Last week, during Parliament’s Recess Week, I travelled to Brussels to have a number of meetings, one of which was with the women’s wing of the Party of European Socialists. I was surprised and delighted to have been chosen as the UK Labour Party’s representative, though it is not the first time I have ventured into the complex and exciting world of European political networks.
One of the reasons I was so keen to attend the PES women’s meeting is that they are working on issues of prostitution and trafficking, monitoring and evaluating the impact the World Cup had on the parts of Germany that hosted the games. This has obvious resonance for us here in Newham as we prepare for the Olympics and the good and bad things that will come with it. I am eager to learn lessons from others who have had similar experience.
The major discussion item on the agenda was the economy, which we discussed at length. It was reassuring to hear from the other delegates, the same analysis of the root cause of the economic downturn and that many in their countries were advocating the same solutions that Gordon Brown is putting in place. I do think that there may be the consensus necessary to put in place the much-needed international regulations to better control the financial markets.
More worrying was the strong belief that the downturn in the economy is having a disproportionate impact on women across Europe and much of this impact is hidden from view. I was told that, just as in the UK, much of the TV and newspaper coverage about job losses in all countries has been about male-dominated areas of work, like finance and the car industry.
Here in the UK, the latest unemployment statistics show the number of women in full-time work to have fallen by 53,000 in the last quarter. Research by the South East England Development Agency confirmed this, revealing that more than 33,000 women lost their jobs in the south-east this autumn. However, more are thought to be out of work than the figures claim. Women are more likely to be in part-time or casual work, especially in childcare, retail, cleaning, catering and other service industries. Job losses in these sectors tend to get less coverage in the press than when a large factory closes, but the impact can be just as significant.
This is not something that has gone unnoticed by our Government. Harriet Harman, the Deputy Prime Minister, is leading the moves from Britain to ensure that we, and Governments across the world, take notice of how this recession is affecting women and their families.
Harriet wants world leaders to talk about the effect of the recession on women at the G20 summit being held in London in April. The Prime Minister has already agreed to host a meeting of women ministers to discuss the issue.
Currently, Harriet is collecting evidence, holding meetings of British businesswomen and surveying women in more than 20 countries to find out what is happening to women, how the recession is affecting the family and what they want governments to do to assist. You can take part in the poll by logging on to internet chatroom Mumsnet. The poll will also start in America on the chatroom iVillage.com, Gurgle.com in India and Gobaby.com in Hong Kong.