International Women's Day — Motion to Take Note
11:36 am

Moved by Baroness Verma

That this House takes note of International Women's Day on 8 March and the contribution of women to economic growth.

11:37 am
Photo of Baroness Verma

Baroness Verma (Conservative)

My Lords, it is a great privilege to open this debate, and as always your Lordships' House has shown the great importance that it attaches to celebrating International Women's Day by the number of speakers who have signed up to contribute to this debate. Women matter, and they should matter, to every Government, every economy and every family. Like so many of your Lordships, I have been involved in issues around girls and women for as far back as I can remember. This annual debate generates huge global interest and I should like to thank in advance all noble Lords who will speak today. Great Britain has been at the heart of global change for women and girls, and we must remain eternally grateful to women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, whose vision was one of women as equals, women having power and influence over the direction of their lives.

The theme today is the "contribution of women to economic growth", so let me start by saying that we have made progress. Many will argue that there has not been enough progress, and that of course is true. However, while we continue to challenge and break down those barriers, we must also celebrate the achievements and the progress that has been made and illustrate what it is possible to achieve. This is a vision that is shared by all political parties in the UK, and we have much to thank the previous Government for. It is therefore right that we pay tribute to their ensuring that issues on gender remained high in their political programmes.

We must thank particularly the women in the Labour Party who have led from the front on issues such as early years childcare and the new types of apprenticeships which give girls and women access to training in traditionally male-only sectors. They looked at flexible working and maternity and paternity leave, and they paved the way on the work to end violence against women and girls. I am pleased that so many of those senior women are here today.

This Government are working hard on improving on those initiatives and introducing many more. The Prime Minister recognises how important it is that we build a society-our country-on the principles of fairness, accessibility and equality of opportunity. However, we also know that we have to take difficult decisions in difficult economic circumstances and therefore need to respond to restoring the economy. That is where we believe that women will have a huge role in contributing-a role which will define not just progress but the success of a changing economy.

No country can afford to ignore half of its talent and human potential. For example, if women's entrepreneurship in the UK matched that of the USA, we would have an extra 600,000 women-owned businesses here that would add £42 billion to the UK economy. I come from a small and medium-sized business background. I set up my first business at the age of 19 and know the difficulties that I faced then, 33 years ago. Sadly, many of those difficulties have not gone away. I am therefore pleased that the Business Secretary's Entrepreneurs' Forum includes 13 women members among its 20 members. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has also ensured that we have 5,000 women business mentors to assist women who want to start up a business or take their businesses to the next level. It is crucial that networks and mentoring become as embedded in how women approach business as they have been for men.

The Government are also establishing a Women's Business Council. Senior business leaders will advise the Government on how to improve the business environment for women. We are providing up to £2 million over the next three years to support women setting up or expanding businesses in rural areas. However, as not all women want to set up an enterprise, we also need to deliver a work programme that helps unemployed women to develop skills and gain relevant qualifications. That could be worth up to £20 billion each year to our economy.

What we are learning from around the world is that no tool is more effective for economic advancement than the empowerment of women. That is why it is crucial that career choices in schools are improved so that girls are aware of the full opportunities available to them. It is great to see that six in 10 higher-level apprentices in the UK are now female. Arguably, one of the greatest transformations to have occurred in the English higher education system is the increased participation of women. As someone who was not allowed to go to university for cultural reasons, I was-and remain-determined that those choices should always be available to anyone with the competence for higher education.

I turn now to the sensitive subject of pay. The Government are determined to see greater transparency in pay so that we can overcome the continuing issues on the gender pay gap. In September 2010 we launched a new voluntary framework for gender pay reporting with BT, Tesco, Eversheds and the CBI. The "Think, Act, Report" framework asks private and voluntary sector employers to help tackle the pay gap through greater transparency on pay and other issues. We are also working very closely with business not only on extending the right to request flexible working to all employees but to ensure a minimisation of any administrative costs to business. Our impact assessments calculate that this will produce a net benefit of over £222 million over 10 years.

We know that women, given the opportunity, contribute very positively at the top levels of business. We are therefore extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch-from whom we all look forward to hearing later in the debate-for his work on getting more women on to boards. Through his work with business we have seen within a relatively short time a positive shift in the right direction, with women making up nearly 15 per cent of FTSE directors, from 12 per cent previously. Over a quarter of all board appointments are now female, and 90 companies in the FTSE 100 have both genders on their boards. This is a move in the right direction. However, we want more women to break through the glass ceiling and reach the top of our biggest companies.

Nevertheless, we cannot negate issues that still need to be urgently addressed, and I turn first to the issues of violence against women and girls. The Government are very committed to eradicating all forms of abuse and violent behaviour. We know that that will not be easy but we also know that we must do all that we can to achieve this goal. On 25 November 2010 we published our Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls action plan, which set out our vision over the spending review period. A detailed range of supporting actions was also published last year, including a full response to the review of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, of the way in which rape complaints were handled.

We have protected Home Office funding of over £28 million for specialist services until 2015. In addition, the Ministry of Justice has committed to £3.5 million each year for three years for rape crisis centres. We will also maintain levels of funding to support specified national functions; for example, £900,000 per year, over four years, to support national help lines.

An indicative figure for the minimum and overlapping cost of violence against women and girls in the UK is estimated to be around £36.7 billion per year. Sadly, more and more incidents among teenagers also seem to be occurring. We therefore relaunched the teenage relationship abuse campaign last September. To date, we have had 170,000 visits to the website and a high level of participation in the online discussion forum. We have also provided £1.2 million to be used to form a new network of support for young victims of rape, sexual abuse and exploitation, including by gangs. However, we believe that there is still an under-reporting of sexual crime. We are working closely with police, the CPS and other agencies to ensure that victims feel they are fully supported when they come forward.

I know that a number of noble Lords were concerned about the issue of stalking. This deplorable invasion, through horribly sinister means, often has far-reaching consequences on how people manage their everyday lives. The Government's consultation on stalking, launched last October, closed on 5 February. We are currently considering the responses to the consultation and will respond very soon.

I have not touched on a number of areas in my opening remarks but in my closing speech I shall talk about the work that we are doing internationally and, of course, respond to points that noble Lords raise in the debate.

The Government are strongly committed to ensuring that all departments take into account the impact that their policies will have on women, and through inter-ministerial meetings departments we are working actively for positive outcomes. As Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, famously stated:

"If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just".

The UK, for me, is all those things and more-and that is why we so often lead in the world on these debates. I beg to move.

11:48 am
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Baroness Thornton (Labour)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for opening the debate. I am looking forward to the contributions of many noble Lords who are speaking today.

I wondered whether I could find a phrase other than "my Lords" to address the House collectively in an International Women's Day debate. There is, of course, the term "noble Sisters", which we can take to embrace the men who are going to speak today, just as we have to accept that the words "my Lords" cover women too. Perhaps today they might do the reverse and accept that the term "noble Baronesses" covers them also-if the term "noble Sisters" is too radically feminist for them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, has asked us to celebrate the contribution of women to economic growth. That is a good thing to do in our women's day debate and, of course, it does not just concern women's role in the workforce, as the noble Baroness, said, but the whole of women's lives in society. Where the noble Baroness and I may part company is on the question of whether this Government deserve that much credit for their contribution to the position of women in our economy today. Expecting to be congratulated on now supporting policies which any enlightened person or organisation might do, and some of us did decades ago, is perhaps going too far.

It would be churlish of me to remind the noble Baroness, for example, that her party branded me and the London Labour Party as "loonies" because we embraced workplace nurseries, the expansion of childcare and employers supporting their employees with childcare and job sharing as positive measures to support women in the workplace. We heard from all quarters of the Conservative Party that this would be the end of civilisation as we know it and would undermine the family, but I rejoice at a sinner repenting.

Of course, I congratulate Conservative women on their achievements in increasing the number of women representatives in Parliament, for example. However, it is worth saying that, come the next general election, it is possible that unless both of the parties in the coalition take positive action to address the gender imbalance of MPs and prospective candidates, when Labour makes its gains-which I think it will-this may be disastrous for the representation of Liberal Democrat women MPs in particular, because they are in marginal seats. It will also not be good for women Conservative MPs. That is a matter of great concern for our democracy. I think the parties opposite need to address that issue very seriously indeed. Perhaps they might look at the examples that we continue to set in the Labour Party about how one increases the number of women representatives in Parliament and other places.

In the few moments left to me I should like to reflect on the lessons from the struggles that women have had. As we used say in my women's group at the LSE in the 1970s, the personal is political. So I am going to look at a struggle that took place where I grew up, in Manningham, which is in my title. Samuel Cunliffe Lister, the first Baron Masham-not related to our dear noble Baroness, Lady Masham-is celebrated in Bradford as a former industrial giant and a benefactor to the city. There is a statue of him in Lister Park, the local park. Many may be aware of his great monument: the Italianate splendour of the towering chimney of Lister's Mill, Manningham, which still dominates the city skyline more than 100 years after he breathed his last. He may have been the head of a dynasty of worker-bashing mill owners, but a closer look reveals that he could have been responsible for helping to create the Conservative Party's deadliest rival, the Labour Party. I am referring to the Manningham Mills strike, lasting from 16 December 1890 until 27 April 1891-nearly 19 weeks. This was a war of attrition that was symbolic, in all aspects, of the clash of interests between capital and labour, particularly among the textile workers in the West Riding. The dispute was initially around pay but escalated into a dispute about solidarity, freedom of speech and how the Poor Law criminalised the poor. Unfortunately, the workers in that strike were starved back to work and returned after 19 weeks with the reduced wages that they had been offered.

However, the lesson for us today is that the unintended consequence was that tens of thousands of workers in the mill industry-the strike was led by women, which is why it is important-joined trade unions. Two years later, the Independent Labour Party was founded in Bradford. I claim for the women of Bradford the fact that we helped to found the Labour Party and all the consequences that have led from that. The lesson we might take from that today is that we need to pay tribute to the brave working women who have improved working conditions throughout the past 100 years or so-the women of the match girls' strike, the Asian women in Grunwick and the women of Dagenham. We should pay tribute to those women in this debate and be grateful to them.

This Government and their policies for women, particularly working women, are an example of where the reality does not match the rhetoric. We know that women are suffering hugely from redundancies and that unemployment among women aged between 50 and 64 has rocketed by almost 20 per cent in the past year. According to Netmums, in February 2012, 70 per cent of families were financially on the edge, women were missing meals to feed their children-a survey of 2,000 mothers found that one in five was missing meals so that her children could eat-and a quarter of families were living on credit cards. It is the women who bear the brunt of this. Of course, I congratulate this Government where they have helped women at work-I have worked with the noble Baroness on that-but we need to address the very real issue that this economic downturn and this Government's policies are having a very detrimental effect on women's lives in this country.

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Baroness Northover (Liberal Democrat)

I remind noble Lords-I should have done this at the very beginning of the debate-that this is a time-limited debate, and when the clock hits six minutes noble Lords have had their time. Could we be as disciplined as possible, because there is another major debate and a Third Reading following on after this?

11:55 am
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Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords-and the noble Baronesses-I can take a hint. Next week we will celebrate International Women's Day. As I look around me I see more women represented in our political system. However, there is just one major omission. Is it not time that women are also represented on Bishops' Benches? Perhaps the right reverend Prelate could tell us what progress has been made on that front.

I welcome this debate because it gives us the opportunity to examine contributions that women make in the field of economic growth. We can no longer define economic growth in the narrow context of self- interest. To a great extent our economy is part of globalised structures and institutions which require transparency and ethical standards. Remove these elements and you remove the confidence of the community in such structures. But where do women fit into such structures? The evidence is for all to see; women are grossly underrepresented at every level, and that just cannot be right.

I suspect that for far too long decisions affecting women are often taken by men. This is not just peculiar to our country. It applies almost universally. Women are more vulnerable to poverty than men, and access to job opportunities and promotions in global markets is essential if they are to be empowered to work their way out of poverty, deprivation and disadvantage. We already have examples of good practices. The Commonwealth is paying special attention to the needs, constraints and interests of women in trade policies and liberalisation. I recently attended the Commonwealth Business Council conference in Perth in Australia. This was attended by more than 1,400 delegates. One of the striking features was the increase in attendance of women delegates and their participation in debates, which clearly identified the role they could play in promoting equality and elimination of poverty.

One element identified by delegates was about trade liberalisation. This is not to be confused with free trade and the complete absence of regulations. Trade liberalisation, together with proper international regulation to protect vulnerable communities-for example, women-who tend to work in the informal sector, and children, can lead to benefits especially in the present economic climate. If one pays decent wages to workers throughout the Commonwealth, even marginally, more money can be used by impoverished communities to enhance their own and their children's education. This will increase people's own buying power. Those communities should not be seen as pools of cheap labour and a threat to domestic labour; rather they are untouched markets, potential consumers and ultimately, valuable participants in the growth of the world economy. We ignore the role of women at our peril. Women are more vulnerable to poverty than men and access to global markets is essential if women are to be empowered to work their way out of this misery inflicted on them.

Poverty has arguably existed as long as man has. Most people have come to accept that with the rich there will be the comparative poor. However, today we are all being faced with a world where nearly one-fifth of the population is living in extreme poverty and the wealth and power rests with a few. On this International Women's Day, each nation has to be reminded about Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights, which reads:

"All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights".

Article 3 reads:

"Everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of person".

There is one another issue I wish to address. I thank in advance the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, for some very valuable work she has done on the matter of domestic violence. In 2008, the Government stated that in the UK the estimated cost of domestic violence to business alone through absences, loss of productivity and rapid turnover of employees is £2.7 billion-a figure mentioned by my noble friend Lady Verma in her opening address. Medical and social costs add a further £3.1 billion, bringing the total cost to £6 billion every year. Similar figures have been produced by the United Nations in its brief The Economic Costs of Violence Against Women, which concluded that,

"all measures of the costs of violence against women are extreme underestimates in any case because so many costs are not included ... The costs of violence against women are enormous".

We need to look very carefully at how we address this issue because it is right that if we want to live in peace and prosper, we cannot ignore the role of women in our society. At every stage we look at it, discrimination and disadvantage form part of their daily routine. This is the challenge we face. It is a time for action, a time for change and a time for building a safe and decent society.

12:01 pm
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Baroness Hayman (Crossbench)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said she would deal with international issues when she wound up and so, tempted as I am to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in political anecdotage by talking about the revolution I have seen in women in politics in the UK since being one of 27 women Members of the House of Commons in 1974, I shall in fact stick to my last and speak about women in the developing world.

I do so because today's debate may bea week early for International Women's Day but it is perfectly timed for me. I am less than 48 hours out of Kathmandu and a parliamentary placement with VSO, volunteering in Nepal. I would like to record my thanks to VSO for enabling me to undertake that work-it has been in that country for nearly 50 years now-and particularly to record my admiration for the young volunteers, most of them women from the UK, who I saw working as part of the International Citizen Service scheme in deprived and remote isolated communities in Nepal, teaching sexual and reproductive health, far from their own comfort zones, in partnership with Nepali volunteers in a way that was truly impressive and made me extremely proud of then. I also declare my non-financial interest as a trustee of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

That visit to Nepal reinforced my belief that the empowerment of women is a hugely powerful driver of growth, both economic and general. One has only to look at the contribution of women in the tiger economies of Asia to understand how that has happened. Yet within the context of the developing world, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if today I speak less about economic empowerment in action and more about the barriers to that economic empowerment. There are women with debilitating, disfiguring and blinding neglected tropical diseases; women who are tied to water and fuel collection for hours every day; girls who never make it to the start of primary education, let alone the completion of secondary education; women who are trafficked; women whose migrant husbands infect them with HIV; girls who are married off at obscenely early ages and bear children when barely in their teens and then suffer from obstetric fistula or prolapse-and are then rejected by those husbands. These women have no opportunity to pursue their aspirations, or to contribute to the economic development of their communities.

I would like to say a word or two about forced marriage, a fundamental breach of the most basic rights of self-determination. It is a global problem, on every continent, with perhaps 10 million cases a year, including an estimated 8,000 in England alone. Too often and in too many countries the legal age of marriage is a number on a statute in a capital city, but far from the reality of life for girls in the villages in that country.

I pay tribute to the work that the FCO, DfID and the Government Equalities Office are doing to combat forced marriage throughout the world, and I particularly welcome the Prime Minister's personal commitment in this area. Forced and early marriage cannot be written off as simply a cultural or religious practice that we should avoid confronting out of some misplaced sense of respect. No major world religion condones forced marriage, and silence serves to keep the issue hidden and unchallenged. Predominately, forced marriage reflects and drives poverty. Families struggling to get by may see it as a way of reducing the number of children to feed or receiving a dowry for those who remain.

We must build on the progress that was made at CHOGM last October and with the recent call for action at the UN in New York. Countries from Sierra Leone to Pakistan are passing relevant legislation, and international NGOs are working to ensure that our collective efforts prevent forced marriage and do not just prosecute it. I pay particular tribute to the work of Plan UK; in countries such as Bangladesh it has worked with local people on a sustainable campaign to achieve community support for the right of young girls to a childhood and thereby the chance of an education, health and, ultimately, economic empowerment.

I came back from Nepal intensely conscious not only of the affluence and comfort of my own life but of the barriers that women face and of the tremendous use that they make of opportunity when it is given to them. I saw a project run by an NGO, the Social Action Centre, where women had been encouraged to be open about their HIV status, to gain treatment and then to undertake livelihood projects and thus revolutionise their lives.

However, I also heard of women and girls who are banished from the home to the cowshed every month during menstruation and who sometimes freeze to death when they are there. I heard of women who are trafficked to brothels in India, women who never make it to school because of hookworm, elephantiasis, trachoma or other neglected tropical diseases that are cheap to treat. It is only when we achieve the basic rights for those women that we will allow them the opportunity to contribute economically to the development of their own communities and countries.

12:07 pm
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The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Bishop)

My Lords and-dare I say?-noble sisters, I thank the noble Baroness for initiating this debate. Economic growth is an issue of justice and, of all the struggles in history, justice for women, whether legal, social or economic, remains the longest and most protracted.

Anyone speaking from these Benches needs to acknowledge that although its founder recognised the fullness of women's citizenship from the beginning of the Jesus movement, women were gradually deprived of equality as the church ceased to be a house-based structure based on economics and adopted a hierarchical, patriarchal structure. If women are to be in the House of Bishops, I hope that they may help to take us back there.

