MEPs debated sexual harassment today (25 October) in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and press allegations regarding incidents in the Parliament.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo online campaign’s personal stories of sexual abuse and harassment have helped to raise awareness of a very difficult issue that is all too frequent, but that remains under-reported. MEPs are also aware of serious allegations made concerning Parliament members and decided to debate with commissioner Cecilia Malmström the measures in place as well as the measures that should be taken by the EU to prevent and tackle sexual harassment and abuse.
Sexual harassment in the EU
More than half of all women (55%) have experienced sexual harassment and 33% have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15, according to a survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights carried out in March 2014. In addition one out of five woman reported having been stalked at some point.
The debate in plenary
The European Parliament opposes sexual harassment, not only in society in general, but also when involving its own members and staff. During today's debate MEPs not only condemned such behaviour, but also called for measures to be put in place and for the inclusion of men as part of the solution.
The problem is still underreported as many victims are too afraid or ashamed to speak about it. “The only one responsible is the person who harasses and attacks," said Spanish S&D member Iratxe García Perez.. She said we need to be supportive of victims "so that they do not feel ashamed, do not be afraid to lose their jobs, stop feeling guilty for something”.
“We have reached the end of our patience and the silence has been broken,” said Polish EPP member Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz. “Victims have started to speak up and their voice has begun to be heard.”
Some MEPs spoke about the allegations of misconduct in the Parliament. Polish ECR member Jadwiga Wiśniewska said: "Here at the very heart of European democracy we have women being molested and harassed. Today’s debate should give strength to women so that they can talk about it.”
“Sadly ... the European Parliament is not immune from this type of deplorable conduct," said Italian EFDD member Daniela Aiuto. “The same zero tolerance ... should not only be applied within the European Parliament, but in all workplaces, both public and private, with the same vigour and on an equal footing.”
Swedish GUE/NGL member Malin Björk said: “We need men to take responsibility. If they are a part of the problem, they can be a part of the solution."
German Greens member Terry Reintke, who said she had been harassed herself, also appealed to men: “Yes, this is about women, but it is not a women’s issue. We need men to speak up. We need to fight it together."
Cecilia Malmström, the commissioner responsible for trade, called the recent campaign to speak up about sexual harassment a “feminist outcry from all across the world from the women who say enough". She also announced that the European Commission would launch a new survey on gender-based violence.
Austrian ALDE member Angelika Mlinar said: "Sexual abuse is the abuse of a position of power.”
French ENF member Mylène Troszczynski (ENF, France) warned against taking things too far: “We shouldn’t ... assume that every man or boy is a potential perpetrator.”
Parliament debates and resolutions so far
Today was not the first time that MEPs debated sexual harassment. The previous plenary debate about the issue took place in February 2016. MEPs have also adopted several resolutions. Already in 2001 MEPs warned that the increasing insecurity of employment could lead to more harassment and called on EU countries to adapt their legislation to tackle the problem. Other resolutions stated that harassment needs to end if gender equality is to be achieved and called attention to the economic emancipation of women.
Sexual harassment is also included in the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention, which urges signatories to take any measures to deal with the issue. Parliament was in favour of the EU acceding to it.
Parliament's internal measures against sexual harassment
The EU institutions are keen to avoid any cases of sexual harassment. Article 12 of the EU's staff regulations foresees that people working in all EU institutions “shall refrain from any form of psychological or sexual harassment”. The latter is defined as "unwanted conduct relating to sex ... offending ... or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive or disturbing environment”.
The European Parliament has several mechanisms in place to deal with instances of inappropriate behaviour by its members and staff, including a special advisory committee for preventing harassment. There is also a separate special advisory committee dealing with complaints against MEPs by parliamentary assistants, which is chaired by French EPP member Elisabeth Morin-Chartier. At the end of the last year the committee started a campaign in the Parliament to raise awareness of the issue.
In addition MEPs are also provided with a guide lining out what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviours. They are also advised to use civilised language, refrain from insults and comments about staff members' physical appearance. They should also respect employees' private life, discuss problems and intervene immediately if they spot any inappropriate behaviour among staff such as sexist jokes and vulgar acts. A similar document is now also being drafter for assistants.