincent and I met, we also spoke to a representative from the local association for sick children, who explained that many parents in the area whose children suffer from health complications and are sent away for treatment cannot afford the travel costs of visiting them, and receive no support to help them do so.

Speaking with the people of La Savine I became increasingly angry at the right-wing authorities for being so inhumane. They have priced people who are struggling to make ends meet out of their own homes, they have not kept them informed or consulted with them, and ultimately they have failed to provide decent, affordable housing. In short, they have showed no respect whatsoever for basic human needs. And as usual, it is the women of the district who are the worst hit by this, many of whom are without a job or a partner, bringing up a family in hugely difficult circumstances.

As I said at our campaign rally afterwards (you can watch my speech below), this European election really is a choice between two very different visions for Europe. It is we socialists who listen to people, put women’s rights at the top of the agenda, and work to improve people’s everyday lives. In contrast, the right treats people as statistics, pushing them around according to the ‘rules of the market’. It’s an absolute disgrace.

Meeting de Marseille : Discours de Zita Gurmaï
Uploaded by PartiSocialiste. – Watch the latest news videos.

The situation in La Savine is a typical example of this. That’s why the PES political family is fighting at European, national and local level for solidarity for people in need, people Zita Gurmai - La Savignewho deserve better than this. We have the plan to fight the global recession, we have the policies to make our economies stronger, fairer and greener, and at local level we are the ones who invest in communities. Just look down the coast from Marseille, to Monaco, where the super-rich can put their millions without having to pay a cent in tax, look at the billions being pumped into the banks that caused this economic crisis, look at the money that could be saved if Europe invested in efficient, clean energies. When it comes down to it, no-one can seriously say we can’t afford to provide the vulnerable people in our societies, especially women and young people, with decent basic living conditions. What the right needs to learn is that we can afford to invest in communities such as La Savine: because socially, humanely and morally, we cannot afford not to.

 

 

Posted by Zita Gurmai

Last month I explained on this blog why the PES is THE party of gender equality. Well the European Women’s Lobby has now confimed that. It has just published its European election ‘gender audit’, which gives the conservatives (EPP) and liberals (ELDR) a ‘RED light’ (low score), the Greens a ‘YELLOW light’ (intermediate score) and the PES alone a ‘GREEN light’ (high score). These results are based on a thorough study into the manifestos and candidates of the different parties. I am confident that this top score for the PES, which achieved the best possible marks in every section of the audit, is thanks to the detailed gender equality chapter of the PES manifesto and the high percentage of women in the PES Group in the European Parliament (41%, compared to just 24% in the EPP group).

So congratulations to everyone in the PES for this excellent result. You can read the Gender Audit, and if you haven’t done so already, please sign the EWL’s 50:50 campaign for gender equal democracy. Perhaps the President of the outgoing European Parliament Hans-Gert Poettering, when he discovers that his party (the EPP) has done so badly in this audit, will be persuaded to change his ways and sign the 50:50 campaign. It’s never too late, Hans-Gert!

Posted by Zita Gurmai

Last week I was at an event on women in politics held in the Hungarian Embassy in Berlin by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), titled “More SPD for Europe”. I was joined there by SPD Chairman Franz Müntefering, a true working class hero who represents the very best of the German left, and Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, a great campaigner for women’s rights in the European Parliament who is standing for reelection on June 7th. It was an excellent event: not only because there was great saxophone player providing music, but also because it showed that more SPD for Europe will certainly mean a better deal for women. Both Franz and Dagmar spoke of the integral relationship between social justice and gender equality. As Franz said, achieving a better gender balance in traditionally ‘male’ or ‘female’ jobs is key to closing the pay gap. He pointed out that traditionally ‘female’ jobs, such as care work, are underpaid, so working towards a better gender balance in all sectors will help boost pay across the board.

What’s more, today is the day of the German Presidential election, and the SPD are running a woman candidate, Gesine Schwan. Gesine is supported by both the SPD and the Greens, has very strong credentials, and I for one am whole-heartedly supporting her for the post. In particular I value her modern views on the family; she has written at length about families as the building blocks of society, arguing that traditional stereotypes surrounding ‘the family’ need to be overcome and that gender equality has to play a central role. This is a women who understands modern life and society, a woman who would make a great figurehead for Germany. So my message to the SPD is this: you are up in the polls, the chance is there, so let’s make this ‘Super Election Year’ in Germany the year the SPD stormed to victory in the European, national and Presidential elections. It’s time for a Bundespräsidentin!

