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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 6:18 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 6:18 pm, 13th October 2008

I agree with my hon. Friend. Through the exchange of individuals—whether parliamentarians or staff such as Clerks—we can all learn from each other. I am thinking now of the occasions when I have been abroad; I went to Sierra Leone with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and I hope I added value to that country and the parliamentarians I met there. I certainly came back from that experience with a much better understanding and much more knowledge about the situation there, which I have found useful since. Such exchanges are, therefore, valuable.

The role of women has not been much mentioned so far today. Far too often, women are forgotten when discussing human rights and democracy, even though many of the worst human rights abuses perpetrated are against women, and despite the fact that in situations of conflict it is often women and children who suffer the most. I am particularly concerned about the fact that women are often not involved in the resolution of conflict and the post-conflict rebuilding of countries. Earlier this year I visited Kosovo, and one of the people I met was Igballe Rovoga, the director of the Kosova Women's Network. Talking to her about her experiences after the conflict was illuminating. All the men were gathered into a room to discuss what to do next, and somebody from the UN came in and after a bit of nudging—from some people from Britain, I think—it was asked, "Hang on, we don't have any women here. What are we going to do?" Eventually Igballe and a couple of others were summoned along to be the token women in the discussions. In fact, they ended up being very influential as they prepared exactly what they were going to say and asked the questions that they wanted to ask. That is an example from within Europe, but this issue is often forgotten about.

Another anniversary is coming up on 31 October this year. On that date in 2000, UN Security Council resolution 1325 was passed, which requires parties in conflict to respect women's rights, and to support their participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict resolution. Sadly however, eight years later there are still almost no women at the top levels in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction. I hope the Minister will consider what action the Government might be able to take to strengthen resolution 1325. Is a stronger resolution with more teeth required, and should we be arguing for that at the UN?