[Un-alloted Day] — International Women’s Day

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons at 1:49 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South 1:49 pm, 8th March 2012

It is a pleasure to follow Amber Rudd. Her two constituents will be extremely embarrassed by that name check. It is international women’s day and it is good to see women on both sides of the House. There is cause for celebration, because the Secretary of State for Transport is here, despite her previous duties, and it is good to see her.

I did not get a chance to speak on the motion in the House yesterday to present an humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her diamond jubilee, but it is fitting, as we celebrate international women’s day, that she is a woman and she has been—[ Laughter. ] I was going on to say that she has been our figurehead for all that time. The last monarch to celebrate a diamond jubilee was also a woman: Queen Victoria. I add my good wishes to those given yesterday.

We are here today to praise and celebrate good women—not only those who are well known, whom I will come to, but those who are unknown, such as the single mothers who bring up children against all the odds, and who through no fault of their own must hold two important jobs: as main earners and as home workers keeping a household together. They are an inspiration, just like Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under arrest. We must keep raising her case to ensure that whatever happens to her in the elections, she is there to ensure change in Burma.

I am also inspired by some of the young women I have met who are involved in the “Because I am a Girl” campaign. There are 75 million girls who are not in school. Girls are still denied a basic education. They need to be in school, not carrying water. As Gandhi said, if we educate mothers, we educate the nation.

What about economic justice? The use of microfinance is important because it empowers women in a financial setting. It is a force for good only when it is properly regulated and women are supported, so that they are not burdened by the debt. We need to do more—the figures are there for all to see—because women’s unemployment is at its highest since 1988 at 1.1 million.

We must follow Sweden and Norway by getting more women on to boards; I echo what the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye said on that. Following the report by Lord Davies of Abersoch, only 21 women have been appointed to board positions out of a possible 93 posts. The Cranfield institute of management found that 89% of the FTSE 350 companies have no women executives. Widening the pool of talent from which to draw is an engine for growth that will benefit this country.

There is more to do for women in science. As someone who did a science degree, I am concerned because only 5.3%, or one in 20, of all working women are employed in science, engineering and technology compared with 31.3% of all working men. The most recent figures show that women are only 12.3% of the work force in SET occupations. I am sure that you, Madam Deputy

Speaker, and other hon. Members will know, because I have raised this in Prime Minister’s Question Time, that the UK Resource Centre for women will lose its funding by 2012. I have taken that up with the Prime Minister and he is going to be looking at it.

I am confident that all of us across the House will ensure that we support women in future. I was pleased to meet 11 Tanzanian women MPs as part of a cross-party Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. They were excited to meet and shadow us. Of Tanzania’s MPs, 36% are women, and they were laughing at us because we have only 22%. They want to increase the figure to 50%. Who cares if there are quotas so long as women get the posts and the experience in position? That is all that matters.

I pay tribute to other women, such as Caroline Adams, who is working across parties to help women MPs in the new and emerging democracies such as Tunisia following Arab spring, because they need support too.

Finally, not for nothing are the scales of justice held by a woman. It is our right to be treated as equal and to ensure that the next generation continues to make strides in equality. It is not only our right, but our duty, to get justice and equality for the next generation.