A few years ago I had the privilege of being in Gaza on International Women's Day. A group of us spent time with women committed to a programme of self-empowerment, striving to enhance their economic status in the face of the realities of sanctions and conflict. As we left that meeting, we were given flowers to symbolise the struggle. A couple of hours or so later, my Methodist woman colleague and I were faced by the barrier separating Gaza from Israel. Quite spontaneously, we walked towards the barrier and placed our flowers-one red, one white-in a small gap in the concrete. It was a gesture that the struggle for peace and justice, perhaps represented by the white flower, was at the cost of life, frequently snuffed out through poverty, oppression and hunger, represented by the red.

A recent report from the United Nations has found that the households of lone mothers with young children are especially vulnerable to poverty. Older women are more likely to be poor than older men in both developed and developing countries. In much of Africa and more than half of Asia, restrictions on women's ownership of land and property, often as a consequence of formal or traditional laws, increase poverty. In developing countries, fewer women than men have cash income and many married women have no say in deciding how their cash earnings are spent. To speak of economic justice in such circumstances is to demand that women's work is properly valued, and that they have property rights-especially in rural areas, where women produce 80 per cent of the food-and are enabled to take decisions about family finances. Economic justice means providing access to finance for income generation and investment for micro-enterprises. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, made reference to issues in our own country and, in particular, to rural women, which is something that concerns me in the area in which I live, but I will not comment further on it in this debate.

Justice is the precarious dream that humanity can have. It is a vision akin to that of heaven. Many have heard of it, read about and longed for it but no one has seen it. The best we can say is that we have glimpsed it. I have been privileged through many years of my life both to visit and to work with women and men across the globe in the struggle for justice. Anglicans around the world are working to provide such economic justice for women. In Burundi, micro-finance schemes cater for women in rural areas. In Bangladesh, similar schemes provide support for women in the slums of Dhaka. In Zimbabwe, I have witnessed Anglicans helping some of the most vulnerable women, including those living with HIV and AIDS. Similarly, in Zambia I have seen how the Church is bringing together faith communities and justice services to reach out into the rural communities to make sure that women know their rights and can get access to justice.

However, these glimpses of economic justice are simply that-glimpses. If poor women who are subjects in their own lives, made in the imago dei-the image of God-with their own capabilities and rights to sustain their lives through their own efforts, abilities and the will to do so, they need access to the markets. This can come about only through a radical redistribution of resources. The task of justice is to work for more equal distribution and access to the distributive mechanisms.

Finally, the eradication of poverty is the task of Governments, international bodies, the Church and secular institutions alike, and it is a worthy dream. If poverty is ever to be history, support is needed for transformation in local civil society and community structures. This requires the practice of economic theory that starts where people are-at the bottom, not at the top. The road to justice is long and those of us who seek it must be prepared for the long haul. We must find hope in the glimpses but open our eyes to the vision of a world in which women in particular can enjoy just and equal sharing.

12:13 pm
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Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone (Conservative)

My Lords, I am delighted to speak in this debate and warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Verma on her comments. For many of us in this country, our generation has been one of complete transformation in opportunities for women. It is just over 100 years since the first International Women's Day was celebrated. In that time we have seen the first female Member of Parliament, the first woman judge and the first ordained female priest. Across the professions and business, we have seen opportunities for educated and talented women. Of course, this year we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of our Queen, who has done a magnificent job.

For those of us who so enjoyed the recent film "The Iron Lady", it was also the generation that saw the first woman Prime Minister. Fascinating for those who have seen that film are the comments of young women, who cannot believe the patronising attitudes towards women. As somebody who joined the House of Commons after the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman-there were 23 women when I joined-I was seriously asked, "Mrs Bottomley, if you want to vote one way and your husband wants you to vote another way, which way will you vote?". The world has changed.

I want to identify three specific areas, including that of high-achieving women, on which I shall say more later. Women in poverty in this country is a different topic and a very important one on which many people in this House speak authentically. Many years ago when I worked with the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Meacher, at the Child Poverty Action Group, we were only too aware of how women bear the burden of poverty. We have talked about domestic abuse and many distinguished Members of this House speak emotionally and authentically about women in prison. Then there is the international situation, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, referred. I am pleased that she spoke of Nepal, which is one of the few countries in the world where men live longer than women. Many people do not realise why that is so shocking. Life expectancy may be 86 or 84 years for women in Japan or Switzerland; in Mozambique and Swaziland it is 39 and 32 years respectively. The western world may have a female literacy rate of 100 per cent; in Burkina Faso it is 15 per cent, and 13 per cent in Chad. Therefore, we need to talk about high-achieving women mindful of women who face poverty here and around the world, and the appalling situation that applies to many women of having no rights and being subjected to forced marriage, genital mutilation and forced prostitution.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for his work. He is the natural successor to one of my early mentors-the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I am afraid that it had to be a man tackling the subject of women on boards but we have seen dramatic changes. I must declare my interests. I have been on the board of Akzo Nobel for 12 years. I was "diversity"; I was the Brit; I was also the first woman. I have also been on the board of Bupa, where there were several women. People talk about the difference in environment where there are several women on a board as opposed to one, and they are right about that. I am also a trustee of the Economist.

However, over the past 12 years I have spent a lot of my time being a headhunter and I have to look for the best man for the job. I am pleased to tell noble Lords that in 2000, when I became a headhunter, 5.8 per cent of directorships were filled by women and now the figure is 14.9 per cent. However, I do not take full credit for that. I am delighted with the work that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has done, but I think we are moving on from believing that non-executives on the board is the most important issue in corporate Britain or the most important issue in female fulfilment and participation. I am pleased that the more enlightened discussion now is about female employees in the workforce and what happens to women as they move through work. I always ask people in the commercial world to look at the public sector. Why is it that fewer than one in seven vice-chancellors are women? In saying that, I look at the distinguished academics in this House.

I have also had responsibility for the health service. We have talked a lot about careers for women in medicine. The same issues apply as regards mentoring, encouraging aspiration and teaching women the tricks of the trade. Why are there so few female heads of medical schools? I have been very involved in the Women in Academic Medicine organisation, where the issues that I have mentioned also apply. Therefore, I ask the corporate world not to look at itself in a blinkered way but to look more widely.

I am delighted that the Government have resisted quotas, and endorse that decision. I give notice that I would vote against the introduction of quotas. One of the many reasons for my doing that is that one in four primary schools have no male teachers. All our debates on social policy stress the importance of male role models in those early years. Let us have quotas for men in primary schools long before we have quotas for women on boards.

I say to the right reverend Prelate that I am passionate about the upcoming debate on women in the Church of England. As a lay canon at Guildford Cathedral, I think this is such a timely issue. Extraordinary progress has been made in this area. I did not really care about it, except theoretically, until I went to a church in New Zealand where a female priest was officiating. Ever since then I have been outraged by the situation. I ask the Roman Catholic Church, which does so much good around the world, to think again about contraception, female leadership and married priests. I tread carefully, but surely a faith with global influence should accept that women's place is very different now.

12:20 pm
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Baroness Massey of Darwen (Labour)

My Lords, sisters and brothers, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for introducing this debate. It is always an inspiring and important occasion, and I apologise that I shortly have to leave the Chamber for about an hour to attend a lunch. I am so sorry about that.

The focus today is on economic development and achievement. It is interesting that even the Gentleman's Magazine in 1739 stated:

"If women were trained up to business from their early years, tis highly probable they would in general be more industrious, and get more money than men".

We may reflect on that today.

I want to explore two principles. The first is that whatever women achieve is part of a history of building on achievement, whether it be in economics and finance, medicine, the arts, sport, politics or the law. What one generation does has an impact on the next and subsequent generations. We, today, men and women, are no exceptions. This is one reason why these debates are so important.

My second principle is that women need support to achieve, particularly in areas such as industry and commerce. Men, of course, also need support but women have had more battles. They often need organisation and advocacy for their efforts. This brings me to my main focus for today, which is how the principles of support and historical example are illustrated by the brave efforts of the suffragette movement. It is appropriate that now in the Royal Gallery we have an exhibition of historic documents relating to the suffrage movement. It is a tribute to our parliamentary archivist Mari Takayanagi and to Melanie Unwin from the works of art office that we have had these documents recognised by UNESCO as being of national importance. On Tuesday, they organised a suffragette walk through Parliament. One of the most moving sights for me was the windows in St Stephen's Hall illustrating the history of suffrage, including portrayals of chains, force-feeding, and the "cat and mouse" Act.

The suffragette movement was born out of a good deal of frustration. The first petition to Parliament asking for the vote for women was presented in 1832, yet full equal rights to the vote, as we know, were achieved only in 1928. This is part of the principle of building support from one generation to the next, and for not giving up. It is possible that women today would not be here without that battle for the vote. The principle of support is also evident, not just from women; some men were also fundamentally involved in the effort to secure the vote. Some men, and probably even some women, were, of course, antagonistic-but strength and persistence won. We have a good example of persistence in Elizabeth Garrett Anderson-the daughter of one of 12 children of a pawnbroker, the first woman doctor in England and the first female mayor.

In a display case in the Royal Gallery is a poignant reminder of these struggles. It is the actual banner unfurled in October 1908 from the Ladies' Gallery in the House of Commons. The protest took place behind a heavy metal grille, behind which women had to sit. The banner begins by stating:

"Whereas the Nation depends for its progress and existence upon the work and services of women as well as men",

and goes on to emphasise the need for mutual protection of all citizens, and protection of the interests of working women and women in the home. Already, concerns beyond the achievement of voting rights are evident. Christabel Pankhurst stated that women wanted the vote for more than its symbolic value; it was about recognition of human equality. She concluded:

"When we have done that, then we will help the men to solve the problems of the 20th century".

She was also aware of the need to be ambassadors of freedom for women in other parts of the world.

Women having the vote helped in many ways. Campaigning had proved successful, and organisations involved in winning the vote now turned to other issues of equality, such as employment. Male MPs now had women in their constituencies to whom they had to listen, and there were a few women MPs. Acts were passed allowing women to enter professions from which they had been barred. From 1919, women could become barristers and solicitors, accountants, vets and senior civil servants. There were also Acts which equalised inheritance rights, gave equal guardianship of infants rights to men and women, reformed marriage and divorce law, reformed the legitimacy and adoption law, raised the age of consent for marriage to 16 and introduced pensions for widows and orphans. Before 1918, little such legislation was considered.

Does the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, agree that without a women's movement, exemplified by the suffragettes, women today would have less self-esteem, less confidence in their ability to reform, less trust in support and advocacy and less power to change situations, including economic and financial matters? I believe that most people now recognise the need for women's talents, insight and persistence. Sylvia Pankhurst was indeed right about the need to recognise our human equality in order to solve problems.

12:26 pm
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Lord Smith of Clifton (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, this debate is becoming an annual fixture in the business of the House, and quite right too. So far, unfortunately, it has not led to any significant, substantive progress in improving the opportunities for women to contribute fully to the economic prosperity of the country.

By contrast with the UK, in the developing world there is widespread and growing acceptance of the vital role that women have played in improving wealth creation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, remarked. The Economic Affairs Committee is completing its study on overseas development aid, and the evidence it has received shows irrefutably how important women are as economic drivers. Here, I must again draw your Lordships' attention to the outstanding contribution of the UK-based charity, Camfed. For more than three generational cohorts, it has helped to improve the status and educational attainment levels of women in many parts of Africa. This, in turn, has generated tangible economic benefits. The progress in Africa has not been emulated in the UK.

Soon after assuming office, very commendably the coalition Government set up the Davies inquiry into gender representation on the boards of the FTSE 100 companies. It reported a year ago, and we all look forward to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, will say later in this debate. It called for a modest 25 per cent of women directors by 2015. Although much lip service has been paid to that principle, even that low voluntary target is unlikely to be reached by that date. What increases in women's board representation there have been have been mainly in non-executive rather than executive director posts. Shamefully, 11 per cent of FTSE 100 companies still have all-male boards.

Despite the very poor record in gender balance in the composition of the current Cabinet, it is interesting that the Prime Minister has expressed concern at the lack of progress in improving the participation of women in the higher ranks of business. On 12 February, he was quoted in the Observer as saying:

"It's about quality ... Not just equality ... if we fail to unlock the potential of women in the labour market, we're not only failing those individuals, we're failing our whole economy".

He hinted at the possible introduction of gender quotas for company boards after his trip to Scandinavia in February. Norway's quota system has been a dramatic success story, with a 40 per cent target being achieved in less than 10 years.

The UK has fought shy of compulsory quotas, as in the Davies report. Some business leaders have decried the use of quotas. I must say that I am rather disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, has joined them. It must be emphasised that those opposing quotas are simply airing their prejudice, against all the evidence. They have no factual evidence whatever to validate their views. Supporting evidence to the contrary is available. The proof of the efficacy of compulsory quotas is not confined to Norway and elsewhere in Europe. There is evidence from within the UK itself that quotas work. The Patten reform introduced to the recruitment procedures of the RUC and the PSNI to ensure a much higher proportion of Catholic police men and women has been very successful. It also had the significant beneficial side-effect of substantially increasing the proportion of women recruits, which was reported to have more than doubled from 12.6 per cent to almost 26 per cent in the 10 years to October 2010.

The drawing-up of proper job specifications by the PSNI, as Patten required, not only led to a better community balance within police ranks but significantly enhanced women's opportunities. The coalition Government should take this evidence into serious consideration. They cannot question the evidence, because the review was introduced by Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister should now take account of this UK experience and take positive action on women's directors on the boards of major companies. As Prime Minister, he should set an example by announcing in the Queen's Speech how he hopes to achieve, let us say, a proportion of 40 per cent women Cabinet Ministers by a particular date.

12:31 pm
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Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Labour)

My Lords, this debate is a cause for real celebration. It is a matter of delight to us all, I am sure, that so many good male voices are being raised and added to those of the good female voices that have always historically participated in our debates on this subject. In the past, it was always a matter of sadness to those of us who were habitual offenders that we were not joined by our male co-conspirators, so I am very pleased that that has been cured today.

I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, not only on instigating this debate but on focusing on the importance of the economic empowerment of women and the contribution that they can and do make to the economic growth and well-being of our country. We now know, certainly from the past year when financial difficulties have been at their height, that businesses that had the benefit of a gender-balanced leadership fared far better than those who did not have that advantage. The emotional intelligence that women have brought to business and to risk assessment has been demonstrably advantageous to business throughout our country. I sincerely hope that that is a message and a lesson that we will not have to learn twice.

I am particularly pleased that my noble friend Lord Davies is about to speak, because it is right that we give him credit for the great work that he has done as a man raising issues that are pertinent to women. That demonstrates that women's issues are not women's issues; they are our issues-they are human rights issues, and issues that relate to the benefit and the welfare of our country as a whole.

However, we know that many impediments are cast in the way of women that can make it more difficult for them to survive and make the contribution that they are able to make. One of those has been touched on during this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, by my noble friend Lady Massey and by a number of others. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia-although I do not see him in his place at the moment-for the compliments that he paid me for the work that I have done on domestic violence. That work succeeded only because it was undertaken by many people together in partnership-women working with men in government, in local government, in business, in the third sector and individually. I need think only of the stalwart work that was done by colleagues across government, men and women together, to bring about the 24-hour helpline and to help Refuge and other third-sector parties to deliver their sterling work to know that it needed all of us.

We know that, globally, domestic violence still disproportionately affects women. In our country, it affects one in four women; across the world, it affects one in three, but 89 per cent of repeat victims are women. That has a direct impact, as other noble Lords have said, on our economic growth. It cost us £23 billion in 2003. We reduced that together to £7.5 billion, but that is far too high a price for us to have paid in the past and we continue to carry £1.9 billion of the economic cost to business. There is much that we need to do and must do to address that. Noble Lords will know that the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence, which I created in 2005, has sought to make a difference. I thank all those businesses that have already put their shoulder to the wheel to bring about change, but it is this global factor that we certainly need to do far more about. Today, in 2012, violence against women is still an alarmingly widespread problem, affecting women of all backgrounds and beliefs. Physical or sexual violence still affects 60 per cent of women worldwide, and trafficking women for commercial or sexual exploitation is still a hugely prevalent crime of low risk and high profit for the traffickers.

We need to address all these issues, and that is one reason why I am greatly concerned by any diminution in legal aid that may be made available to those women who seek to secure a better future for themselves and their children. Many women at low and medium risk are assisted by legal aid to escape situations before they become high risk, and at risk of death or serious injury. I know the commitment of all those around the House who wish to make sure that women and their children are better cared for, better supported and better protected-and I mean by that noble Lords on all Benches. I hope that when we come to look at these issues we will not forget our historical commitment and make sure that women, children and men remain safe from domestic violence.

12:37 pm
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Baroness Seccombe (Conservative)

My Lords, in this very special Diamond anniversary year, with all the excitement of the celebration of the Queen's 60 glorious years and the Olympics ahead, we should approach this debate with optimism.

That does not mean that I do not understand the appalling events taking place in many parts of the world where women continue to suffer huge injustices in tragic circumstances. Progress for them is either desperately slow or non-existent. We must, of course, do all we can to use our influence to try to help alleviate their position and to highlight the situation through publicity such as this debate in your Lordships' House. I am sure that other noble Lords will speak on this.

However, in this important year, perhaps I may crave the indulgence of the House in order to accentuate a few of the good things that are happening. We must not be seen as wringers of hands, concerned only with poor, downtrodden women everywhere. Instead, we should rejoice in the successes that some women have had and be mindful of the glass-half-full syndrome.

I could not contribute to this annual debate without referring to Emmeline Pankhurst, and I am pleased to wear a symbol not of her battle colours but of one of her strong beliefs: in safe motherhood for all women throughout the world. She and her brave fellow suffragettes, at great personal sacrifice, courageously fought for the right for women to vote, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. What a long way we have come and how good it is to see so many women competing and winning their way to the top.

However, during the past 15 years, we seem to have retreated into the thinking of a foregone generation when trade was considered unacceptable and only those with a degree could succeed in life. We are paying for that fallacious policy today with our low-skilled workforce, as foreign workers fill the highly expert jobs available while many graduates remain unemployed.

I am delighted that now there is a real drive to create thousands of apprenticeships. In my local paper this week, I read that the Coventry and Warwickshire local enterprise partnership, which set out to create 100 apprenticeships in 100 days last November, celebrated 110 in 98 days during National Apprenticeship Week. I applaud the LEP for its enthusiasm and hope that it is the start of a growing campaign.

Last week, I met two representatives from the Electrical Contractors' Association. They told me that the electrical contracting industry is training more than 6,000 apprentices and now, due to the enthusiasm of a small group, has launched a pilot scheme named Wired for Success-ECA Women into Electrical Contracting Initiative. There are 12 women on the two-year course, which, when completed, will give them a qualification to work competently and safely in a domestic environment. They have now completed six months of the course. Many of these women were long-term unemployed and now relish the new-found confidence and opportunities in their lives. Some of the quotes are positive and heart-warming. For example:

"I hate being on benefits, so something like this would make a massive difference. I just want to be in control of my life; I don't want to sit at home waiting for handouts. This initiative is really empowering".

