International Women's Day — Motion to Take Note
Lord Loomba (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I welcome this debate ahead of International Women's Day on
Both Houses now have women representatives, something that surely is good for democracy, good for society, and enables women to have a say in the decisions that affect economic growth. We still have a long way to go, however, and we should be encouraging women from all walks of life to enter politics and business. When we talk about the issues of women and the role they play, or perhaps sometimes the role they are allowed to play in society, and the contributions they make, let us not forget the plight of women in developing countries where economic growth is of the utmost importance. Many countries are torn by conflict, many suffer through diseases such as HIV and malaria, and many have victims of poverty. That highlights the importance of the need to empower girls and women in order to help combat these injustices.
The Department for International Development in its document, A New Strategic Vision For Girls and Women: Stopping Poverty Before It Starts, states that:
"Across the developing world, girls and women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of poverty".
It goes on to say:
"We know that the benefits of investing in girls and women are transformational-for their own lives and for the lives of their families, communities, societies and economies".
This is surely a significant indicator of how important it is to connect with girls and inspire them, and in doing so transforming their lives and, in turn, improving the lives of others, too.
We can achieve this if we work to take the necessary steps, including better care in childbirth, getting economic assets directly to girls, secondary education for girls and preventing violence against girls and women. These are fundamental basic rights that if denied will not only allow unnecessary suffering but also prevent girls and women participating in, and fully contributing to, the society in which they live. This is especially so in relation to violence.
Where violence will have a huge negative impact and detrimental effect is in countries where there is conflict and war. In these countries the hopes and aspirations of large numbers of girls and women are affected. Sometimes they are prevented aspiring to even the most basic of human rights, let alone to contributing to economic growth. For example, women in Afghanistan, in particular, face many dilemmas not at all associated with everyday living in the United Kingdom, or even in some of the other lesser developed countries. Afghan women, sadly, do not play a significant or, sometimes, even a minority role in public life. There are significant problems that affect girls and women from the transfer of daughters as a means of settling disputes: forced and early marriage and scarce or no education. Health provision is minimal and there is an absence of women in public life.
I declare an interest as chairman and founder of the Loomba Foundation, which was set up to help support, educate and empower some of the poorest and most disadvantaged women and children-namely, women who have lost their husbands and find themselves and their children in situations of such appalling degradation and poverty that words cannot describe. Clearly, living in situations such as this prohibits women making even the most minimal of contributions to their society and lessens the chance of their being able to improve their personal circumstances, let alone contribute to economic growth.
There is a real fear that promises made to improve the human rights situation in Afghanistan for women will not be kept and that the situation will only deteriorate. At this juncture I welcome the initiative that the Government have recently announced in their update of the national action on plan on women peace and security that they are supporting the,
"development of an Afghan 1325 National Action Plan, ensuring wide ranging consultation, including with women's groups".
This, after all, should be a strategy in all war-torn areas, where women and children suffer most. We are in a position to set a good example and we should ensure that this happens.