MEPs strongly defend maternity rights

Picture of a pregnant woman

MEPs have criticised the European commission’s decision to withdraw the maternity leave directive having failed to reach a compromise with the council.

According to the European economic and social committee, this decision would “result in an unacceptable and unprecedented step backwards in terms of the implementation of gender equality and protection of women’s rights”, a sentiment shared by many in the parliament.

Speaking in a plenary debate on the issue on Tuesday, Irish deputy Marian Harkin took the opportunity to express her regret about the decision, saying, “I totally oppose the withdrawal of this directive and I’m pleased that council will work to ensure its adoption.

“Personally, I support the proposal for 20 weeks paid leave, after all, that’s the norm in this parliament. Are we saying that other women deserve less?”

“I support the proposal for 20 weeks paid leave, after all, that’s the norm in this parliament. Are we saying that other women deserve less?” – Marian Harkin

“Indeed,” the ALDE deputy explained, “This directive will support many women who are lower paid and not in permanent and pensionable jobs.

“This directive also protects pregnant women against discrimination and helps to ensure the health and safety of mothers and newborns.

And, she added, “It also makes a huge contribution to achieving a core principle of EU policy, that is the achievement of gender equality and the elimination of the gender pay gap

“As we start a new term with the European parliament and the commission, we are faced with an impasse from the last parliament, and we have a responsibility to find a solution.”

She stressed, “We simply must find compromise with the council, and equally the council must find compromise with the parliament. Otherwise we have a dysfunctional system.”

“Furthermore,” she continued, “Just as we members of the European parliament nailed our colours to the mast when we voted either for or against this directive, I believe member states who are part of the blocking minority need to explain to their citizens, both women and men, why they are blocking a maternity leave directive that would help guarantee equality of treatment for mothers and babies across the EU.

“It’s crucial that we achieve compromises on these issues, otherwise it languishes in a sort of limbo, and many pregnant women in the EU would not have the possibility of a reasonable timeframe of paid maternity leave and strong protection in their jobs when pregnant or breastfeeding,” Harkin finished.

“It is shameful that the EU council has been unable to reach a decision in the last four years” – Marie Arena

Marie Arena, of parliament’s S&D group, also spoke during the debate, stressing, “It is shameful that the EU council has been unable to reach a decision in the last four years.

“We urgently need to update the 1992 EU law on maternity leave to take into account the way our societies have evolved.

“It is crucial to protect the safety and health of pregnant women and to ensure they don’t risk losing their jobs or face any form of discrimination,” argued the Belgian deputy.

Her S&D group colleague Alessandro Moretti also addressed parliament, saying, “At the beginning of this new legislature, we have the chance to build a new Europe that gives hope to its citizens.

“How can we possibly speak about hope when a woman has to choose between giving birth to a new life or saving money to survive?” – Alessandro Moretti

“But,” she questioned, “How can we possibly speak about hope when a woman has to choose between giving birth to a new life or saving money to survive?

“Europe must invest in women and give them the chance to reconcile work with their private lives. Europe will be stronger and richer with women participating fully in the labour market,” urged the Italian deputy.

“We have five years ahead of us to wake Europe up and get it on track for real progress and growth,” she said, assuring, “We will start right now under the Italian presidency.”

“We need to work harder to defend the rights of working mothers” – Inês Zuber

GUE/NGL MEPs strongly defended the directive too, with Inês Zuber saying, “We need to work harder to defend the rights of working mothers. That’s the only way we are going to combat the problem of ageing societies and low birth rates.

“As the dominant political forces are always talking about their social concerns, why don’t they explain to us why governments that belong to these same political forces don’t manage to increase women’s rights?”

Elsewhere, Swedish deputy Malin Björk questioned the quality of the directive, saying, “The commission’s proposal was certainly not good enough.

“For one thing it only talks about mothers’ roles; there is no mention of two mothers or two fathers or any other kind of parenting model,” she complained.

“It is a slap in the face for women’s rights and for equality” – Malin Björk

“Now the commission is withdrawing the entire proposal. This can only be interpreted in one way – it is a slap in the face for women’s rights and for equality.

Her criticism continued, “And I don’t think it is likely that the commission is going to come back with a better proposal; Mr. Juncker didn’t have a single word to say about equality.

“Inequality is growing between men and women. Women’s problems on the labour market are growing. Withdrawing maternity leave can’t be seen in any other way than patriarchal arrogance,” she concluded.

 

Written for theparliamentmagazine.eu

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