Another says:

"I want to give other women confidence; they shouldn't be frightened, or scared or ashamed because they want to do a different sort of job".

Another comment is:

"This will help me set a good example for my daughter Kira now that she is able to do things for herself and have a normal life around her disability. All the time I've been with her I've not been working, and it's not good for her to see that".

I am sure noble Lords will agree that it is good indeed to hear such positive comments and that they will commend those whose inspiration fired the imagination of others who ran with the idea and put it into practice. I can see a bright future for these women, once qualified. I wish them all success and the strength and courage to stay the course so that they may reap the rewards they will richly deserve.

I said that this was only a pilot but I hope that it will stimulate others to have different ingenious brainwaves. This is just a start and will give hope to those who want to work but cannot find a job. It is a mammoth task but I can see that the impetus is there. Therefore, as we approach, for us, the thrilling months ahead, may we celebrate the success we have had. Let us work hard as we enjoy the coming celebrations but never forget that there is still much to do.

12:42 pm
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Baroness Pitkeathley (Labour)

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I apologise in advance for having to leave the Chamber during part of it but it is for a reason that I hope noble Lords will find entirely appropriate: it is to show some young schoolgirls around the exhibition in the Royal Gallery.

I have spoken in many debates on or around International Women's Day since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House and I have always taken the opportunity to focus on the role of carers. I make no apology for doing so again in this debate, which focuses on women's contribution to economic growth. I do so, first, because carers annually contribute £119 billion to the economy through the care they provide free-if they did not do this, we would have to provide the equivalent of another NHS in terms of funding-and, secondly, because most carers are women, totalling 58 per cent according to the 2001 Census. Female carers are also more likely to be heavy-end carers, caring for more than one ill or disabled person, and to be what we call "sandwich carers", caring for young children and elderly parents simultaneously. This means that women are more likely to give up work to care, with only a third of female heavy-end carers able to stay in work. I want to focus on how this caring role inhibits the contribution that they could otherwise make.

Women who give up work to care between the ages of 55 and 64, at the peak of their careers, typically lose over £15,000 a year. The peak age when carers give up work to care is also the time when most employees are at the peak of their careers. In a Carers UK survey, 34 per cent of the women who gave up work to care did so between the ages of 40 and 54. In addition to long-term costs for individuals, women find it hard to return to work after years spent caring, and this brings costs to employers, who lose staff at the peak of their skills and experience. A survey by Carers UK found that 70 per cent of female carers who gave up work to care wished that they could still work but believed that their caring responsibilities made it impossible.

Workplace recognition and support for carers is improving, and we must pay tribute to the previous Government and this one for that. Most carers now have the legal right to request flexible working from their employer, and it is welcome that the Government are consulting on extending the right to request that to all employees. Members of Employers for Carers, set up by Carers UK, are leading the way in implementing carer-friendly employment policies. These employers, ranging from BT and British Gas to smaller manufacturing businesses, point to clear improvements in staff retention rates, reducing the costs that would be involved in recruitment and retraining if staff were forced to give up work to care.

However, what often prevents families juggling work and care is the inability to access reliable social care support of quality. One in five carers who had been forced to give up work said that this was because of an inability to access support from local social care services, with a similar number finding services too expensive or inflexible. With an estimated £1 billion in cuts to social care services last year, with directors of social services predicting further cuts at a similar level this year, there is a risk that the pressure on women being able to work will grow.

Despite some improvements and greater public awareness of the issues, too few carers are still getting help early enough in their caring role. As a society, we are not investing sufficiently in care, and that has very important consequences for the future. Families will be less likely to be in work and the economy will miss out on an estimated £750 million to £1.5 billion in earnings each year, according to research by the University of Birmingham. Over recent years, the UK has seen a 50 per cent increase in the number of people providing round-the-clock care-and I mean 24 hours, seven days a week. Without significant investment in social care, more families will have to provide large amounts of care, often falling out of work in order to do so.

How we support carers is a growing issue with the combined effect of the significant increase in the number of people who need care through frailty and disability and a significant reduction in public spending. How we support families who provide care is a global challenge. The issues facing us here in the UK are replicated throughout Europe and the industrialised world.

We need to think differently about how care is provided and about how we support families who decide to provide that care unpaid. Just as the increased participation of women in the labour market led to better and more provision of childcare, so care services must be seen as an enabler as our population ages. The economic value of better support for women which enables them to combine childcare and work is estimated to be between £15 billion and £23 billion a year. It is time that caring for disabled and older relatives was seen in the same light.

As the Government prepare to publish a White Paper on social care reform, it is crucial that we see care and support services as a driver for the workforce inclusion of carers, and particularly women. Only in this way will we enable women to participate fully in the workforce and therefore to contribute to economic growth as they and we would wish.

12:48 pm
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Lord Shipley (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, my contribution to this debate derives from reading, a couple of years ago, some research on the impact on growth of empowering women in sub-Saharan Africa. That research said that, where women are more empowered, where they are educated and have access to healthcare and where they can earn money, economies grow faster. That is because women work co-operatively and spend money differently from men, investing in growing food for their families and investing in their families' education and health. Both the UN and the World Bank have demonstrated that income per head could rise by at least a fifth in emerging economies were it not for the secondary economic role of women in so many countries. Across the world, women own only 1 per cent of land, and more than two-thirds of the 1 billion people living on $1 a day are women.

I welcome the Government's commitment in this Parliament to focus on key outcomes in both bilateral aid and our support to international organisations. Some of the objectives of that policy are the education of 11 million children, half of whom will be girls; preventing death in pregnancy and childbirth of 50,000 more women; stopping 250,000 newborn babies dying needlessly; and helping 10 million women to access modern family planning. All those will help women. However, I particularly welcome the new strategic vision document for girls and women from the Department for International Development which concentrates on stopping poverty before it starts by directing resource specifically to girls and women.

Education is key to gender equality and economic growth. Education for girls and women leads to higher wages, which lead to higher spending, which leads to more focused spending on things that help drive gender equality. Moreover, that money is reinvested, creating a virtuous circle in economic growth.

The gender gap in schooling and work is very marked in some countries. For example, girls' entry and completion rates at primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa run 10 percentage points below those for boys, and the gap can widen significantly at secondary level. The World Bank has reported that,

"girls' education yields some of the highest returns of all development investments, yielding both private and social benefits that accrue to individuals, families and society at large".

That raises the question: why are there not more girls in school? The answer, in part, is cost, but more importantly, there is not an understanding of how girls' education can drive economic growth. There is perceived to be no economic return to a family in educating girls, which leads to the girls being taught home-based tasks to prepare them for domestic life.

I therefore welcome the vision of the Secretary of State for International Development in his commitment to deliver outcomes that are specifically addressed to girls and women. We should support this programme's four principles: to delay the first pregnancy and support safe childbirth, to direct economic assets to girls and women, to get more girls through secondary school and to prevent violence against girls and women.

All four goals are important so, crucially, each is underpinned by a programme of action to deliver a step change in very specific areas. For example, girls in their teenage years are five times more likely than women in their early 20s to die in pregnancy or childbirth, hence the plan to save 50,000 lives. Agricultural outputs in sub-Saharan countries could rise by up to 20 per cent if women had equal economic opportunities to men, hence the plan to secure access to land for 4.5 million women. We know now that just one extra year of schooling would increase the wages of girls by between 10 and 20 per cent. It is therefore good to know that half the children whom the UK will be supporting in primary schools will be girls and that, by 2014, 700,000 girls will be supported in secondary education. Preventing violence through plans to help some 10 million women to access justice through the courts, police and legal assistance will also be crucial in delivering gender equality. Crucially, there will also be greater access to financial services for several million women.

All those initiatives are inter-related. We should therefore acknowledge and support the new emphasis that the Government are giving to promoting the vital importance of empowering girls and women. There is a great deal to do, but the policy is vital and the prize substantial. Empowerment of women is just in itself, but as we now understand better, it also helps to drive economic growth, and it does so faster than if the same resources were given to men.

12:55 pm
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Baroness Gale (Labour)

My Lords-and my ladies-I bring greetings from Wales on this glorious St David's Day. I believe that it is appropriate that today I speak about Welsh women, and I begin with one in particular-the Viscountess Rhondda of Llanwern and of her links with your Lordships' House. Viscountess Rhondda inherited her title in 1918 from her father, which was most unusual. At the time, women were not allowed to sit in the House of Lords. In 1920, two years after she inherited her title, she petitioned the Lords for the right to sit and vote. She based her claim on the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and the committee found in her favour. However, the Lord Chancellor at the time, Lord Birkenhead, so strongly opposed the idea that he stacked the committee-he reformed it and put a lot more men on it-with like-minded Peers and reversed its decision.

Lady Rhondda had been an active suffragette and was a leading feminist in the inter-war years. She founded the feminist weekly magazine Time and Tide and helped to set up the Six Point Group, which was one of the first to campaign on women's issues, including equal pay and equal opportunities-something on which many women are still campaigning today. Lady Rhondda was a courageous woman and she defied many social conventions and restrictions of the time. She became a prominent figure and role model in the advancement of women's political and employment rights. She was a successful businesswoman with some 30 directorships. She was given a government post as director of the women's department in the Ministry of National Service in 1917. She died in 1958 just three months after the Life Peerages Act 1958, which allowed women to sit in the House of Lords, but it was not until five years later, with the Peerage Act 1963, that women who inherited the title were finally admitted. I was very pleased that the Work of Arts Committee agreed to purchase a portrait of Viscountess Rhondda recently, and I am pleased that I played a small part in that. I feel that at long last she has taken her place in the House of Lords and her portrait hangs in the Peers and Guests Dining Room for everyone to see. I am sure that everyone who looks at that portrait will see what a strong woman she was.

How have the actions of Viscountess Rhondda helped other women? She showed that women can succeed in a man's world. She was a great businesswoman, first working with her father and later, after his death, she continued to run the businesses she had inherited. She was the first woman president of the Institute of Directors in 1926 and, I believe even to this day, probably the only woman who has been appointed to that post. As a Welshwoman she showed the importance of campaigning for what one believed: do not give up at the first hurdle and carry on until you achieve your aims. I believe that she would be proud of the Welsh women of today and, of course, of the women Peers in your Lordships' House. One only has to look at the Welsh Assembly to see how women are shaping the new Wales.

In the first Welsh Assembly elections in 1999, 40 per cent of the seats were held by women. By 2003 that had risen to 50 per cent. At that time it was the only directly elected institution in the world to have an equal balance of men and women. A report by Swansea and Warwick universities in 2009 argued that other legislatures should learn from the Welsh Assembly with its almost equal gender balance of Assembly Members and how that has transformed politics in Wales. They found that political debates were more consensual than adversarial, and as a result included on the agenda such "non-traditional" topics as domestic violence. Professor Nickie Charles from the University of Warwick's sociology department stated that the gender balance had had an effect on the style of interactions between politicians, both across parties and within them. She stated:

"The assembly is a new political institution associated with a consensual political style, an inclusive politics, and working arrangements which recognise the caring responsibilities of those working within it".

This proves that a different culture and a different agenda can be followed where there is a fair balance between women and men.

Wales was the first country in the UK to have a children's commissioner; now all four countries have one. Wales was the first country in the world-it is believed-to have a commissioner for older people. Now there is one in Northern Ireland. Because there has always been a fair number of women in the Welsh Assembly, the profile of women politicians is higher in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom.

As I said, by 2003 there were 30 women and 30 men in the Welsh Assembly. Women still play a leading role. There are three women in a Cabinet of eight, and the Liberal Democrats have a woman leader. Women of Wales play a great role in the rest of the UK by showing how, if political parties have the will to select women for seats that they can win, political institutions will begin to look like the society they represent. I hope that the Minister will agree that the example of Wales shows that the election of a fair balance of women leads to a more tolerant and equal society.

1:02 pm
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Baroness Miller of Hendon (Conservative)

My Lords, in previous debates on International Women's Day I declared two interests: as a member and former chairman of the 300 Group and of Women in Public Life. Looking around the House today and on previous occasions, and around the House of Commons, I see that the work that we did has proved to be of some benefit, because there is an extraordinary number of women here-although perhaps not at this moment. We are doing very much better, so perhaps I can sit back on my laurels.

I thank the noble Baroness for the wonderful way in which she invited us into the debate. I cannot get my words out, but I am not drunk. This is the first time that I have been on my feet to speak in the House since well before I was taken into hospital, so perhaps I am a little nervous. I hope that they do not put that in Hansard; when my husband reads it, he will not be pleased.

Talk of husbands reminds me of something. On the subject of economic growth and how women contribute to it, I started a business that I took into Australia and Germany. I was quite successful and could stand on my feet without stuttering, among other things. The first time I bought from a very large American cosmetics company based in London, I was not allowed to sign the contract. The executive said: "I am inviting you and your husband for lunch. I will bring the contract and he can sign it". I said, "Excuse me, I am the managing director of the company; it has nothing to do with him". He said, "It is, and I would rather have his signature than yours". There are some things that today one simply cannot believe.

I have been most interested in the debate so far. All the speakers have been excellent. The information that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, gave us about what is happening to women in the third world was very important. I say that because I thought that my theme today would not be about us in this country but about women in poorer countries-and not always poorer countries-who do the work and who do not get proper recognition but are discriminated against. I wrote quite a nice speech about that. I hope that that will be edited out, too. I have just been told that I am not supposed to manipulate Hansard; I did not know that. I am sorry; this is not my normal way of doing things.

It is sadly true that too many women around the world have no choice in how they live their lives. They are deprived of all opportunities to fulfil their individual potential and are brutalised without protection by courts that are often religious. Since we are celebrating another International Women's Day, perhaps it is time for more fortunate women such as those of us who sit in this House to apply some of our energies and campaigning activities on behalf of our still oppressed and deprived sisters in the third world, the developing world and the Middle East. That would be a very good message to take into the world from this excellent debate.

1:06 pm
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Lord Davies of Abersoch (Labour)

Hear, hear! I think that my speech should also be deleted from Hansard.

For the past 12 months I have been involved in the debate about women on boards. It has been an education for me. I have learnt much and grown in many ways. It has been a humbling experience to meet so many women of such talent. It has been a huge test for my wife of 33 years, because it seems that every day I come home and talk about other women, which has tested her patience.

Noble Lords do not need me to tell them that the more diverse a team is-with different backgrounds, skills and intellectual capabilities-the better the debate and the results will be. It is true of sport and certainly of business. What I have discovered is that this is not just a matter of gender quality but of performance. The statistics and the evidence are there. The more diverse a team, the better is its business performance. I do not believe that we should have quotas but should self-regulate-and I believe that that is what women want. I can see some heads shaking already. That is what is great about this debate.

It is also true that in the UK we need more female role models in business; we need more female entrepreneurs; and we need a radical change in the boardrooms of Britain. Success has many fathers-perhaps today I should say "mothers". When I started this campaign, shareholders were uninterested and had no appetite for the debate. Headhunters, with one or two famous exceptions, blamed a lack of supply. Chairmen blamed the headhunters. Effectively, everybody blamed everyone else and no progress was made.

A year on, we are at a tipping point. I would not say that we have cracked it, but we are making great progress. The barriers are numerous. Apart from "men's club" practices, childcare needs a major public review in the UK. It is in the interest of all parties who want a fair society and good business practice to give urgent attention to childcare needs. We are moving to a world of different, flexible working, with different attitudes towards careers. People will work for 60 years; they will live longer and have different careers. Therefore, their attitude to work will be different. It is also clear that a good company and an employer of choice will need diversity and equality at the top. The reality of business today is that we do not have that.

A number of noble Lords may say that the figure of 25 per cent was chosen as an absolute minimum, and that the report shows that it is reasonable and achievable. Today, one year on-we publish our report in a few days-I am very confident that we will get to 25 per cent, but we must keep the pressure on. Perhaps 25 per cent is a bit low but it is not a number that we plucked out of the air. It takes account of the nominations committee process, the number of board members that are leaving and the fact that boards are shrinking in the UK.

Here is where we are today. Women now account for 15 per cent of the FTSE 100. We have had the largest ever annual movement in the UK. Over the past year there have been about 100 new female NED appointments-what great news. A great development is that 50 per cent of them had never sat on a board of a public company before. There is a huge talent base in education, health, the charities sector and the services sector that the headhunters and chairmen have to reach into. There is a gene pool of talent in the UK. I just do not buy the argument that the female supply is not there.

When we started, there were 21 or 22 all-male boards, and now we are down to 11. Most of those are mining companies. The media are listening and my message to these companies is: "We should name and shame you. You need to put your house in order. It is not acceptable to have an all-male board in today's world". We know who they are. However, three companies have now reached 30 per cent female board representation: Diageo, Burberry and Pearson. Fifteen companies in the FTSE 100 have already reached the 25 per cent target. This is great progress, with a new type of individual being approached. I am confident that we have made great progress.

However-and this is where the media are going to play a key role-we need the media to keep the pressure on; we need to keep debating the issue. I was in Brussels a week ago debating with the Commission its attitude towards it. I do not believe we should go to quotas but we need to keep the pressure on and we need to embarrass the companies that are not attacking this issue. Once we have achieved this, then we need to tackle the issue of the executive committees of major companies.

So there has been progress. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and many other noble sisters in the Chamber who have helped me in the past 12 months.

1:12 pm
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Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Verma for securing this debate, as it celebrates International Women's Day, a very important time of the year when all of us can focus on the value of women in the world. It is also a time when women can pause from their multitasking for a few deserved moments to give each other a virtual hug of encouragement.

I am a proud woman who has played her part in contributing towards our country's economy, but I would not have been able to do that if my parents, especially my mother, had not made so many sacrifices, which enabled their six children to benefit from their efforts. My beloved mother was born the same year as Her Majesty the Queen, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Her Majesty on reaching the great milestone of her Diamond Jubilee-what an achievement, and she is still going strong.

My mother, who sadly is no longer with us, was an incredible woman. She worked so hard to get money to make it possible for her children to have a better life. My father, who always encouraged us, was a jazz musician in the 1960s so he did not earn much money. To bring in extra cash for the family to live a comfortable life, my mother took on three jobs. She cleaned offices early in the morning, at the crack of dawn. I used to help her during the school holidays and thought it was a great adventure to do so at the time. That is why I believe we must never look down on anyone, especially those who clean-you never know their circumstances. She was also a childminder during the day while we were at school, looking after other women's children while they went out to work. In the evenings she did the laundry for the boys at a public school.