Posted by Zita Gurmai

Over the years as an MEP I have met many remarkable people. In late 2007 I was in Kigali, Rwanda and I was fortunate to meet Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda’s National Commission to Fight AIDS. She explained that women in particular are vulnerable to becoming infected with HIV. “The burden women face is threefold: not only are women biologically more susceptible to contracting HIV, they are often not able to negotiate with men in order to protect themselves against infection; and once infected, women have limited economic means to access healthcare.” She said “the international community needs to focus on mid-and long-term solutions to fight HIV/AIDS. Cooperation between communities is critical, both in the North and South. We have a common interest; that of saving lives.” Her words touched me deeply.

I was deeply moved also by two recently orphaned children, both under five. Their mother was uneducated and not informed about the risks she faced even after her husband’s death from AIDS.

I was inspired by the medical staff working with international partners on Rwanda’s first AIDS vaccine trial. The national scientists and the ordinary women and men who volunteered for the trial, were proud to be contributing to the search for a solution to the AIDS crisis.

Today, May 18th, is World AIDS Vaccination Day. In Africa and India this will be marked by rallies and coverage in the media spotlighting the urgent need for greater effort needed if we are to develop a safe and effective AIDS vaccine. An AIDS vaccine would be a critically important tool for women and girls worldwide.

For every two people who are put on antiretroviral drugs, five more become infected with the virus. Prevention tools reach only 20% of all the people who need them. As Dr Florence Manguyu, said at the PES Congress in Madrid “We are mopping up the water on the floor while the tap is still running.”

With help from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) Rwanda has a state-of-the-art laboratory and clinic for epidemiology and vaccine research, as well as new community centres that can provide screening for HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy. Other nations need to acquire more of these facilities. The international community must also invest in people power. “Investing in people in Africa is urgently needed to stop the brain-drain and give countries the opportunity to take ownership of their future,” argues Binagwaho. We need to educate and train the next generation of scientists, health care specialists and nurses in Africa and other resource-poor nations.

Posted by Zita Gurmai

Today I am joining with two excellent women’s rights campaigners, Edite Estrela and Anne van Lancker, to mark International Day of Families. I urge you to read this appeal and to leave a comment below to express your support. On this International Day of Families, let’s celebrate ALL families and life choices!

 

15 May – International Day of Families – putting people first
The PES celebrates ALL families and life choices

Today, on International Day of Families, PES Women is calling for all European politicians to put people first by giving practical support to all families and life choices.

We believe firmly in an inclusive approach which puts individuals above traditional ideas of what should constitute families.

Be it single parents, parents who are married or unmarried, same-sex couples, civil partnerships, free unions, carers, working parents, recomposed families or couples that choose not to have children, we want a society that gives everyone the same chances to balance private and professional life, the same chance to offer love and support to its members.

The European conservatives say in their manifesto that they see “families as the centre of our society and the guardian of our values”, but at their congress they removed every reference to the growing diversity of families from their election manifesto.

Yet in the European Parliament they consistently vote against policies which would help families.

Just last week we, the PES, supported a report improving parental rights. The Estrela Report proposed to increase minimum length for maternity leave, including the right co-maternity and paternity leave. But it was blocked by the European conservatives, the EPP, who refused to vote for it!

There have been many other such cases from the last five years which show the EPP’s claims to stand up for the family to be empty rhetoric. European conservatives have attempted to cut funding for fight against domestic violence, water down childcare targets, weaken sexual and reproductive health rights, slash family planning budgets, oppose an anti-discrimination directive, question women’s employment targets, criticise new rights for women in the developing world and fail to take the impact of the economic crisis on all sorts of families seriously.

If, by “family values” does not mean practical support in the face of such real problems, what does it mean?

The PES, in contrast to the EPP, has a manifesto which supports all forms of families for their inherent human value and underpins this with a series of concrete proposals, including a Women’s Rights Charter, improved parental leave rights, ambitious new childcare targets, support for women in the workplace and new measures against domestic violence, as well as a bold recovery plan to combat the unemployment and uncertainty currently blighting millions of families of all varieties across the European Union.

Please leave a comment below this post to express your support for less rhetoric about “the family” and for more practical support for all types of families. It’s time to stand up in a real way for the real families that real people live in.

