My weekly round up of work in the European Parliament, the UK and beyond!
I started the week in London at a meeting for MEPs and MPs in the Houses of Parliament to discuss how we can work together to ensure that the UK stays in the EU. Later in the week I had a meeting in Brussels with Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston and the Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities. We had a lot to discuss on the subject of improving women's rights and gender equality. I also spoke at a Social and Democrats youth event on this subject.
Visiting Parliament were Labour Councillors and activists from Cumbria and Lancashire, who are the backbone of our pro-EU referendum campaign! It was great to share my work with them. Students from UCLan were also visiting the EP this week and it was a pleasure to spend an hour doing a Q&A on the EU with these bright, young sparks! A former UCLan student, Rachelle, was also shadowing me to gain an insight into the work of MEPs - she certainly picked a busy week! It really is important to open the Parliament up as much as possible so that everyone can see and understand what we MEPs do, and so we can learn from each other.
A particular highlight of the week was meeting directors of the Israeli/Palestinian/Jordanian NGO, EcoPeace, whom I hosted in the Parliament for a discussion on the environmental catastrophe happening in the Jordan River Valley. EcoPeace advocate trust building and water cooperation in the Middle East. For more information have a look here.
I am active on a wide range of human rights issues in the Middle East and was pleased to speak about the situation of women's rights in support of the Friends of Free Iran. Few people are aware of Iran's appalling record on human rights as much of the news is focused on the so-called 'Iran Nuclear Deal'. Whilst it is good to see nuclear facilities being dismantled, we should not ignore state sponsored violence, oppression of minorities and curbs on media freedom.
The issue of refugees is still very much on the parliamentary agenda and the FEMM committee organised a big conference on the situation of women refugees with speakers Mary Robinson, the former President of Eire, and Italian human rights activist, Nawal Soufi, who gave moving accounts of the desperate women crossing the Mediterranean to escape conflict.
Last week saw the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight with Labour MEPs and staff having a bake off to raise money for Tasibeh Girls' School in Pindi, Pakistan. I am a strong supporter of fairtrade and have recently bought a Fairphone which is an innovative Dutch-made mobile that does not use conflict minerals. Labour MEPs voted on a resolution on this in May last year. To find out more about the issue of conflict minerals and how it puts the lives of children and poor communities at risk in Africa please check out this link.
I returned to the constituency on Thursday to speak at the launch of the Cumbria In campaign in Workington alongside Owen Smith is the Labour MP for Pontypridd and Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. There was an excellent turnout with Labour supporters keen to ask questions so they can be more confident on the doorstep. The next day I was at the Manchester Theatre Awards, which were hosted by local comedian Justin Moorhouse. By the end of the evening, he'd joined the pro-EU camp! The rest of the weekend, I took a rare break to go to a wedding with my two sons, who were best men for their old school friend.