Years after that, my son, who is now a lawyer, went to that same school, and I became a governor of the school for 10 years-who would have thought? Later my mother gave up her evening job to stay at home because my eldest sister had got low marks for her school exams. My mother felt she owed it to us to be there for us, to push and motivate us. She taught her children to have a strong work ethic, which would be to our advantage. She used to say, "Keep at it, because the harder you work the bigger the rewards, not just financially but for that great sense of achievement, which is priceless".

She reminded us every day that being from a culturally diverse background meant that you had to work twice as hard to be acknowledged, to achieve equality or to reach your goal. For us and many like us from minority backgrounds, sometimes the glass ceiling seems to be made of toughened glass. Even now, it is often almost impossible to break through. But you just have to keep on going. Nothing comes easy.

Women across the country have fought for equality in all aspects of life for centuries. They stormed Parliament, they chained themselves to railings; they even died for their cause-to play their part in making our country a more prosperous place. All women need are opportunities in order to progress.

I was chair of the Women of the Year Lunch for five years from 1995 to 2000, and the subject of equality and fairness was always top of the agenda. The lunch was co-founded in 1955 by the legendary, late Tony Lothian, who pushed the boundaries to get the recognition women justly deserved. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise and praise the work of Marie Colvin, killed a week ago in Homs. She won the Women of the Year Window to the World Award in 2001 for her bravery and work in journalism. She often said, "I go into places by choice but the people I am covering have no choice". She will be truly missed.

Even though women have made huge inroads into almost every area of business and careers, there are still places that are like citadels, surrounded by impenetrable walls, which are barred to them. But I believe that, given a chance, women of all cultures could make an even bigger difference to our economy, bringing with them rich qualities that are sometimes lacking in boardrooms across the land.

It is not just the women in the workplace who make a huge contribution to our economy. There are also the women I call the unsung heroines of our economy. Yes, we must celebrate the contribution of the women who make a conscious decision to stay at home and care for their children. I have often heard women say, "I am only a housewife". I say to those women they should be proud of themselves because they are just as worthy as anyone else in the workplace and the contribution they make in their own special way to the country is long term.

My mother did just that and her contribution has turned out to be worthwhile through her children, who all went on to have successful careers. So let us not forget the women who stay at home and undertake the very difficult task of childcare, managing the household, nurturing, guiding and motivating their children. They can be the best inspirational role models to their children. Even though it is a job that is not always celebrated or acknowledged, it is invaluable and serves as the backbone of our society, giving children the confidence to take up their place in society and contribute in a positive way. I applaud them for choosing to forgo their careers and become some of the country's biggest economic assets-

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Baroness Northover (Liberal Democrat)

I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but I remind noble colleagues that when the clock hits six, you have had six minutes. I apologise.

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Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat)

Thank you very much but I just want to get that last phrase in. Thank you.

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Baroness Northover (Liberal Democrat)

I point out that it will eat in to the Minister's reply at the end if noble Lords overrun. This is a time-limited debate. I would appreciate my colleague's understanding in this instance.

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Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat)

Let us congratulate all women on International Women's Day and use it with pride. Our country needs you now more than ever. Thank you so much for being patient with me.

1:20 pm
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Baroness Bakewell (Labour)

My Lords and sisters, I speak in praise of grandmothers. The contribution of grandmothers-grandparents in general, of course, but they are not the focus of this debate-to childcare is an estimated £3.9 million in value to the economy of this country. My noble friend Lord Davies has already drawn attention to childcare needs. The valuable contribution of grandparents is immeasurable and this is how it works out. There are 14 million grandparents in the UK today, 50 per cent of whom are under 65 years of age and one in 10 is under 50. Therefore, 80 per cent of 20 year-olds have a least one living grandparent and the average 10 year-old has three. Grandparents are getting older but none the less 62 per cent of them are no longer the senior generation because they have parents for whom they are also caring. The economic value of this care has yet to be quantified. My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley has already spoken eloquently about carers in general.

Let me break down the grandmother contribution from the point of view of the working mother. One in three working mothers relies on grandparents for childcare; one in four families relies on grandparents for childcare; and one in two women returning from maternity leave depends on their mothers. Now let us look at this from the point of view of the child. Some 43 per cent of children aged under five with a working mother are cared for by a grandparent, as are 42 per cent of five to 10 year-olds and 18 per cent of 11 to 16 year-olds. Four in 10 parents say that with increasing economic pressure they are likely to become more dependent.

Finally, let us look at this from the point of view of the grandparents, including grandmothers: 45 per cent of grandparents aged under 54 provide childcare often, as do 25 per cent of those aged between 65 and 74; and 16 per cent of grandparents in their 60s and 33 per cent of those in their 70s provide financial support. Some £4 billion is inherited annually by grandchildren. That is all statistically an impressive solution and it would seem to endorse the strength of family bonds and a welcome commitment to family life.

However, let me sound a warning from the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Chaplain to the Speaker in the other place. She is also the vicar of two parishes in Hackney where she deals with other kinds of social problems. She agrees with the figures for childcare that I have already cited but from her perspective she sees cause for concern. She believes that too often grandparents are taken for granted and that ageing grandmothers, who might expect to enjoy some rest and freedom in their later years, are simply expected to turn out and help. The Reverend Hudson-Wilkin speaks of the sense of entitlement that young families seem to feel about providing for their own lives and careers, and the willingness of an older generation, who were brought up under a different culture, to regard it as their duty to help out. But will this pattern continue and will grandmothers continue to be willing to offer free and often arduous childcare, which in our society others are trained and paid to do? I mention this concern as a footnote to what I believe should be celebrated; namely, the willing and generous contribution made by grandmothers in this country to the welfare of its economy.

Across the world, grandmothers are doing important work for the welfare of their families. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has already mentioned this. In many African families ravaged by AIDS, grandmothers take over care when their own children are ill. Age UK estimates that up to half the world's children orphaned by AIDS are cared for by a grandmother. As far as I know, there is no financial assessment of what such care means to the economies of Africa but it is acknowledged to be considerable. In South Africa, girls living in a household with a grandmother in receipt of a pension were on average 3 centimetres taller than those who did not. The family diet was simply better. People in developing countries seldom retire and only one in five older people worldwide has a pension.

We are blessed in this country to enjoy not only the company but the economic contribution that grandmothers make well into their later years, which should earn them comfort and security in those years, but unfortunately we know that that is not always the case. Ageing grandparents are economically squeezed. The contribution that they have made is not recognised economically by this country. We are often told that care for the old is inadequate. When they need medical attention they do not always get the respect that they deserve. Grandmothers are a hidden wealth and deserve acknowledgement.

1:26 pm
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Lord Bates (Conservative)

My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in this debate, although it can be a little intimidating, particularly as I look around the Conservative Party Benches and reflect on the fact that many of those who are here have played a leading role in making progress for the advancement of women within the party. Although I am intimidated by that, I am also very proud to be in their company. When I thought about the contribution that I could make to a debate such as this, I decided to focus on one specific issue, which I believe-should the Minister wish to take up the invitation that I am about to present-could make a significant contribution to advancing the case of women around the world, about which many noble Lords have spoken.

It is not just International Women's Day today, but an Olympic and Paralympic Games year. Later this year, the world will assemble in London to take part in those fantastic Games and that great sporting occasion. It will be the world, except for one nation; namely, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Currently, it is refusing to allow a female team of athletes to compete. I am assisted in this issue by the recent Human Rights Watch report, which has made a very compelling case and has raised the veil-perhaps I may use that term-on what is happening as regards women and girls taking part in competitive sport in that country.

We all need to be very sensitive about these things but I raise the issue because the situation does not seem to be getting any better. It seems to be getting worse. Whereas we are looking at progress for women and girls in many parts of the world, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia it does not seem to be working. Private gyms where women were allowed to exercise have been closed down and physical education for girls in private schools, which was on the curriculum, has now been removed. Even exercise as gentle as walking is frowned upon and, according to the report, can lead to people falling foul of the Orwellian-sounding Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice because they are appearing in public unnecessarily. I am very careful about saying that because obviously the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a very powerful and influential country, and a very important ally of this country in many areas of foreign policy. It is a vital trading partner for us but that should not hold us back from speaking the truth.

In 2000, when the Taliban banned a female athlete from attending the Sydney Olympic Games, there was a hue and cry from all quarters of the world, and rightly so, because everyone felt that that fell foul of the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter. People used that argument then, but there seems to be something of a silence when it comes to the treatment of women in competitive sport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That country is a member of the International Olympic Committee and is therefore bound by the Fundamental Principles of Olympism. It is not as if we are talking about a piece of legislation where you can fall foul of subsection (6) on page 94. There are only six principles, and I will give noble Lords three of them:

"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit".

The next one states that:

"Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement".

The final principle states:

"Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter and recognition by the IOC".

That is not to slightly trip over one of the principles-it drives a tank through them. How the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can still be allowed to be a member of the international Olympic community while holding to its position is a mystery to me. I urge my noble friend the Minister, who has immense international understanding and influence within the Government, to consider taking up this case and mentioning it in a sensitive and sympathetic way to a friendly nation. We would like Saudi Arabia to participate, but as male and female.

1:32 pm
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Lord Bach (Labour)

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on her excellent opening to this debate and I look forward to her remarks when she comes to winding it up. She and I have something in common which is very dear to us, and that is our home city, God's own city, the city of Leicester, where she is held in extremely high regard. I am proud to be able to say that Emmeline Pankhurst, mentioned by the noble Baroness in her opening speech, was my great aunt. My grandmother, who was her younger sister, spent three weeks in Holloway jail for suffragette activity. I am equally proud of that fact, too. As all noble Lords will now, Emmeline Pankhurst had two powerful daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, both of whom, along with all the other suffragettes, did a massive amount to persuade-and I mean in almost every sense of that word-the powers-that-be, the Establishment of the day, that women should have the right to vote. Whether it was the First World War and the magnificent work done by women in the munitions factories that won the vote for women in the 1918 election, I leave to historians to decide, but the Pankhurst influence was clearly formidable.

Sometimes when listening to speeches in this House, I have to admit that my mind wanders just for a moment. I wonder how good it would have been if Mrs Pankhurst and her two daughters had somehow found themselves as Members of this House all those years ago. I daresay they would not have all sat on the same Benches, but that would have been no bad thing. Mrs Pankhurst's husband, Dr Richard Pankhurst, was a brilliant radical Manchester lawyer who had strong views on absolutely everything, not least on the House of Lords. He believed that it should be abolished, and he described it as,

"the most preposterous institution in Europe".

I do not know how preposterous it was then, and I hope he would not hold that view today; I do not accept it.

That leads me neatly on to say that although the House of Lords is not a preposterous institution, some of the legislative proposals that will severely affect women are preposterous in themselves and should be opposed for that reason. The legal aid Bill, which I am closely involved with, will decimate legal aid in the area of social welfare law in this country, and I argue that that will affect women in particular. To take benefits out of the scope of legal aid altogether, which is what is intended in the Bill, will affect women badly. Let us take the particular case of a single mother suffering from bipolar disorder, receiving employment and support allowance and other benefits. She has debts totalling £2,500, including overpayments of benefits and arrears owed to utility companies. The local advice and law service assisted her in making successful claims for disability living allowance and associated benefits, thus increasing her income by more than £100 a week. Her housing benefit had been suspended. The service challenged the decision and the benefit was reinstated and backdated, thus avoiding an escalation of rent arrears that ultimately would have led to the loss of her home.

That is one example, but thousands of others could be given of where, at the present time, a small amount of legal aid advice can help people, particularly women, to get out of the difficulties they are in. That advice will not be available in the same way or at all because there will not be any law centres or as many CABs if the Bill goes through. Many women will be badly affected by this legislation, and although of course we are today celebrating women and all that they do in our society, are we really going to pass a piece of legislation that will put women back rather than move them forward, as we all believe they should be?

1:37 pm
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Lord Loomba (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I welcome this debate ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March. The theme this year is an interesting one, that of "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures". It is one that is close to my heart. It emphasises the importance of engaging with girls so that they are inspired, and ultimately they are able to contribute to economic growth. On International Women's Day, let us not forget what the aim of International Women's Day is meant to be. It is a "celebration of the positives"; that is, the positive strides that women have made since its inception in 1909 while not forgetting how hard fought those strides have been.

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.

1:44 pm
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Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde (Labour)

My Lords, I join in congratulating the Minister on not only initiating the debate but on the manner in which she introduced it. She is probably the first Conservative Minister in this House to introduce what has become an annual debate-certainly she is the first coalition Minister.

This has become an annual event-it was initiated from the Labour Benches some years ago-but it has never become ritualistic. It is always an interesting debate with many diverse opinions, on some of which we all agree and on others we do not. That is one of the strengths of this House. Occasionally some issues arise which we normally do not think about-the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and my noble friend Lord Bach, for instance.

Twenty-five per cent of the contributions today will come from our male colleagues. We could say from "noble Peers" because that is a term that does not mean man or woman. Perhaps we should consider that in the future.

It is a wide-ranging debate and one of its assets over the years has been that we have never totally concentrated on the UK. Those of us who have taken part have recognised that this is an international and global subject. Women throughout the world have issues. Some women-such as those in this country-are in a very privileged position and have made huge progress over the years. So far, so good; the jury is still out. We have made progress but we have a long way to go. However, compared with women in some other nations of the world, our progress has been enormous. They are still very much in the foothills.

I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, mentioned Maria Colvin because, over the years, it is women like her who, in their own chosen channel of life, have made enormous impressions that help our general debate. She was born in New York but chose to live in and work from the UK. Her male colleagues have suffered the same fate and many journalists have lost their lives in trying to get the full story out. It is a name for which we should perhaps pause today and pay respect.

The debate often deals with generalities but I should like to discuss a specific area that has not been mentioned so far-it is one to which I am very much attached-and that is Colombia. What has been and is going on in Colombia in the human rights field has impacted substantially on the ability of women in that country to make a major contribution to its economy. For 50 years, it has had civil strife and it is perhaps more telling to name incidents rather than to talk in generalities.

An elected senator in Colombia, Piedad Cordoba, who helped with the negotiations for the release of some prisoners from a terrorist organisation, was subsequently charged by the state and has been banned from holding office for 18 years. She was accused of events that cannot be proven. Liliany Obando is an academic who worked in Australia and Canada to campaign for human rights back home in Colombia. In 2008, she was torn from her daughter, put in jail and accused of exchanging e-mails with what the Government regard as a terrorist organisation. During the course of this debate, I have received a message that she will be released today having been in gaol for nearly four years with no charges against her that have been proven. One of the reasons she is being released today is because of the work of parliamentarians in both of our Chambers. I am not saying they are totally responsible for it but the pressure they have put on has had an impact. We need to learn a lesson from that.

So great has become the concern about the assassinations in Colombia that it is now considered the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade union activist. Slightly fewer than 3,000 trade unionists have been murdered-assassinated-by the paramilitaries since 1985. Such is the concern that the United Nations sent a special rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, to look into the assassinations. In referring to the mothers of Soacha and an incident in which 23 young men were mutilated and killed by the paramilitaries and then accused of being terrorists, he said:

"While the Soacha killings were undeniably blatant and obscene, my investigations show that they were the tip of the iceberg".

It is against that kind of environment that the EU this year is being asked to endorse a free-trade agreement. Our reputation for tolerance and democracy as a nation will be besmirched if Britain supports that free trade agreement against that background of an invasion of human rights and a whole catalogue of other incidents affecting women in particular.

I accept that probably the Minister cannot give a definitive answer on this today, but will she take that message back from this debate? Women can participate in the economy of a country only if they are free and unfettered, and do not have this kind of repression.

1:50 pm
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Baroness Morris of Bolton (Conservative)

My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Verma and to the usual channels for ensuring that, in the new cycle of parliamentary business, we did not lose our much-valued debate on International Women's Day, especially with this year's theme of women's contribution to economic growth.

The world is much changed since our debate last year-we have witnessed terrible natural disasters, widespread economic instability, and political and social upheaval in the Middle East. As chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council, I want to concentrate most of my remarks on women in that region. Women have played a remarkable role in the uprisings in the Middle East and we should salute their bravery. Along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Benjamin and Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, I also pay tribute to Marie Colvin, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and who was a good friend of many in your Lordships' House. Her bravery, and the bravery of all who put themselves in danger to bring atrocities to our attention, is humbling. Women across the world have lost a true champion with the sad death of Marie Colvin.

I have had the privilege of meeting some equally brave and extraordinary women in the Middle East and North Africa. We must support their inclusion in the new era, to ensure that they have a full role in the development of democratic Governments and the return to the much-needed economic stability and prosperity of the region.

I have spoken in other debates about the importance of microfinance and its ability to transform the economic capacity of women, and I do not apologise for returning to the subject now. In the Middle East and North Africa there are 2.2 million active borrowers, borrowing $1.2 billion. In Yemen, 94 per cent of microfinance borrowers are women; the figures are 85 per cent in Jordan and 69 per cent in Egypt. Women are less likely to default on a loan but more likely to use their profits to educate the next generation, improve their family's conditions and reinvest in their business. This has widespread benefits, for as women become more economically stable there are enormous impacts on their health and the health of their family and on infant mortality.

A 2005 UNICEF report-and I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK-states that women in developing countries are 300 times more likely to die from complications in childbirth than those in the industrialised world. World Vision UK's latest figures show that although the child mortality rate in low and middle-income countries was 56 per 1,000 live births in 2010, child mortality in low-income fragile states was nearly 150 per cent higher. Much of this is to do with access to good healthcare, family planning and, most important of all, education. Education has the most dramatic impact on the lives of women throughout the world and a subsequent impact on the economy, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has already mentioned.

However, there is still much to do in many countries to capitalise on this rich source of labour. Women outnumber men at universities in 11 out of 18 countries in the Middle East. I am delighted to be chancellor of the University of Bolton, which has a campus in Ras al-Khaimah in the UAE, where our degrees in engineering and business studies are much valued by women as well as men. In Saudi Arabia, women make up 58 per cent of university students. I was very interested in what my noble friend Lord Bates had to say-Saudi Arabia is a good friend of the UK, but that does not mean that we should not speak out when we see things happening that should not be. However, despite all the women going to universities in the Middle East, the unemployment rate for women in that region is much greater than for men.

One of the biggest challenges for new and existing Governments as their economies grow is that they will need an educated workforce and must find inclusive policies to encourage women to become entrepreneurs and businesswomen. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, spoke about needing role models. There are many shining examples of successful Arab women, such as my good friend Dr Afnan Al-Shuaiby, chief executive of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, which is chaired by our very own noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. They are a powerful visual symbol of women at the top of an important Middle East and North African organisation.

