This is a day for celebrating the contribution of women, as well as for reflecting on what more we can do to support women and girls throughout the world. My hon. Friend Claire Perry spoke eloquently about Afghanistan. Only recently there was pressure from Muslim clerics in that country for the adoption of a strict code of conduct, stating that
“men are fundamental and women are secondary”,
which underlines the fact that we have much work still to do to protect women’s rights there. I shall focus my few remarks, however, on two areas: first, on building aspiration, whether in schools, business or politics; and, secondly, on protecting women.
It is important that we build aspiration from a young age. As my hon. Friend Amber Rudd said, we, as part of the all-party women in Parliament group, have welcomed many girls to Parliament today, and that has been lovely. From my constituency, I have girls here from The Heathland, Brentford, Chiswick, Isleworth and Syon, Hounslow Manor and Gumley schools, and I hope that between us we can inspire a few of them to become Members.
It is so important that girls are aware of the full range of opportunities available to them and how they can make best use of their talents. I would like us to do more to encourage girls, especially in science, engineering and technology. Whether it is through setting up more work experience or shadowing events, we can try to build their aspirations and open up a whole world of opportunity to them. The new careers service that will be fully operational by April 2012 will provide high-quality advice to those of all ages online, by phone and in the community, and much work needs to be done there.
As for women in business, we have already heard about the Lord Davies report. We need to keep up the momentum in focusing on companies, especially regarding the critical lack of women executive directors in the pipeline. Another way to increase the role of women is to support them in setting up their own businesses. The Government have done good work with mentors and the Women’s Business Council, but I would like us to do more to promote and celebrate role models, extend child care support for the self-employed, and continue to work on entrepreneurial skills in schools. As regards the number of women in Parliament, this country is still ranked 49th in the world, and much work needs to be done to change that.
My final point is about protecting women. That is largely to do with domestic violence, which is totally unacceptable in our society. The Government are committed to tackling this through their document, “Call to end violence against women and girls: action plan”, but a lot still needs to be done. There have been recent campaigns to highlight abuse in teenage relationships, as well as the consultation on stalking and the piloting of Clare’s law. We need to help victims of domestic violence to rebuild their lives.
Earlier today I was at an event organised by Hestia, which has just produced a report, “From victim to survivor”, highlighting some of the key things that can be done for domestic violence victims. For example, those who are in refuges should be given priority for housing in the local area. Bed and breakfast is not suitable for them; they need to get into longer-term, stable housing. Perhaps councils need to appoint housing officers who have been given training in dealing with
domestic abuse. There is much that we can do collectively to help to support victims of domestic violence so that they can rebuild their lives and this country can be a better place.