Today is International Women's Day, a day which celebrates the victories we have already achieved to enhance gender equality but also helps us to focus on outstanding challenges and shows where we still need to fight.
Since its foundation, the European Union (EU) and its predecessor organisations have played a pivotal role in establishing and strengthening women's rights across Europe in many different areas.
Maternity and paternity leave
The EU championed the rights of pregnant workers and women who have recently given birth. The 1992 Pregnant Workers Directive ensures that women across Europe have a minimum of 14 weeks paid maternity leave and has shaped UK legislation in this field, significantly advancing women's rights.
EU law also guarantees that women cannot be dismissed because of pregnancy, the right to return to the same or a similar job after taking maternity leave and protection for workers from discrimination on the grounds of applying for or taking parental leave.
Furthermore, EU legislation means those pregnant workers are protected by health and safety provisions. For example, women cannot be forced to night work during pregnancy.
Equal pay for equal work
The EU and its predecessor organisations pushed for equal pay for equal work well before the UK did. The principle was already enshrined in one of the EU Treaties as early as 1957. While establishing the right to equal pay for work of equal value is very important, we still have to do more to achieve this in reality. The gender pay gap in average full-time annual salaries between women and men in the UK is depressingly high at 24%.
Labour MEPs are fighting for this to change and have voted in favour of fresh legislation to close the gender pay gap including better means of supervising the implementation and enforcement in member states.
Ending violence against women
The EU is committed to tackling domestic violence and has taken concrete actions to fight violence against women. The Victims' Rights Directive lays down a set of binding rights for victims of crime and gives victims of domestic violence reinforced protection when travelling or moving to other EU countries. This means that victims of domestic violence are able to rely on a restraining order obtained in their home country wherever they are in the EU.
In addition to that, last week the European Commission proposed to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, one of the most important international treaties for women's rights.
Anti-discrimination and equal treatment legislation
The UK Equality Act 2010 is a major milestone in the fight against discrimination in all its forms. It goes back to and implements several EU equality directives which require member states to prohibit any discrimination -direct or indirect – based on gender and other grounds. It also ensures equal treatment in areas such as recruitment, working conditions, promotion, pay, dismissal and occupational pensions.
While Europe and the UK have made progress on women's rights over the past decades, change does not come automatically. My Labour colleagues and I will continue to campaign for gender equality because - as Nobel Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai says - "We cannot succeed when half of us are held back."