Much of the success of women in the Middle East is due to enlightened rulers and Governments who understand the importance of women in society and to the economy. According to a 2010 McKinsey report, it is leadership that is crucial to breaking the gender difference-leaders of countries or leaders of industry will make the difference.

I would like to end on this note. It has been a pleasure to follow in this debate my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch. I became vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, with responsibility for candidates, on the same day as Mervyn-I hope the House does not mind if I call him Mervyn-was appointed CEO of Standard Chartered Bank. As someone who always practised what he preached and was a good supporter of women in the workplace, I asked Mervyn for his advice on how I could encourage more women candidates. I will always remember his wise counsel. He said that you do not appoint women to look modern, or for political correctness, you do it because it is the right thing to do-and because it is madness for any company or organisation to deprive themselves of such a large pool of talent. I could not agree more.

It has been a pleasure to take part in a debate that seeks to highlight the enormous benefits that women bring to the economic prosperity and stability of the world.

1:57 pm
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Lord Giddens (Labour)

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Dean and other speakers have noted that there is quite a high proportion of men speaking in this debate. That shows that there is progress. I remember, not so long ago, when I was the only man speaking in a long train of Baronesses, although I have to say that I quite enjoyed that singular role.

In the film "Black Swan", the actress Natalie Portman portrays a dancer who is under extreme pressure to be successful. The film documents her struggle with anorexia and bulimia, which, in the film, go along with a lot of self-harm and self-cutting. The ballet dancer Mariafrancesca Garritano, from La Scala in Milan, claims that one in five female dancers suffers from severe forms of eating disorder, which are also very common among female athletes. I was quite moved to see a piece about the British athlete Chrissie Wellington in a newspaper about two weeks ago. She has won no fewer than 13 Iron Man competitions-triathlons where they do a two-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and then a marathon of 26 miles. Contributions from noble Lords will be gratefully accepted. In this account, she documents her struggle with anorexia and bulimia in a moving way. One thing she said that made an impact on me was that women suffering from these things are,

"driven, compulsive, obsessive, competitive, persistent and seek perfection".

In my contribution to this debate I want to pursue a theme that I have raised once or twice before in your Lordships' House, which is that although economic equality is important and crucial for women, it is not enough. Women in our culture, and increasingly across the world-and especially younger women-suffer from a tyranny of appearance and the body. To put things rather crudely, there is a great fault line in our society where men are judged, and tend to judge themselves, by accomplishment while women are judged-and surprisingly or not, tend to judge themselves-by appearance. This is a deep schism in our culture. Anorexia, bulimia, other eating disorders and self-harm are 10 times more frequent among women than among men. They are at the outer edge of the radical uncertainties that many women feel about their bodies and their identities-especially, again, younger women. The recent survey in the UK showed that 50 per cent of girls aged 16 to 21 would seriously consider having surgery to improve their appearance.

Eating disorders, self-harm and worry about body image are not the antithesis of the increasing economic success of women. On the contrary, as the examples that I quoted earlier show, they are especially common among achievers-and again, as I said before, in the younger generation. These disorders are spreading across the world in the most remarkable fashion to areas where they did not previously exist at all; they include China, India, parts of the Middle East, Latin America and urban, affluent areas of Africa. In Africa, it is possible to see within a few miles of one another one woman dying of classical starvation-in other words, simply with not enough food to eat-and another woman in a cosseted urban area dying from the effort to become thin, because anorexia kills. It is the most lethal of all the mental disorders among young women.

From this I would draw three conclusions, which I would be happy if the Minister would comment on if she has time. My first would be that the goal of the emancipation of women should not be just equality but should be freedom, where freedom is defined as being at ease with one's identity, life and achievements, and recognising their importance-and being at ease with one's body. Secondly, I propose that the emotional emancipation of women is just as important as their economic emancipation. At the moment, it seems to me that in affluent countries particularly, across the world, women are paying a huge price for success. There is a kind of emotional crippling associated with success. Thirdly, although the cultural stereotyping of women is defined by appearances everywhere, it is not at all impossible to think of policies that can combat it. For instance, one is a far more radical curbing of advertising aimed at young children. Anorexia now starts at six or seven years old, when girls are sometimes dressed in full make-up with nail polish. That overlaps with the sexualisation of children, which is one of the most noxious aspects of contemporary societies today.

2:02 pm
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Baroness Byford (Conservative)

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Verma for leading this afternoon's debate. We both come from Leicester, both have business backgrounds and know and value the contribution that women make to economic growth. Some 18 months ago I hosted a small gathering of Leicester University women graduates; their range of business interests was remarkable-they were business leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, a leading local hotelier, an actress, a couple of authors, and a former Mayor of the City of Leicester, all making for a very lively discussion. The common denominator coming from that was education.

I would like to highlight the careers of two of those present, because it poses problems for us today. The first is Hilary Devey, perhaps the best known, and Lopa Patel, whose very different paths reflect opportunities recognised and openings taken. Hilary gained her experience in the distribution sector having worked with Littlewoods and Tibbett and Britten and having seven years in the retail sector at TNT, before leaving to set up her own business. She had recognised the difficulty of transporting small consignments of pallet freight quickly and cost-effectively. In November 1996, Pall-Ex was born. The first night saw just 117 pallets distributed through the fledgling network, in stark contrast to the current 10,000 pallets delivered nightly today. Hilary had to tackle incredible odds. She was a single mum; bankers refused to back her and she had to sell her house, but she refused to give up.

Lopa Patel, on the other hand, said that redhotcurry.com was meant to be about curry and nothing more than a hobby. Launched in 2001 as a curry recipe sharing site for Asian women, it has grown to become Britain's leading South Asian lifestyle portal. From a narrow beginning, Lopa was asked to write about culture, entertainment, food, health and fashion from a South Asian perspective. No one was willing to put money into an Asian diaspora website, so she cashed in an endowment policy and sank her savings into the venture. She was recently awarded an MBE for services to digital media, and for supporting the South Asian community.

At the other end, as we have heard from noble Lords today, there are women who struggle to make a start in life. During the debate in 2010, I spoke of the scheme called Send a Cow. How it has grown, 20 years on. UK donors now also send goats, beehives, chickens, sheep and cattle to families in Africa. The ripple-down effect is enormous, because the first female animal born in Africa has to be given to another family, and each time it goes to the woman. In all, it has been calculated that for every animal sent from the UK, at least eight families were able to make their own contribution to economic growth and to alleviate poverty in Africa. I point people's attention to the all-party group, which has just produced a very good report on growing out of poverty, which recognises that a profitable smallholder in agriculture is a key tool in assisting social and economic development of a low-income country.

Economic growth depends on the successful progress of many aspects. It starts with an idea, develops into a product or service, is tested and amended, marketed and sold. In most cases the pattern can be completed only through the injection of financial assistance at one or more points. This is why I am really glad to hear of Defra's announcement in January about putting £165 million into support of rural communities, where the problems are often more difficult. Designated in this was the allocation of £20 million to extend rural broadband to the remotest areas. Most of us in cities take it for granted, but you still cannot get it in many areas. There is also a scheme that provides £60 million to entrepreneurs in rural areas, giving successful applicants 40 per cent of the cost of their projects in business areas of farm competitiveness such as agri-food, tourism, forestry and micro-enterprise support. This is good news. My noble friend has already spoken about the amount of money being allocated to rural women as well.

I have a friend whose business is helping people into self-employment and who stated that women do not borrow as much as men, or as easily. She puts this down to women being risk-averse. She does not feel that men have a monopoly on good ideas, nor are they better at running a business or putting their backs into hard work. We need economic growth. If a major factor stopping women from starting a business is that finance is so difficult, I hope that the Minister will look at ways in which we can help women in future.

2:08 pm
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Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill (Labour)

Today we look forward to International Women's Day on 8 March and the contribution of women to economic growth. I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for this opportunity.

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures". The most important message we can give girls is that we support their hopes and aspirations, even at this time of mass youth unemployment, not only because achieving their ambitions will bring them a decent job and with it independence and, one hopes, a feeling of self-fulfilment, but because the future of our economy depends on women's intelligence, skills and creativity. Women are vital for economic growth. They are the key to growing our way out of the recession.

One of the most extraordinary changes in women's lives in the past few decades that I have witnessed has been the growth in educational and career opportunities. In 1971, women's employment rate was 56 per cent; by 2008, it had risen to 74.7 per cent. As the Resolution Foundation has argued, the rise in living standards among low to medium-income families over the past decade is due to women's employment. The statistics prove the point. In 1968, 86 per cent of household gross employment income came from men and 14 per cent from women. In 2008-09, 63 per cent came from men and 37 per cent from women. As the Resolution Foundation warns, the future prospects of millions of families now rest heavily on what happens to women's employment, but the future does not look promising. After such an extraordinary period of change in women's lives, women are in danger of seeing that progress seep away. A combination of forces is making it much more difficult for women to raise a family and contribute to its economic survival.

The Government's austerity programme will shed 710,000 jobs in the public sector by 2015. Women make up 65 per cent of the workforce in the public sector, rising to 75 per cent in local government, according to the TUC. Job losses will fall disproportionately on women, particularly older women, many of whom are already caring for children, grandchildren and elderly parents. This level of redundancies is about much more than the public sector; it cuts to the heart of the employment system in the UK. Public sector job losses will have a major impact on the private sector and on demand in the economy. Growth in the British economy is led by wages, so the recovery will be led by wage growth. The loss of women's spending power will not only drag thousands of households to the brink of poverty but slow down the rate of growth when the upturn begins.

The emerging markets in health, leisure, education, childcare and eldercare, are the sectors which employ large numbers of women. They are the vital parts of the infrastructure we will need to develop our economy and a civilised caring society. Women in Britain deserve better. Young girls deserve a future. If we want to see a society that is moral as well as efficient and wealth-creating then we will need to invest in women's emotional and intellectual skills, and build a new infrastructure that supports people and develops social capital. We need to develop a properly paid, well educated female workforce delivering dependable, resilient and high-quality services in the markets of the future, but we cannot achieve that without developing a better, more affordable system of childcare.

One of the most important reforms Labour made in office was to double the number of childcare places, but now this trend is being reversed. According to Aviva, more than 30,000 women have given up their jobs because childcare and other costs mean they cannot afford to work. We need to learn lessons from our European counterparts. In Norway, parents can access childcare from birth to age five at a cost that is half the OECD average. In Denmark, childcare is free to the lowest income families. Denmark and Norway have 10 per cent more women in work than the UK.

Here in the UK, it is estimated that parents with young children pay on average £100 a week for childcare, a huge pressure on household budgets for all but the most affluent families. For many, the increasing high cost of childcare prevents parents, mostly mothers, returning to employment. Research for the Department for Work and Pensions found that almost six in 10 mothers with young children who had not gone back to work cited a lack of childcare or flexible working as the reasons.

This country needs to make progress towards a system of universal childcare that we can be proud of. The IPPR has argued that a higher employment rate is an absolutely essential foundation for long-term fiscal sustainability and the only way we will be able to afford a strong welfare state and good public services in the years ahead. Combined with a return to sustained growth, moving towards a system of universal childcare would make a real contribution to that effort. It would mean women in this country had something really to celebrate on International Women's Day.

2:14 pm
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Lord Lexden (Conservative)

My Lords, during our debate a year ago to mark International Women's Day, we were reminded most powerfully by my noble friend Lady Verma that,

"even as we reflect on the hope of our history we must also face squarely the reality of our present, a reality still marked by unfairness and hardship for too many women in this country and across the world".

We were also eloquently reminded by her that,

"women's strength, skills and wisdom are humankind's most untapped resource".-[Hansard, 3/3/11; col. 1243.]

One year on, we must step up our efforts to tap that resource to the full.

The wealth of modern Britain, permitting increased investment in our public services, has enabled women to make huge advances. In education, the gender gap has swung decisively in their favour. Last year, 61.9 per cent of girls achieved five A* to C grade GCSEs or their equivalents, including English and mathematics, compared with 54.6 per cent of boys. At A-level, girls had higher average point scores than boys. Of course major gender issues remain in education, notably the lack of young women studying sciences, mathematics and engineering. As every shred of evidence shows, this is not due to any lack of ability.

When we look across a sample of countries at varying levels of economic development, as the World Bank has done in the Gender Equality and Developmentsection of its latest World Development Report, we find that outdated social attitudes towards so-called men's and women's jobs persist in rich countries with large service economies-economies in which it makes no sense to think in such terms. Nowhere have attitudes changed more markedly recently than in the leadership of the Conservative Party. There is much work for that modernised leadership to do, as the issues identified in the World Bank's report and other issues raised in this debate so clearly show.

I turn to the part of the country which is closest to my heart, Northern Ireland, and the impressive role that women are already playing in its economy, as well as the precious potential that remains to be unlocked there. As the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency has recently noted, women's employment rates remain-as they always have been-high in Northern Ireland and the female employment rate has actually increased by two percentage points during the past year, in contrast to a slight fall here. Prospects for the future are in many respects extremely encouraging. In higher education, 80 per cent of first-year undergraduates in medicine, dentistry and subjects allied to them are women, as are over half of first-degree graduates in physical and mathematical sciences. Alas, some outdated stereotypes still persist. The subjects with the lowest proportion of women are computer science, architecture and engineering. The progress made in the Province so far needs to be taken considerably further.

Women are central to the fundamental change that the Northern Ireland economy needs: its rebalancing to end its excessive reliance on the public sector and to raise up fresh sources of wealth in thriving businesses. Progress towards a rebalanced economy is one of the principal objectives of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Success in this important endeavour will transform the Province's economic fortunes. Above all, a renewed spirit of enterprise is required.

Entrepreneurship is deeply entrenched by history in Northern Ireland, but for too long has been at a low ebb. Its revival today is being powerfully assisted by women. Programmes backed firmly by the Northern Ireland Executive such as Women into Work, established in 2008, are pointing the way to a better future. In its initial phase, its target for the number of women it could help either to get back onto the career ladder or to start their own businesses was exceeded by more than 200 per cent. Targets were raised; again, they were exceeded. The strength and success of this programme is becoming ever clearer as the number of women interested in starting their own small businesses increases. Already, the proportion is up by 15 per cent. Successful young women entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland have at their disposal the advice and support of Northern Ireland's Women in Business network, whose chief executive Roseann Kelly has attracted much praise. The network's main focus is on the self-employed and women in senior managerial positions throughout the Province, on whom so much depends.

The Northern Ireland Executive's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has as its Minister one of the Province's leading women politicians, my good friend Arlene Foster. She has the task of delivering many of the key changes needed in the economy, and under her leadership the department has women at the heart of its agenda. The Executive's gender equality strategy sets out a vision for a future Northern Ireland in which men and women are equally respected and valued as individuals in all our multiple identities, sharing equality of opportunity, rights and responsibilities in all aspects of our lives. All friends of Northern Ireland will be united in hoping that the Executive achieve that goal.

2:20 pm
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Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Labour)

My Lords, I follow on from my noble friend Lady Gale's greetings from Wales and say to noble Lords: Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus i chi gyd. I thank the Minister for introducing the debate, which is proving to be wide-ranging and excellent.

The women who took part in the first International Women's Day demanded better conditions at work, the rights to vote and to hold office and to be equal partners with men. Those wonderful women would view today with a mixture of disappointment and satisfaction. There has, of course, been significant advancement of women's legal rights and entitlements, as noble Lords have pointed out. A hundred years ago, only two countries allowed women to vote, but now women lead Governments on every continent and have roles and positions in professions from which they were previously excluded. Not so long ago, violence was seen as a private matter-a "domestic", in the language of common usage. Now two-thirds of countries recognise and punish domestic violence, and the UN system now recognises sexual violence as a weapon of war, although clearly violence remains one of the most pervasive violations of women's rights and one of the least prosecuted crimes.

Despite the advances, however, real equality is far from a reality for most of the 3.5 billion women who make up 50 per cent of the world's population. Some 70 per cent of illiterate adults are women, a figure that has barely changed in 20 years. Fewer than 10 per cent of countries have female heads of state. Only 19 per cent of the world's parliamentarians are women. Girls are far less likely to be in school, and more likely to drop out of school, than boys. Every 90 minutes a women dies in pregnancy or due to childbirth-related complications, nearly all preventable. Fewer than 3 per cent of signatories to peace agreements are women. Women are the primary carers and farmers, but much of their work is not valued by economists, pundits, popular culture or government leaders. Women's rights are fundamental human rights, and the challenge is to understand that those human rights are global. That is the reality that must dominate our thinking, whether the issue is climate change, the transition to democracy in the Arab world or advancing peace, security and justice.

As many noble Lords have said, education is fundamental to all progress. When women are educated they improve their rights in all areas, including property rights, and are more free to work outside the home, to find decent work and to earn an independent income. As a result, the life chances of whole families, communities and countries can be improved. We should recognise, too, that meeting a woman's need for health and reproductive health services increases her chances of finishing her education, breaking out of poverty and contributing directly to growth and sustained prosperity.

Helen Clark, the head of the UNDP, speaks regularly of the multiplier effect that investing in girls and women can have. That includes reductions in population growth and mortality, increases in school participation and achievement, raised levels of women's activity and confidence in exercising their rights. Figures consistently show that mothers who have been educated are more likely to give birth in health facilities. The reality is that every child from a mother who can read is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five if the mother is educated. On that basis, in sub-Saharan Africa 1.8 million children's lives would be saved every year if their mothers had some secondary education. In addition, educated girls are more likely to resist early marriage, have fewer and healthier children and are less likely to resign themselves to unpaid work. Girls with post-primary education are five times more likely to be knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS than illiterate women.

How much further proof is needed that education is the key to advancing women's rights? How much more evidence is needed to demonstrate that cultural, economic and social factors must never be accepted as any justification for denying women their basic rights? When we know the realities, there can be no excuse for not being active in all the campaigns calling for change. More than 30 million more girls than boys are out of school. One of the main reasons for that, especially in rural areas, is that school fees are being charged and it is often the case that priority is given to keeping boys in school. Removing school fees and providing financial incentives for girls to attend school have proved to be very effective.

Those ruinous realities are not going to change unless there is strong and sustained support for public education, not by using aid to expand choice and competition in education through vouchers and low-fee providers, solutions that are favoured by the UK Government. As the Gender and Development Network has pointed out in relation to such policies, empowering women and achieving gender equality is a difficult and slow process that entails shifting attitudes, beliefs, traditions, norms and practices, as well as bringing changes to long-standing institutions and systems such as the market, the state and the family.

2:26 pm
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Baroness Kramer (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I have loved every minute of this debate and learnt so much across a wide range of issues that affect women in our society. Like all in this House, though, I have not agreed with everything. There were some comments about women on boards that particularly troubled me, and I shall address them briefly.

