#MeToo, say EU's women lawmakers

Several speak out on sexual harassment in European Union agencies, demand action

STRASBOURG/BRUSSELS • Several Members of the European Parliament have held up signs bearing the Twitter hashtag #MeToo, as allegations of abuse in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal raise questions over standards in Brussels' institutions as well.

The European Union lawmakers accused their own Parliament of failing to protect staff from sexual harassment while debating an emergency motion calling on the authorities to beef up rules and enforcement of gender equality laws and sanctions for abuse in workplaces across Europe on Wednesday.

The members demanded the EU legislature stop turning a blind eye to "disgusting" practices by some of their own colleagues.

"Here, today, in the very heart of European democracy, we have women being molested and harassed," Polish member Jadwiga Wisniewska told the Chamber.

This month's allegations about Hollywood producer Weinstein - who denies all accusations of non-consensual sex - have set off a wave of reflection about sexual harassment around the world.

"I have been sexually harassed, just like millions of other women in the European Union," German member Terry Reintke said. "It is about time that we very clearly say that we should not be ashamed. The perpetrators should be ashamed."

In the EU institutions themselves, women are accusing managers of doing too little for too long to stamp out abuse.

"We've all heard the stories and rumours going on for many years," Britain's Ms Margot Parker said during the debate in Strasbourg. "The very place that claims to legislate against this sort of disgusting behaviour is turning a blind eye to its practice."

Lawmakers Marie-Christine Vergiat (top) and Jutta Steinruck showing their support for the #MeToo campaign at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

This week, Parliament President Antonio Tajani spoke of his "shock and indignation" after a Sunday Times report on more than a dozen mostly young women parliamentary aides who complained of groping, stalking and other harassment by male lawmakers.

He pledged to step up existing protections to encourage people to come forward, something campaigners say is overdue.

At the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU which employs 32,000 people, 55 per cent of them women, measures have been in place since 2006 to prevent any form of harassment, and to protect whistle-blowers.

Over the past five years, an average of 13 complaints have been made each year, with disciplinary sanctions being imposed in about four cases each year, commission figures show. Commenting on those figures, European Women's Lobby secretary-general Joanna Maycock told Reuters that the number of complaints seemed "very low" for the size of the workforce.

The commission's gender equality chief, Ms Vera Jourova, said last week that she had herself been a victim of sexual harassment in the past, but saw "stigmatisation" as preventing many women in Brussels from speaking up.

Ms Jourova was speaking to Brussels' Politico news service, which has set up a website that has garnered more than 30 allegations in a week, from both women and men, of offences including rape, linked to the European Parliament.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2017, with the headline '#MeToo, say EU's women lawmakers'. Print Edition | Subscribe