Zita Gurmai MEP
Edite Estrela MEP
Anne van Lancker MEP

Posted by Zita Gurmai

I am back in Hungary now after the final plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. That’s it now: the current Parliament will not meet again, and the make-up of the next one is yet to be decided…

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the PES MEPs, especially the PES Women MEPs, for their hard work over this legislature. With the right in a majority in the Parliament, Commission and Council, securing important progressive reforms has been an uphill struggle. Yet we Socialists were the ones who successful fought against attempts by the Czech Presidency to water down childcare targets. We were the ones who led the way in banning all discrimination outside the workplace. We were the ones who defended and expanded the Daphne programme, providing assistance to victims of physical, sexual and psychological violence. It’s an impressive record, of which I am phenomenally proud.

Even this week, at the very end of five years of work, PES MEPs continued to fight for progress all the way to the finish:

Mary Honeyball chaired a conference on "Rape in the European Union", where she was joined by Eva-Britt Svensson, whose written declaration on the ‘Say NO to violence against women" campaign had been adopted on 22nd April. Michael Cashman joined a number of other PES MEPs at the Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights in the European Parliament at a hearing on LGBT rights, responding to statements by homophobic MEPs with great strength and clarity. Edite Estrela slammed the right for postponing the decision on her proposals on maternity leave. Her report contained some excellent and urgently needed changes: it proposes raising minimum maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks, increasing maternity leave on full-pay from two to six weeks and introducing a minimum two weeks of paternity leave, yet the EPP blocked it and sent it back to committee.

We cannot know what the next Parliament will look like, but we can be sure that gender equality issues will have to be high on the agenda. As Europe goes to the vote in June, the economic crisis is as serious and as painful as ever, and women, as always, are suffering disproportionately; from higher unemployment, lower pay, less job security and a larger burden of domestic and childcare work.

That’s why this weekend I am in Hungary to campaign on the PES European Day of Action on "New Social Europe – giving people a fairer deal". Across Europe our member parties and activists will be holding discussions, rallies and campaign events, all of which will be reported LIVE on our excellent campaign blog, so there are no excuses for missing it!

As part of this fantastic pan-European event, today I am in Pécs with my good friend Ildikó Lendvai, the leader of the Hungarian Socialist Party, as well as 1,600 women from our womens’ section. Here we will be doing a rally and then a busy afternoon of street campaigning. Then tomorrow I go to Kisvárda in the east to meet the local Socialist women’s group, where I will be talking about the importance of reviving the European Social Model for women’s rights and opportunities.

I wish you all a very Happy Europe Day for tomorrow, and a great weekend’s PES campaigning!

Posted by Zita Gurmai

This Saturday 9th May is a date everyone should have highlighted and underlined in their calendar: it’s Europe Day, an opportunity to celebrate the fact that we live in a peaceful, integrated and diverse European Union. And if one thing is more important to Europe’s future than any other, it’s today’s young Europeans. So, on Monday I went back to the classroom, to the "Dobsuli" school in Budapest. I ‘adopted’ this school in 2007, Equal Opportunities Year, and since then I have worked to support it and help it make improvements. We are fortunate to be able to count on many supporters, both public and private, making it a real community project, and I can honestly say that it is one of the most impressive symbols of the cultural wealth and variety of Europe that I have seen: with a very international mix of pupils, many from immigrant families, it has a particular commitment to building a tolerant, European environment, with a bilingual Hungarian-English class, an EU garden and a study room devoted to foreign languages.

What’s more, since 2007 the school has organised an annual quiz on the European Union; and the prize is a trip to Brussels! This year I had the honour of being President of the Jury. The event was excellent: the hall was decorated with European colours and stars, and the pupils showed a fantastic awareness of European affairs: a sign of the school’s success in being so enthusiastic about internationalism.

European construction is of course a complex project. But we really have to make the facts known as widely as possible if we are fight ignorance, voter abstention and cynicism. After all, without facts, democracy is useless. And Dobsuli is an inspiring example of how, by integrating European legislators, teachers, parents and the wider community into our efforts, we can equip our young people with this knowledge.

And in the same spirit, we must engage and mobilise Europe’s voters for this upcoming election, as I will be doing, door-to-door, in Hungary (in Pécs and Kisvárda) tomorrow and on Saturday as part of the second PES European Day of Action. Let’s spread the word!

Posted by Zita Gurmai