My noble friend Lady Bottomley suggested that a lot of work has gone on to get women on to boards, and now it is time to switch the energy and start looking at women in executive roles. Of course it is important to have women in executive roles, but so often when we start to make progress we stop way before we have won the prize, and I would be sad to see that happen here. It is perhaps the strongest promotion of women in executive roles to see those women sitting in non-executive slots, which then prompts the question of why they are not also filling the CEO's seat and the other executive seats around the table.

The benefit that women are bringing to boards is real diversity and challenge. That challenge is partly because women are coming from non-traditional backgrounds, and in this House we see the benefit that comes when you get that challenge. If you want to see the effect of cosy consensus in the boardroom, you have only to look at the recent banking crisis to see what happens when challenge is absent.

I was rather more concerned by the comments from both my noble friend Lady Bottomley and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, on quotas. I give huge credit to the noble Lord for the work that he has done in changing the whole atmosphere of women's appointments to boards in the UK, particularly to FTSE 100 companies, but I suggest that his powers of advocacy, persuasion and PR have been very much helped because companies have known that the threat of quotas sits in the back pocket and that, if change does not take place, politicians have seemed willing and inclined to carry out that threat.

I myself am in effect a beneficiary of something like quotas. I got my first banking job because I was a woman. I regard that as no shame: you get the job and then you prove yourself. However, I lived for years with that banking institution saying to me on so many occasions, "Isn't it amazing that just when there were legal pressures forcing us to take women, capable women like you came forward?". That is such a deeply embedded attitude that we should not be afraid to use the mechanisms that conventional wisdom says are in some way shameful or unacceptable or demean women. They do not demean women; we prove ourselves when we have opportunities.

The issue that I want very briefly to address is the role of women with small businesses. It is a rather troubling area, which does not get a great deal of attention, although the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, addressed it and it was certainly mentioned on the Floor today. Around 15 per cent of businesses in this country are women-owned and managed. The equivalent in the United States is roughly 30 per cent. Small businesses are defined rather differently there so the figure is probably higher than that. That troubles me hugely because there is no cultural difference that explains that difference in performance. Enterprising Women has done some very useful work and its survey suggests that women who start businesses find themselves locked in at the start-up level. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, suggested that finance was a problem.

However, with that differential, I suspect that the problem is bigger than that. The Government have tried to put in place support and advisory programmes. There are certainly very effective routes such as Women in Business, but we are not getting to the bottom of this. Enterprising Women proposed in its work that if the full potential of just the women-owned businesses in place today was released, we would create more jobs than the Government's whole regional growth programme. It is an absolutely crucial area and something that we have to get to the bottom of quickly.

It is interesting to look at this issue from an international perspective. The World Economic Forum's 2011 report on the global gender gap found in its surveys that the biggest barriers to women's access to leadership positions-which wraps in this and many other issues-are the general norms and practices in their country, masculine or patriarchal corporate culture and a lack of role models. It struck me that they apply as much here as they do anywhere in the developing world, to which we so often look with all these suggestions of how women can make a difference. We have to start taking some of that on board.

I believe that it ties back to the issue of women on boards. If we have those role models in place, we start to change the culture. The need for growth means that we need new women-run small businesses and the jobs that come from them. It seems to me that the whole change loops together in a fairly complex but significant package. I hope that we in this House and the other place can begin to make a real difference on these issues.

2:32 pm
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Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Labour)

My Lords, in this welcome celebration of International Women's Day, we should take note of women's contribution to society as well as the economy, particularly the large amount of unpaid care work that women still contribute, which underpins the economy and should be counted as such, as already stated by my noble friends Lady Pitkeathley and Lady Kinnock. Nevertheless, following the theme of the debate, I will focus on the obstacles that women and mothers face in contributing to economic growth through paid work.

The significance of women's paid work to economic prosperity was brought out in a recent Resolution Foundation report, which has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Healy of Primrose Hill. However, it also points out that, compared to the better and best-performing countries, around 1 million women could be considered missing from the UK workplace. I want briefly to discuss three policy areas.

The first is the gendered division of labour. In my academic work on feminist perspectives on citizenship, I indentify who does what in the private sphere of the home as critical to women's opportunities for citizenship in the public sphere of the labour market and politics. As women still take the main responsibility for care and housework in the domestic economy, many make their contribution to the wider economy with one hand tied behind them, as the suffragette Hannah Mitchell put it so well many years ago. The Resolution Foundation argues that couples in the UK continue to adopt unusually unequal caring and working roles within the household, and would prefer to adopt more equal roles. It says that there is an opportunity for public policy to raise female employment by freeing couples to share roles in the home.

I suggest that public policy can help through the regulation of working time. A long-hours culture for men is harmful to gender equality for those with family responsibilities. A shorter full-time working week, combined with a range of flexible working opportunities and better pay and conditions for part-time workers would help. So, too, would a reformed parental leave system that followed the Nordic model-which appears so fashionable at present-of earmarking a period of parental leave for fathers on a "use it or lose it" basis without penalising mothers. This, which is often called the "daddy quota", is typically leave of one or two months. Cross-national analysis suggests that Nordic fathers typically spend more time on childcare than other fathers. While we cannot be sure that that is attributable to parental leave, there is Nordic research that indicates that male use of parental leave has a positive effect on the gendered division of labour and the father's subsequent involvement in childcare. This also relates to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, about men's involvement in primary schools. Therefore, I very much welcome the Government's support for the idea of a daddy quota in their consultation on modern workplaces. I hope they will not be discouraged from pursuing it by those who argue that it would somehow be detrimental to business.

The second related obstacle is childcare, already discussed by my noble friends Lady Healy and Lord Davies of Abersoch. The OECD has highlighted the extent to which unusually high childcare costs represent a barrier to dual-earner families in the UK and, of course, to lone parents. Unfortunately, the cut in help with childcare costs through the tax credit system, at a time when the Daycare Trust shows that these costs are spiralling, raises the barrier further, despite the welcome planned extension to those doing mini-jobs.

Thirdly and finally, the cutback in support for childcare contributes to a deterioration in work incentives for second earners, the majority of whom are women. In low-income households, second earners' work incentives will also be badly hit by the introduction of universal credit. It is supposed to improve work incentives, yet the policy briefing of the Department for Work and Pensions shows how, even without taking account of childcare costs, most second earners on universal credit will face a reduced incentive to take or stay in paid work, and about three-quarters will face a reduced incentive to improve their earnings once in work. We raised this issue in the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill, pointing out that universal credit could mean a shift back to a more traditional male-breadwinner model and weaken the labour market position of women. As the Women's Budget Group has pointed out, even a fairly short period out of the labour market can mean the depreciation of women's human capital and future earning power. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, acknowledged the importance of the issue but said that it was not a priority. Therefore, I hope that the Minister might talk to him about how the impact of universal credit on second earners might be monitored.

To conclude, I suggest that there is no point in your Lordships' House taking note of women's contribution to economic growth if we do not also identify the obstacles to that contribution and how they might be overcome. This has implications for a number of government departments and I hope that the Minister will pass on the message as well as the many powerful messages that have come from noble sisters and brothers today.

2:38 pm
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Baroness Browning (Conservative)

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I congratulate my dear noble friend Lady Verma on initiating today's debate. In her opening remarks, she spoke about entrepreneurs. Her own experience is as an entrepreneur and it is on that subject that I should like to pick up on points that have already been raised today by other colleagues.

I sometimes have a sense of déjà vu. I have now spent 20 years in politics and before that I spent 20 years in business-10 years working for a market leader in manufacturing in the UK and the following 10 years running my own business. At that time, I was involved in advising the then Government on women's employment, particularly from the perspective of women who wanted to set up and run their own businesses. I also chaired Women into Business for many years. When I look back on the issues on which we lobbied the Government and sought to put to the forefront of the agenda in those days-that is some time ago-it is almost as though we have come full circle and are still talking about the same issues. Three of the key issues affecting women running businesses and wanting to start up businesses-they have all been mentioned-are childcare, access to capital and the whole area of supporting, encouraging, training and persuading them that they can take the big step of going into business. Somehow we seem to have come full circle. A lot has been achieved and we all know very successful people who have been there, done it, put themselves on the line and made their mark, but clearly we have more to do.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses, 29 per cent of entrepreneurs are women. If women set up businesses in the UK at the same rate that men do, we would have 150,000 more businesses every year. That is a phenomenal amount. If we are serious about setting up real businesses-I am talking about real businesses, not paying hobbies which sometimes get confused with real businesses-we have to look at how you grow businesses. It is not enough to say, "Start up a business". Some businesses go very well from day one and are exceptionally successful in a very short order. The challenge for those businesses-this applies to men as well as women-is to grow the successful business while still having the working capital which will allow you to start taking on staff, perhaps move to larger premises and develop ranges of products rather than just one, as that is often a danger area. All that needs support, and I am not just talking about financial support.

I hope that the Government will look at this potential for women in the economy and will go further than the measures we have heard about today. I would like to make some suggestions to my noble friend. One follows a suggestion of the Federation of Small Businesses, which I think is absolutely spot on, and that is that Jobcentre Plus and its devolved equivalent should forge better links with established women's business networks in the locality, such as Every Woman and the other business networks that we know of, and promote mentoring as part of continuing discussions about employment for women. People in Jobcentre Plus should know as much about the opportunities and local support for people wanting to start a business as about the vacancies listed on the computer.

The other thing that I would also like my noble friend to take forward are business angels. Although I am totally supportive of mentoring and role models-they have a part to play, certainly in changing culture-it is inspirational for women to listen to other women who have been successful in business and to see that it can be done. It is a bit like politics: when you want to go into politics-into the other place, as I did what seems like a lifetime ago now-you are encouraged by the examples set by others. Looking round this Chamber, I see women on both sides of the House. My dear friend Lady Miller was one of the women who encouraged women of my generation to take that step and told us that we could do it. However, we come up with 100 reasons why we should not do so. It is a bit like the situation in business. Is that not just typical of women? We have an idea, we think we can do something, we know that we can and then we think of a dozen reasons why we should not do so.

If I was asked to describe myself, I would say that I am a feminist but I also believe that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, if that does not sound like a contradiction in terms. Although I am passionate about equality between men and women-men and women running businesses are often affected by the same things, of course-you have to turn your attention to aspects that specifically affect women running businesses. It is not enough to have role models; they need people alongside them who are able to go through the business plan, marketing plan and product development with them. They need people on whom they can call to give that advice. Years ago banks gave that advice; today they just want to sell you insurance. I ask my noble friend to ensure that there are more business angels in the small business sector to help these women entrepreneurs, not just because of the finance that the business angels might put into these businesses but for the real hands-on business experience they have, as opposed to people who put themselves forward to undertake this mentoring but have never actually run a business themselves.

2:44 pm
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Baroness Nye (Labour)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for introducing the debate and for her acknowledgement of the work of the previous Labour Government. I also thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for reminding us of the parlous state of women's representation in Parliament. Every member of the Labour Party to whom I have ever spoken has always said that there should be more women MPs, but nothing was ever done until we decided to take some positive action. Now women constitute 30 per cent of the parliamentary Labour Party, which is double the number in the Conservative Party. It is examples such as that, and those which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, mentioned, that have convinced me that quotas for women on boards are necessary. I am afraid that my vote and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, would cancel each other out if that issue were put to a vote. The Davies report's voluntary target of 25 per cent female representation by 2015 is very modest as it is considerably lower than the figure in those countries that have opted for legislation and quotas, and much lower than the figures that are being looked at by the European Commission.

I know that the steering group and my noble friend are adamantly opposed to the imposition of formal quotas for female directors, opting for informal targets instead. However, I believe that this may prove to be mistaken. I obviously hope that the targets are met, as my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch, indicated. However, Cranfield University, which conducted a review of the response to the Davies report, showed that many companies were adopting a wait-and-see response. It said that only a third of FTSE 100 companies have set targets for the percentage of women on their boards, and nearly half of the FTSE 250 still have all-male boards. It is a positive development that two-thirds of the women appointed had no prior FTSE 100 or 250 experience, showing that there is a wider pool of talent out there to draw upon.

However, the evidence also shows that it is the companies that have already shown a willingness to address this issue that are prepared to commit to a target. There are simply too many companies out there that still just do not get it, even though studies in the US and Europe have found that the companies with the greater number of women on their senior management teams get higher returns, and that a more diverse board prevents a "group think" mentality. Following a recent consultation, the Financial Reporting Council announced that it would amend its code and encourage companies to implement this measure voluntarily, but with immediate effect. However, I believe that it did so only because quotas were threatened.

Unless we get a faster pace, it will take another century to get gender equality in the boardroom. Quotas could prove to be the only way to achieve what everyone agrees makes good business sense. I, like most women, am a great believer in the compilation of lists because, like the noble Lord Davies of Abersoch, I believe that what gets measured gets done. I therefore hope that the Government are willing to adopt quotas if the self-governing approach fails. As has been said, there is strong evidence that quotas have worked. The most significant result was in Norway. After legislation was passed there, the number of women directors has risen to 45 per cent of the total. To tackle the accusation of tokenism and quality, a Female Future programme was undertaken to ensure that the female candidates had the necessary expertise and experience. The Australian Institute of Company Directors has been instrumental in setting up a similar scheme. With or without quotas, I think we should do that.

France and Spain have also adopted a 40 per cent quota. We should also consider adopting Spain's policy of giving priority status to firms that meet this target in the awarding of government contracts. I was very pleased that the Prime Minister attended the Northern Future Forum in Stockholm this month to discuss how to get more women to start their own businesses and take on leading positions in companies, and his acknowledgement that there is,

"a positive link between women in leadership and business performance".

It was also heartening that the Prime Minister told journalists that the option of quotas should never be ruled out. It was not so heartening that, sadly, the next day No. 10 seemed to contradict him, but we will watch that space with interest. Perhaps he also saw in Stockholm that weakening action on the gender pay gap, cutting support for childcare and exploring options for weaker maternity rights make it harder for all women to get promoted throughout their lives. As has been said, lack of affordable childcare is among the biggest problems facing families here. The recent research by the Daycare Trust says that spiralling childcare costs, patchy provision and changes to the tax credit system are creating serious difficulties for working parents.

However, I would like to end on a more positive note with an example of where deciding to make diversity important has made a difference in one of the most difficult areas facing women. When the UK won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics in London, diversity was one of the key elements of that bid. In fact, women hold 30 per cent of the senior management posts on the Olympic Delivery Authority.

As we know, women make up 45 per cent of the workforce but only 12 per cent of women are in science, engineering and technology occupations, and only 1 per cent in SET skilled trades. Through its procurement and use of contractors, the ODA has been able to influence wider employment practices by adopting an evaluation scorecard, which meant that contractors had to address equality and diversity issues. The ODA also started the Women in Construction project, which has successfully helped women access training and employment opportunities on the Olympic Park. This has meant that 1,000 women have worked on the construction of the Olympic Park and athletics village. Women have been trained across the whole spectrum of construction trades to become electricians, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers or engineers-all non-traditional female roles.

The successful Women in Construction model should be used on other major construction sites, and I hope that the Government will look into this. That really would be an enduring legacy of the 2012 Olympics in London. Britain will show that it can lead the world when the Olympics start on 27 July, but it must no longer lag behind in the role it accords to women in our economy.

2:50 pm
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Lord Black of Brentwood (Conservative)

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Verma on securing this debate. Her record of service to this cause, both in this House and outside, is greatly distinguished, as her leadership in today's debate today shows. I want principally to concentrate on issues facing women in the developing world, and I should therefore note my interest as chairman of the Commonwealth Press Union.

I hope that the right reverend Prelate will forgive me if I say that I feel a little like a preacher in seeking to take a text for my remarks, the third of the millennium development goals, which is to:

"Promote gender equality and empower women ... Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015".

That is a fine aspiration that goes to the very root of this debate but, deeply regrettably, its achievement seems as far away as ever.

As we mark this day, we should remember some of the hard facts of life for women in the developing world: the fact that in many countries, violence against women is routine and often condoned; in Saudi Arabia, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, a woman was beheaded in December for "sorcery"-one of five women put to death there past year; in the Yemen in October, government-sponsored thugs set viciously about a group of women celebrating the Nobel Peace Prize win of Tawakkol Karman, and stoned them; in Guatemala, the number of women being killed as a result of a culture of impunity for perpetrators of violence against women remains at an appalling level; the fact that 100,000 illegally immigrated prostitutes are working in the United States; Russia, some states in eastern Europe and Turkey all have high levels of sex slavery, while conservative figures put the number of children worldwide involved in the sex trade at about a million; the fact that a pregnant woman in Africa is 180 times more likely to die of pregnancy complications than here in western Europe; and the fact that women, mostly in rural areas in developing countries, represent more than two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, mentioned. When considering those facts, we should hear the words,

"Promote gender equality and empower women"

ringing in our ears.

What of those aims in a developed world context? The gender gap may be narrower, but it still exists. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report showed that while considerable progress has been made in recent years, some countries here in Europe still perform badly, including Switzerland and Italy; while Brazil, India and Pakistan, despite being countries that have had women Heads of Government, occupy the lowest ranks.

This debate highlights the role of women in promoting economic growth, and rightly so. In the developing world, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, women should be its driving force. However, the main point I want to make today is that in far too many countries women are unable to deliver their full economic potential because HIV and AIDS is still on the rampage. In many emerging economic powers in particular, including Russia and China, women with HIV and indeed other diseases of poverty and deprivation are unable significantly to contribute to the economic growth of those nations because they are too sick to do so. In Kenya, there are 760,000 women living with HIV and AIDS, and 1.2 million orphans. In Mozambique, there is a similar number. In Nigeria, 1.7 million women live with the virus. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa the figure is more than 12 million.

These are human tragedies, each of them. They are depriving children of mothers and, in the context of the debate today, they are depriving economies of those who should, in good health, be powering economic growth. That has to change; and change can only come not simply as a result of medical advances and the increased use of contraception but by breaking down the stigma and discrimination that is rife in these countries, forcing HIV and AIDS underground and cutting too short the life of too many women. Poverty, too, plays its part in a cycle of desperation, causing more rapid and more significant deterioration in the health of someone with HIV because of inadequate nutrition, housing and healthcare. Unless there is a concerted effort to deal with this dreadful situation, the attainment of the third millennium goal will remain a pipe dream.

Lest anyone thinks that the problem of stigma faced by women with HIV exists just in the developing world, I should add that it exists here too. I commend a report from the Health Foundation and the Terrence Higgins Trust, among others, about the experience of women with HIV in the UK entitled, My Heart is Loaded, which sets out some terrible tales of women living here in London who have been victims of discrimination, stigma and abuse. It highlights in particular the link between poverty and HIV, and the dependence on public services of many women with the virus. At a time of massive organisational change within the NHS and serious pressure on resources, I ask the Government to ensure that local authorities take account of the social care needs of women living with HIV, including the children they look after. One such practical example is ensuring that formula milk remains available for women with HIV who have just given birth.

We have heard today stories of success, progress and hope, but we must remember those in the developing world in particular. Many are still stigmatised or marginalized, or appalling acts of violence are committed against them, blunting their ability to play their full economic role in society. When we meet next year to mark International Women's Day, let us hope that there has been some progress in turning those tides.

2:56 pm
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Lord Mitchell (Labour)

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. It has been a stunning debate so far, and she deserves every credit for introducing it. I want to talk about an organisation called Women for Women International. Here, I have to declare an interest because my wife sits on the international board. Indeed, I go with her to several countries and I am the unpaid bag carrier.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who is not in her place, told us about Nepal, from which she has just returned. We returned from Rwanda last month. That visit was a very moving experience, certainly for me. There were 20 women and me, and I managed to survive the experience-in fact, it was very rewarding. We all know about Rwanda, where there was a genocide in which 1 million people were hacked to death in 90 days. You visit a country such as that with your heart sinking-worried that it will be absolutely ghastly. Actually, it is a very uplifting country. It seems to have got itself together and is moving forward with a vision-perhaps the subject of another debate. It is a country with hope but, of course, with terrible memories.

I have visited Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda. In Rwanda, it can be argued that 1 million people would not have died had the United Nations taken action, with 5,000 troops who were close to stopping it happen. You can go to Bosnia and Srebrenica and see that 9,000 men might not have been killed, again had the United Nations not stood by. I have to say that a lot of people like the United Nations; I have mixed feelings about it.

Anyway, we are not talking about the UN, but about women. I want to mention a particular woman, Zainab Salbi. Her father was Saddam Hussein's private pilot, and when she was in her teenage years, her mother, seeing the writing on the wall, got her out to live in the United States. As Zainab was growing up and she saw what was happening in Bosnia, she went to Sarajevo and saw all the activities taking place there. This was in the country of ethnic cleansing and war by rape. As a result, Women for Women International has been set up; today, it has a budget of $30 million and 320,000 women have been through its programme.

The organisation operates in post-conflict zones in eight countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria. It does amazing work in some very dangerous places. Its mission is to make women who have been through the most terrible experiences contributors to society-and economic contributors. It does that in two ways, which is unique. First, it has set up a mechanism of sister to sister relationships. A sister will be a woman living in the western world who contributes $30 a month to another person, a sister, in Afghanistan, Bosnia, or wherever it happens to be. The money goes directly to those women. In addition, the sisters have to write to each other. I must say that I was a bit sceptical about all that, but when I have seen sisters meeting sisters, as we did in Rwanda, the tremendous empathy between those two sets of women was magnificent.

The charity also does training on the job. Women will come in for a year's training and learn about their civil rights, inheritance, hygiene, safe sex, nutrition and even stress management. Most of all, they learn about setting up small businesses. That is where the economic side comes in. Some of them are given micro-loans; some are not. We saw an example in Bosnia where women had set up chicken farms or were growing tomatoes. In Kosovo, we saw an amazing woman who was in beekeeping. With a small loan, she had set up three hives and had expanded the business to the extent that there were now 50 hives. Her family was enjoying €5,000 a year by way of income. Not only that, that woman was now teaching other women how to keep bees. In Rwanda, we visited co-operatives. I was weeding in a maize field under the blazing sun just outside Kigali.

I shall rapidly give a few statistics before I finish. A survey was conducted of 20,000 people: 81 per cent of the women were earning an income; 84 per cent were saving money; 92 per cent had gained skills; 97 per cent fully understood hygiene; 93 per cent family planning; and 95 per cent nutrition. Many of those women are now involved in their community. The amazing statistic is that 12 per cent of them are running for political office in their communities.

Women for Women International is a highly inspirational organisation. It is no-nonsense, it is doing good, and I love being a bag carrier.

3:02 pm
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Baroness Turner of Camden (Labour)

My Lords, I am happy to contribute to this impressive debate and I thank the noble Baroness for introducing it. On occasions like this, I often think of the generations of women whose self-sacrifice and commitment produced the rights that many of us in this country now take for granted. The past century saw truly amazing advances in rights for women. At the beginning, women were second or third-class citizens, without the right to vote or to have improved education. Job prospects were limited. Marriage meant immediate job loss. Equal pay was a remote dream. There were no rights, even over one's own body: access to birth control knowledge was limited and abortion illegal.

We still have much to complain about-this will become apparent during the debate-but the rights we now take for granted came about only because of the committed campaigning of previous generations of women, who collectively combined in feminist organisations and unions to force improvements on an often unwilling political establishment. The first Equal Pay Act came about following a strike of women engineering workers. Maternity leave arose as a result of union campaigns. Without equality law, we would certainly not be celebrating today women's contribution to our economy.

Unfortunately, there are many parts of the world where women are still very much repressed-largely where the more extremist forms of religion are in control. That has become clear to us from the repression imposed here in some of our immigrant communities. Although it is perfectly right, in my view, to insist on religious and cultural freedom, that should certainly not include the right within such communities and families to deny women members the rights that should be theirs under our law. Forced marriage and domestic violence are not acceptable in this country, and neither is the extreme form of domestic violence known as female genital mutilation. That is against UK law, and anyone assisting in its application can be jailed for 14 years. The police know that it goes on, but have difficulty in tracking it down because of the family secrecy surrounding it. That is an extreme form of female repression and must be eradicated.

In the past year, we have seen apparently populist risings against dictatorships, mostly in Arab countries. Many of us have welcomed what seemed to be genuinely democratic movements against authoritarian rulers, but it is not yet clear what kind of regimes will take the place of those that are disappearing. We should make it clear that regimes in which women continue to be repressed cannot be regarded as democratic. International Women's Day gives us the opportunity to make that completely unambiguous statement.

To return to our situation in the UK, we are facing extreme problems as a result of the economic situation. Unfortunately, that seems also to apply across Europe-what we know as the western world. Unemployment now stands at 8.4 per cent, the highest level for 16 years. The latest figures indicate that women are more affected than men. Many women work in the public sector; 700,000 workers are expected to be made redundant there over the next five years; 80 per cent of them will be women. Moreover, because of the high costs of childcare, many women have given up work and are now dependent on benefits. We have recently been discussing the Welfare Reform Bill. We sought to achieve some amendments. We did not quite achieve what we wanted to, but we tried to improve the provisions for women and poorer people in general. We must not allow what previous generations achieved to be undermined by government policies designed to deal with the economic crisis.

Other legislative changes are also likely to impact disproportionately on women. The legal aid Bill is designed to limit the amount spent on legal aid, which will make it more difficult to take cases in the family courts, and in personal injury and employment cases, the impact is likely to be heavily against women. Then, of course, there is the NHS with the Health and Social Care Bill and, later, more employment legislation making it more difficult to claim unfair dismissal. All that legislation is likely to have an impact on women's rights, because women are more dependent on public provision, and the Government aim to make drastic cuts in that area.

On this, International Women's Day, a great deal more needs to be done and in the same way as has been successful in the past: through collective organisation and political campaigning. Many of us in this House will be willing to do whatever we can to assist.

3:08 pm
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Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Conservative)

My Lords, like a number of other noble sisters, I made my maiden speech during this debate last year, and I am glad that my heart is not pounding quite as fast as it was on that occasion. Preparing for today's debate has given me an opportunity for reflection. I take this opportunity to thank many noble Lords on all sides of the House for their welcome, advice and friendship over the past year in helping this new girl to find her way.

Unlike many noble Lords, I did not come here with a particular focus, background or expertise, which meant that I have had the chance to develop my own interests. I am honoured to be chair of the new Conservative Friends of International Development. From the successful launch and subsequent activity of that group, I have started to learn more about where our international efforts should be focused. Everyone in this Chamber knows that empowering women is a top priority for DfID. To quote the Secretary of State:

"Educating girls, along with vaccinating children, are two of the most decisive interventions you can make in development".

As we have discussed, educating girls has the chance over a generation completely to transform societies. There are 3 million girls in school in Afghanistan today, where there were none 10 years ago.

Today is the 101st International Women's Day. Let us take a brief look, with the glass half full, at our own country's successes. As I have mentioned previously, every party increased its number of women MPs at the last election. As co-chair of women2win, I assure my noble sister Lady Thornton that our eyes are firmly fixed on ensuring that we increase our numbers in the next one, but I am not going to reveal how. Twenty-one new women have been appointed to FTSE 100 boards since the report of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, was published last year. The 30 Percent Club is also doing excellent work in raising awareness, transparency and accountability for gender representation in the private sector. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, mentioned, the work conducted at Cranfield University in creating the female FTSE to assess and urge boards to act has been vital. Its report has proved crucial in identifying solid reasons to have women on boards-and putting to task those companies which have failed to act.

We also use today to celebrate what now seem to be the milestones of generations gone by: a woman's right to vote and my right to speak in this very Chamber. However, we also recognise that these rights are still denied to millions of women who are nowhere near equality as we know it here. As long as these women are struggling, we should continue to focus our thoughts on them on International Women's Day, so that, by the 110th International Women's Day celebrations, issues such as representation will have been resolved.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and others have mentioned, the past year has been a milestone for democracy as we have watched the populations of Middle Eastern and north African countries rise against their authoritarian leaders. On our televisions screens, we have seen men and women stand side by side in their fight for democracy. These women must be allowed to do more than protest. They must be given an opportunity to become active participants in the new Governments. All the statistics show that, by empowering women, countries grow and become more stable.

But we now know that empowering women is not just about doing what is considered "right". By engaging in paid work, women become economic actors, not only improving their own families' quality of life but giving them the opportunity to send their children to school. By simply investing in sexual and maternal health, which we all take for granted, a woman's life can be transformed. A thousand women die giving birth every single day and these deaths globally cost $15 billion each year. With the correct access to information, family planning and maternity care, these women can take charge of their own lives.

Let us take a look at some specific examples where women are making progress. In India, 94 per cent of women are in the unorganised sector, earning a living through their own labour or small businesses. However, their work is not counted and hence remains invisible. The Self Employed Women's Association is a unique example of support for women led from within-more than 100,000 Indian women are now members of SEWA and campaign to address problems they experience with self-employment. Their campaigning has led to many improvements within India for women.

Let us take a look at opportunities for women to start up businesses and some practical ways in which we in the West can support them. Other noble Lords have mentioned microfinance, but one example of an inspirational organisation is Kiva, a non-profit organisation with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. Once the business starts growing with sustainable revenues, the loan is paid back and is in turn reinvested in the next start-up. The Conservative supporters of Kiva alone have lent $11,000 in start-up funding. From providing loans to farmers and shopkeepers to helping meet the cost of buying a taxi, the Conservative Kiva Group has helped many women increase their quality of life. Such women are far more likely to pass on this knowledge to their children while contributing to the economies of their country.

I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to the launch next week here in Parliament of the Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index. Largely developed at the University of Oxford, the index will bring science and rigour to the measurement of empowerment in agriculture. By identifying where and for what reason women are being excluded, and by analysing their inclusion in decision-making, involvement in production and control over income, the index brings us closer to knowing how truly to tackle the problems that lie ahead in terms of bringing equality to women.

Encouraging and financing women's business potential, letting women have control and choice over their family lives, as well as increasing access to education and full employment, will help further to empower women.

3:14 pm
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Baroness Wall of New Barnet (Labour)

My Lords, I have been sitting her for I-do-not-know-how-many hours wondering whether it is easier to be first or last in these debates, and I have come to the conclusion that it is probably first-it has been quite nerve-racking waiting. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for initiating this debate and, even more so, for her typically generous comments in opening it.

We have heard from noble Lords-I think Peers is a very good collective noun-about the experiences of some highly skilled women and of small-business women, and some really traumatic, heart-warming stories. I am probably renowned in this House for being very practical, because that is the way I am. My experience and my efforts, for many years now, have been in working with women, employers and government to recognise that if women receive an opportunity to gain skills, they, too, can achieve recognition for the added value, both culturally and economically, that they bring to the organisation. I was moved to hear my noble friend talk at the very beginning of her speech about exactly the same statement being made in the 1930s. I thought, "My goodness, we are still at it".

I have with my noble friend Lady Prosser, who is tied up today and would have been here otherwise, worked with many sector skills councils to encourage and support them in government-funded women and work programmes. The women and work skills programme initiative arose out of a recommendation of the 2006 report from the Women and Work Commission, of which my noble friend Lady Prosser was chair for many years and did a magnificent job which in many cases led to life-changing opportunities for women. That recommendation called for a £20 million budget to be ring-fenced to ensure that it was dedicated solely for women's training. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, allocated £40 million, a true reflection of the commitment of my Government to this important work. The Women and Work Commission's report was designed to assist women to reach their potential and thereby work towards closing the pay gap between men and women carrying out roles of equal responsibility. My noble friend Lady Turner referred to that in describing the work that she has done in the union to which we both belong.

My Government introduced this superb initiative and I am delighted to say that the coalition has continued to support it. However, it is funding it in a different way in that the funding is now achieved by sector skills councils bidding for specific money against designated work programmes. This process is supported by many of us involved in the women and work activities, as it ensures value for money but it also clearly identifies the value of the skills training and mentoring support that each woman receives by going through the programme. An example of how well this is done can be seen in the findings of the Leeds Metropolitan University report, which covers 2008-10. This is a substantial piece of work and it gives glowing accounts of the value of the scheme to employers and employees.

Many of the women who have participated have benefited greatly from this programme. All the women participating have to be workplace-based-that is an important issue for us to think about-and they have to have the co-operation of their managers, which binds the employer with the individual in ensuring that the programme is meaningful. However, many women become involved because they have worked in the same workplace for many years, doing a good job, but have been unable to progress in that workplace. This may be due to the culture that often prevails. There may be a male-dominated workforce, which regrettably sometimes from top to bottom either does not recognise the contribution made by women or-even more commonly, I have been told-holds them back from progressing, saying, "We can't move Tilly. Nobody would know where anything was in this place if she moved on, so she can't do that". Women then come to the conclusion that they have reached their potential and stay. However, the women and work programme has encouraged those women to look again at the skills that they have.

There are many statistics on the effects and benefits of the women and work programme but I am anxious to move on from those and give some typical examples. Beyond those statistics are many thousands of women who need the opportunity to step up. Even by writing their CVs, they discover how many skills they have. BAE Systems Maritime-Submarines, for example, worked with the Semta sector skills council. Although BAE has a male-dominated workplace, the women and work programme showed it the confidence and tools that women have to excel beyond their current state of employment. The same applies to Atkins, the largest engineering consultancy in the UK. It has reported that of the 50-plus women who participated in its women and work scheme, many have gone on not only to be promoted but to act as mentors for other women coming into the workplace. Those are all very good examples of what we can do to support women and what women can do to raise their value, which is always important. It can also be seen that greater job satisfaction for women comes from making an economic difference.

3:21 pm
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Labour)

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to participate in this debate to celebrate International Women's Day in this Diamond Jubilee year and also to celebrate the contribution of women to economic growth. There has been a stellar cast and it is a particular delight to have the participation of so many men, including my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch, to whom we are grateful for championing the cause of women on boards. It was also a joy to see the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, on her feet.

It has been a truly wide-ranging debate and I am grateful to the Minister for her generous words at the beginning. Of course, I acknowledge the real contribution that many women on the coalition Benches have made to progress in our own country and other countries. I have learnt a huge amount and I am enthused by the many initiatives that I have heard about today, including Women for Women, WiRE and the fine example of the achievements in the training and employment of women on the Olympics site. I was not aware of that before, so I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Nye, and I am sure that we have much for which to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ford. I have to say that I do not envy the Minister the task of answering all the questions and points that have been raised.

On all sides of the Chamber we are united in our view of the precious and vital roles that women fulfil in all societies and of the importance of their economic contribution in developed and developing countries and in rural and urban area. However, there are disparate views about what is happening to women in our own country. As noble Lords would expect, I share the concerns that have been expressed on my own Benches. We in this Chamber are privileged, being sheltered from many of the daily anxieties that affect women's lives, but life out there is tough. It is not just that women are being hit hard by cuts to benefits and services that are too deep and too fast, and that women are suffering disproportionately from unemployment, with two out of three jobs in the public sector held, and lost, by women. It is women who usually have to do the juggling. It is the women in families, of whatever shape, who have to paddle beneath the surface to keep their heads above water, all the time feeling worried sick about the loss of a job, the future for their children and, often, care for their elderly parents. All the time, women's talents are being wasted and our economy suffers as a consequence.

I recently read a magazine article stating that some women now recognise that they cannot have it all-that is to say, a family and a career. I salute those women who choose to stay at home to be full-time mums, and I salute the jugglers who have chosen to have families and careers often, like me, supported by a wonderful man. The truth is that most women do not have the choice. Most single mums do not have a choice but neither do many women who have husbands or partners. They depend on two incomes, not because they are profligate but because food, heating and childcare bills are rising while incomes are falling and they have to make ends meet. Poor people in the squeezed middle are not just financially squeezed; they are squeezed by the competing, costly and exhausting demands of children and parents. This week there were reports that childcare costs have reached an all-time high, with the average annual cost of care for a child under two being more than £5,000 a year. As we would all agree, without accessible, affordable childcare, women are not able to work even if the jobs were available.

The Labour Government understood the importance of childcare and, with childcare subsidy as well as tax credits, child benefit, and jobs in the public sector, more women were able to work, helping to reduce child poverty and stimulate the economy. Of course, I well understand that we are now in very different economic circumstances and that we have to deal with the deficit but there is also a question of priorities. Since the Coalition came to power, the Government have cut local council budgets by a third, and adult social care, which is around 40 per cent of local council budgets, is their biggest discretionary spend. Many local councils are now providing care only for those with substantial or critical needs. Countless day centres for disabled people and the elderly are closing, meaning that the burdens on this country's 6.4 million unpaid carers are growing. The vast majority of carers are women-one out of five who used to be able to work as well as being a carer now has to give up her job because the right services and support are not available. So, women who previously made a contribution to economic growth are no longer able to do so.

Some of the services which were provided by social services are now provided by charities and voluntary organisations. I pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers without whom our society would crumble and our financial situation would worsen. They make a fantastic contribution to our economy by the giving of their time and energy. I have to say, however, that while a thriving voluntary sector is good for society and communities, it cannot and should not be expected to replace the role of the state. A healthy society is one in which there are strong partnerships between the public sector, the private sector and the voluntary sector. Earlier this week I was privileged to attend a reception for the WRVS which now has 40,000 volunteers but needs more. When one thinks of the WRVS, meals on wheels and hospital cafes and trolleys come to mind. These are important tasks but the WRVS does so much more to help older people stay independent at home and active in their community.

I have no doubt that many volunteers up and down the country are war widows and members of the excellent War Widows Association GB which has done so much to improve the conditions of war widows and their dependants in Great Britain. These women have given so much for our country, yet I do not believe that we are treating them with the dignity that they deserve. On other occasions, I have raised the issue of the Government's change to link pensions to CPI rather than RPI permanently, which will severely affect war widows' pensions. Estimates suggest that the 34 year-old wife of a staff sergeant killed in Afghanistan would be almost £750,000 worse off over her lifetime. Following the end of our proceedings on the Welfare Reform Bill last night, I think it is right to point out that war widows will also lose out owing to the Government's bedroom tax.

Mention has been made of the importance of sustaining our fight against domestic violence and I, too, pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland who has achieved a huge amount. However, there are other less obvious policies that have an impact on women's safety, such as the reported switch-off of 500,000 street lights by cash-strapped local authorities. I have talked to women both in Stevenage and Swindon who feel that their sense of safety and security is being threatened. This makes life particularly difficult for elderly people and for young women returning home in the evenings, and for women working night shifts who are forced to walk home in the streets in darkness.

Last December, I tabled amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill to replicate Scottish legislation which introduced a specific offence of stalking. That legislation has significantly improved the lives of women victims and ensured their safety. Last month a cross-party group of MPs and Peers published an excellent report representing months of painstaking evidence from victims and experts within the criminal justice system, and I commend the Members of this House for their work on the panel. The Minister mentioned that the Government's own consultation on stalking closed on 5 February. I hope that in her response to this debate the noble Baroness will confirm that we will have the Government's response not just soon but in time for the Third Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. I also ask for her assurance that the Government will then introduce the requisite amendments to the Bill so that we can demonstrate to the thousands of women affected by this devastating crime that action is being taken to recognise stalking in law. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many victims of stalking who are campaigning for a change in the law, and to John and Penny Clough who, following the murder of their daughter, Jane, by her partner who was out on bail, have succeeded in their campaign to secure agreement to an amendment of the bail laws.

Finally, I, too, will speak of women's representation. We are in the mother of Parliaments in the 21st century, with 84 years of women's suffrage behind us. We have made huge progress-as the noble Baronesses, Lady Bottomley and Lady Jenkin, said-yet the shameful fact is that only 19.4 per cent of our MPs and only 22 per cent of Members of this House are women. Thirty-one per cent of local councillors are women, and 22 per cent of UK Cabinet Ministers. Of the 96 other paid ministerial positions, only 14 are held by women-a 14-year low. I am always stunned by the fact that since Margaret Bondfield was appointed to the Cabinet in 1929-another Labour first-there have been only 31 other women in the Cabinet. This is extraordinary, and indicative of the fact that women in Britain still lack powerful platforms.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, the appalling lack of women representatives in our democratic system cannot be right. I regret that I still have heated discussions with some men-and some women-who argue against all-women shortlists. The fact is that they work and are still needed. If we increase women's parliamentary representation, that will extend their representation in government. I was pleased to note what the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said about her determination to increase the number of Conservative women MPs at the next election. Of course, I want more Labour MPs-but I would like to see more Conservative women.

As I go around the country speaking to young people about youth policies and asking what makes politics count for them, I am always told that a major reason they do not want to get engaged is that politicians do not look or sound like them. They always say that there are not enough elected representatives from black and ethnic minorities, not enough young people and not enough women. How right they are. So as well as the democratic deficit, the waste of women's talents by not selecting and electing them, and the impact that this has on policy-making, we are also failing to make politics attractive to young people. This is not healthy for democracy, which is nurtured by participation. I think that it was Hillary Clinton who said that there cannot be true democracy unless women's voices are heard. We should learn from the fine example of Wales that was given by my noble friend Lady Gale.

We might not yet be elected-although if and when we are, I trust that there will be proper female representation-but as parliamentarians we have a duty to work with our parties and other organisations to ensure that more women are selected and elected to Parliament and local councils. It is clear from everything that we heard this afternoon that women throughout the world make a huge economic contribution. However, there is so much more potential-and not just in developing countries where access to health and education will make an exponential difference. Women are so often the drivers of economic growth. In our own country we need more women to be in positions where they can influence and make decisions: in boardrooms, on public bodies, in the professions, in local and national government, in trade unions-and, yes, on the Bishops' Benches. It is these fora that make economic decisions. As my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch said, it is a question not simply of gender equality and diversity but of performance.

Most importantly in the current economic turbulence, we must do everything possible to provide women with employment and the infrastructure that will enable them to work: low-cost and accessible childcare, and support if they are carers. To date, the Government's policies have moved in the other direction. I strongly urge them to make this a priority, so that when we celebrate International Women's Day in 2013 there will be an even better story to tell.

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Baroness Verma (Conservative)

My Lords, it has been a privilege to sit and listen to a debate that has encapsulated a huge range of topics and themes. Each contribution has provided the House with the richness, expertise, passion, compassion and humility for which your Lordships' House is so proudly known. The debate marked the 101st International Women's Day and I join my noble friend Lady Seccombe in celebrating safer motherhood.

Before I respond to the many questions and points raised by noble Lords, I will speak about how the Government are supporting women in developing countries with economic progress, through our DfID programmes and our support of the new UN Women agency. On taking office as Secretary of State for International Development, my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell made it a priority to put girls and women at the heart of DfID programmes. Through both bilateral and multilateral reviews, he identified programmes that delivered and also those that failed to produce positive outcomes.

DfID's strategic vision for women and girls is guided by four pillars for effective action. Delaying pregnancies among females in developing countries-as many have spoken of today-and encouraging greater participation in education and employment enables women and girls to have better health outcomes for themselves and for their children. Evidence has shown that improving access to economic assets for women could see increases in output of between 2.5 per cent and 4 per cent. Increasing women's control over household income has a more positive impact on children as mothers tend to invest back more into their households and in the welfare of their children. Providing women with the means, through microfinance or tangible assistance such as seeds or livestock, has seen economic growth in developing countries, adding to women's ability to harness change and transform their communities.

We know that women make up 51 per cent of the world's population and that they produce 60 per cent to 80 per cent of the world's agricultural goods. However, they own less than 5 per cent of the world's titled land. The Government, through DfID, have set ambitious targets to help 18 million women to access financial services and 4.5 million women to strengthen their property rights by 2014. Economic empowerment increases people's access to and control over economic resources, financial services, property and other assets.

DfID's rationale for focusing on economic development of women and girls was reinforced by the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development, which highlighted the importance of closing earnings and productivity gaps and improving access to productive resources such as water, electricity and childcare. DfID currently has over 20 programmes in 15 countries, delivering direct assets to women and girls across Asia and Africa, but we recognise that just transferring economic assets is not enough. We need to help change discriminatory social norms and laws.

Whether it is in developing countries or here in the UK, changing attitudes, mindsets and culture takes a long time, as many of us are so aware, as we continue in our sophisticated democracy to struggle with many of the issues that we see widely rampant across the globe. Noble Lords have mentioned violence against women, forced marriages, "honour"-based crime, female genital mutilation and human trafficking, alongside parity in pay and representation in both civic and political life. That is why these debates are so important.

The Government strongly supported the establishment of UN Women, which was formally launched in February last year; I had the privilege of attending that launch. It has a strong programme to support action to increase women's leadership and participation in the decisions that affect their lives; to increase economic empowerment; to prevent violence against women and girls and expand victim/survivor services; to increase women's leadership in peace, security and humanitarian response to conflict and crisis situations; and to ensure that a comprehensive set of global norms, policies and standards on gender equality and women's empowerment are in place.

Noble Lords are aware of our international champion to eliminate violence against women and girls, Lynne Featherstone. She is currently in New York attending the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women and will raise the issue of body confidence among young girls and women, a topic that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, alluded to. She has received strong support at the UN summit from many countries. She is working closely with all parts of the media and with business and has received active support from them.

I turn now to points raised by noble Lords. I have kept my own remarks brief because I think many of them will be covered in my responses. However, because there are so many responses, I will say from the outset that if I do not deliver all the responses in the time allocated, I will undertake to write and have a copy placed in the Library.

I felt that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was slightly disingenuous in her start. This debate has recognised a lot of the good things that were done by the previous Government and on which we are working. However, we inherited a deficit. We are struggling to ensure that we restore the economy. We know that difficult decisions have to be made and the noble Baroness is aware of that. We are protecting the lowest-paid. Our changes to taxation will lift 1.1 million people out of income tax, some 58 per cent of whom will be women. We are also providing families with more support for childcare costs.

My noble friend Lord Smith spoke of quotas. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, and my noble friend Lady Bottomley, do not like quotas. We think that it is wrong to make an artificial imposition when we want to ensure that those who take up positions are well supported, well qualified and able to do them. We want to make sure that the means to get into such positions are in place. That is the work that the noble Lord has done. The work is re-educating about and making people rethink how to get people placed on boards. Dare I say that for far too long-I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, mentioned it-boards have had very much a group-think mentality and have carried on in the same way that they have known for years. It is great that they have been shaken up to have a rethink about how their boards and their businesses look. My noble friend is wrong. Research from Norway has found that there is a connection between the introduction of quotas and an underperformance of companies.

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Lord Smith of Clifton (Liberal Democrat)

I thank the noble Baroness for referring to my point on quotas. Does she recall that studies have shown that at the present rate of progress it will be 100 years before we get 25 per cent female representation on boards?

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Baroness Verma (Conservative)

That would be if we allow it to stay the way it is. Through active engagement we are making progress. We have made 2 per cent progress in a short period of time. I am perhaps not as pessimistic as my noble friend.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, spoke about women in the developing world and early marriage, and the education of girls. The UK's development programme has put girls at its heart. We know that investing in girls at an earlier stage better helps to break the cycle of poverty between the generations. DfID is working with adolescent girls and communities to end early marriage. For example, in Ethiopia, we are supporting the scale-up of a pilot programme which will delay marriage for 200,000 girls. During the pilot, none of the girls married and all of them stayed in school.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, also talked about forced marriage, a subject on which I am intensely passionate. I know this topic inside out. Unfortunately, the culture from which I come still has the attitude that there is a very fine line between consent and forced marriage. We are working sensitively but vigorously to ensure that no longer in this country at least should we tolerate any form of forced marriage. When victims-that is what they are-want support, we want to be there to provide them with that support, which is why the police, the CPS and other agencies have been given guidance to ensure that they too respond in a reflective manner.

What can I say about my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon? She is at the heart of what most of us look for in a mentor, friend and role model for politics. I know she went completely off-key in her speech, but she did not need it. She is what I would call the friendly face and the friendly hand that comes into politics-someone who, when everything is going wrong, will tell you that it is going to be all right. The organisation of which she was a founding member actually transformed the perception of people who actively wanted to engage in politics and decision-making. My noble friend has a great deal of respect for her husband and values his support, as do I. It is when both men and women are totally engaged that the changes will be brought about. When my noble friend talks about her husband, I talk about my Ashok, because without him we would never have made this journey.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, wanted to know about adult social care. The Government are putting in an extra £7.2 billion over the next four years of the spending review to support adult social care, and that comes in the context of a challenging settlement for local government. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that I have personal experience of the care sector because for over a decade my businesses have been in that sector. I agree with absolutely every word she said about the contribution, both informal and formal, made by carers. I wish that at some point we would have a complete attitude change in this country in how we look at those who actually do some of the most downtrodden jobs for the least thanks. We see the bad headlines, but we do not see that many good care workers do an excellent job on a daily basis.

The noble Baroness also talked about flexible working. We are trying to introduce the extension of such working to all employees to ensure that the benefit is available as widely as possible, including to individuals in the wider caring structure and those who wish to play a more active role in the community or undertake voluntary work. The extension will also change the perception that flexible working can harm career progression. It will encourage more fathers to request flexible working in order to take on a greater share of childcare responsibilities. Someone mentioned something about fathers, and we agree that the workplace has changed. Many more fathers want to be at home spending time with their children. Flexible working is positive for business because it enables it to draw on a much wider pool of skills and talents in the workplace, along with improved recruitment and retention rates. It increases staff morale and productivity. The evidence is also clear that flexible working arrangements benefit women by helping them to balance their caring responsibilities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, highlighted the great benefit of strong Welsh women, and I agree with her. We have a lesson to learn from the Welsh Assembly and I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and I were thinking, "How do we manage this for our next elections?". What I would like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, is this: we are a stronger nation for having Wales as part of it, and as a good neighbour we will take lessons and look carefully at how Wales is doing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, talked about the important role played by her mother. I heard "Hear, hear" across the Chamber when she said that. Mothers are so important in shaping our ambitions. My mother, like the noble Baroness's mother, was, is, and I suspect will always remain my greatest inspiration. Again, if I reflect only on my own culture where girls are seen as a bit of a burden-and if you are a girl with a darker skin than the other girls growing up around you, you are a bigger burden-I can tell noble Lords that it is usually the mum who tells you that it is going to be okay.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, talked about legal aid reform and expressed her concerns about women losing out on vital legal aid. The Bill is currently in the House and there will be, I am sure, energetic discussion on it. However, I can reassure the noble Baroness that we are retaining legal aid in key areas impacting on women-in particular injunctions to protect victims from domestic abuse and in private family law cases where domestic violence is a feature.

The noble Baroness also referred to human trafficking. The Government published a human trafficking strategy last July which focused on: improving identification, care of victims, enhancing our ability to act early before the victims reach here, smarter action at the borders and much more co-ordination of law enforcement in the UK. We are also tackling trafficking through our international work. DfID supports projects which are specifically designed to prevent trafficking-for example, the Malawi anti-child trafficking project run by the Salvation Army to improve knowledge of, and access to, rights for children in Malawi who are vulnerable to being trafficked; and in Bangladesh DfID has supported the establishment in the police of a specialised unit for human trafficking.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, asked whether I agreed with not only the outstanding sacrifices but the work of the suffragettes. Absolutely. Had they not done what they did then, we would be fighting this battle at a much later stage than we are now. The suffragettes put into motion what we have to continue. The work is far from done but I agree with the noble Baroness that it took some outstanding women to stand up at a time when it was very difficult to do so..

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked about DfID's work with girls and women. I have spoken about that but I shall read out my note because it is important to repeat a good message. I am delighted that he welcomed our strategic vision for girls and women and that he cited the compelling evidence upon which that strategic vision is based. Investing in the poorest girls and women is good for them, their families, societies and economies. I am pleased that DfID is scaling up and prioritising resources to support girls and women in all 28 of its bilateral programmes and international organisations such as UN Women, to which the UK is the second largest donor.

I have been told that I have a couple of minutes left and so I shall quickly ramble through.

My noble friend Lady Seccombe spoke about apprenticeships in non-traditional roles. Working with the National Apprenticeship Service to run a series of diversity pilots we are looking at increasing diversity in apprenticeships. My noble friend pointed out how it can actually transform the culture of both men and women's thinking by taking on usually non-traditional female apprenticeships. Overall, there are more female apprentices than male, particularly in advanced and higher apprenticeships. However, of course, there is always room for improvement.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to childcare and how there needs to be a major review. The Government are committed to investment in childcare. We are extending free childcare to the most disadvantaged two year-olds and, through the universal credit, we are providing an extra £300 million of support for women working less than 16 hours.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned grannies, an issue on which we need to focus more. They form a huge part of our population and are a huge resource of not only experience and knowledge but patience. I know, for instance, that my daughter much prefers my mother's company to mine. She thinks my mother is far trendier than I am-probably because my mother does not say no to her as much as I do. However, the noble Baroness is right. We are doing many more things. For instance, we are working on pensions to make sure that women's basic state pension outcomes rapidly catch up with those of men and continue to improve. Around 80 per cent of women reaching state pension age since April of last year will be entitled to a full basic state pension and projections are that that will rise to 90 per cent in 2018.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, and I have Leicester in common and agree that cities such as Leicester have so much to offer economically. However, we have to make sure that people in those cities are able to access services and jobs at local authority level, where we have very poor representation both for females and for BMEs. The noble Lord also talked about the legal aid Bill. As I said to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, we will leave that until we discuss and debate it in the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, talked about women, peace and security. Women have a crucial role to play in resolving conflict. The FCO is working with DfID, the MoD and the Stabilisation Unit and is committed to ensuring that the promotion of women's participation in conflict resolution is an integral part of an overseas conflict policy-not only because the principles of equality and justice underpin our values but because the effective participation of women helps to secure more sustainable peace, which is vital to our security interests. He also champions the role of women, on which I heartily congratulate him.

My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton spoke about women in the Middle East. The recent uprisings in the Middle East have led to concerns about women's rights in the context of political instability and conflict. They are at their lowest in fragile and conflict-affected areas such as Yemen, Iraq, and the West Bank and Gaza. Heightened instability in the region could see a further deterioration in women's participation. However, I also congratulate my noble friend on the work she does to make sure we have a wider understanding of what is going on in that region.

The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, spoke about body image. I agree with almost everything the noble Lord said-we need to tackle the way that women are portrayed in the media so that girls have positive role models and are not under pressure to conform to looking, or behaving in, a certain way. We have launched the body confidence campaign to reduce the burdens that popular culture places on an individual's well-being and self-esteem.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked whether I would relay a message to the Colombian Government through the FCO. The Government are firmly committed to working with countries such as Colombia to uphold and protect women's rights but I will write to Jeremy Browne at the FCO, who is the ministerial lead on this area, and raise the issues with him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, asked me about universal childcare-which I think I have mentioned-as well as free education for disadvantaged two year-olds.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, noted that deaths in childbirth are too high around the world and asked what we are doing to help. As I have said, DfID, through its strategic vision for girls and women, has set out our commitment to improve reproductive and maternal health for women in the poorest countries as a priority. By 2015, the UK will have helped save the lives of at least 50,000 women during pregnancy and childbirth, and those of 250,000 newborn babies. It will also ensure at least 2 million safe deliveries with long-lasting improvements and access to quality maternity services.

I still have many more responses to deliver so I will ask your Lordships' indulgence and write to them. I will just conclude with these remarks. We have taken our domestic and international issues very seriously. I have spent the past year or so travelling around the world doing round-table discussions and asking women in the UK what is important to them. That direct contact has benefited us greatly; we are feeding into our departments some of the main issues that women have.

Someone asked me some time ago what inspired me to get up and carry on the fight that sometimes seems hopeless. I said that as a kid I heard Dr Martin Luther King's speech, "I have a dream". While there is so much to do, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things, and that inspires me. We have made progress, but we have so much to do, and this Government are determined that we will not shy away from taking difficult decisions.