Violence against Women and Girls

Part of Contamination of Beef Products – in the House of Commons at 1:06 pm on 14th February 2013.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South 1:06 pm, 14th February 2013

It is traditional to say that it is a pleasure to follow the previous speaker, in this case Philip Davies, even if I do not subscribe to the views expressed. Hopefully the hon. Gentleman will now hear the other side of the argument.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to this debate and my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart for leading our request to the Committee. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Stella Creasy who encouraged us all to get involved and has been absolutely committed. Unfortunately, she could not speak in the Backbench

Business Committee debate, but she is a perfect example of a woman’s place being not only in Parliament, but on the Front Bench. This has been a cross-party issue—I was going to say cross-gender, but that has a completely different meaning. I should also mention my hon. Friend Karl Turner, who attended the Backbench Business Committee debate with us.

Today, in London, we are debating violence against women and girls, but people are responding to this call from the shores of Brazil, from Australia with the Girlpower Goddess and White Ribbon event, and from India, where there was a flash mob in Parliament square and the song, “Jago Delhi Jago”—Rise Delhi, Rise. We know that two months’ ago in Delhi, five men were accused of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student who did nothing but sit on a bus. People in Delhi have risen up, and we are saying yes to this day of action to end violence against women. The movement was started by Eve Ensler, but the tsunami has been pushed forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow.

I pay tribute to a friend of mine, the late Malcolm Richards. He used to be a journalist on the Brentford and Chiswick Times, which was part of the Richmond and Twickenham Times that I worked for as part of the Dimbleby newspaper group. He brought to the world’s attention the first woman’s refuge in Chiswick, started by Erin Pizzey. Both Malcolm and Erin were able to say to women, “We hear your silent scream and there is a safe place for you.” There is now a network of 45 safe houses that provide emergency accommodation for women and children.

This debate shows that around the world today there are still practices that victimise women and treat us as second class. We want to end the practice of the badly named “honour” killings, where women are killed for alleged behaviour and for bringing shame on their family although the behaviour of men is tolerated. There are 5,000 of those killings worldwide. We want to put an end to the dowry system where the payment of a sum effectively buys a female, a girl, for marriage. We need to end the terrible practice of female genital mutilation, which has no base in culture or religion. I applaud the bravery of midwives such as Alison Byrne in that respect, and draw the House’s attention to a conference in the Liverpool women’s hospital on 6 March, which will educate and inform women to try to end the practice.

What about modern-day slavery? Eighty per cent. of people who are trafficked are women. War rages in trouble spots throughout the world—rape is used as a weapon of war. The UN says that the roots of violence against women lie in the unequal power relationship between men and women, and persistent discrimination against women.

The debate is not about women and girls as victims, but about empowerment. Malala Yousef stood up and was almost killed because she wanted every girl to go to school. Women have been empowered by microfinance, although they might still be exploited. Those who stand up for no more page 3 say that women do not want to be objects in a newspaper. The first woman doctor had to pretend for 46 years that she was a man called James Barry so that she could qualify, but women now make up 50% of entrants. Carrie Morrison, who was the first woman to qualify as a solicitor, stood up. The women who gave us the vote stood up. The women MPs from Tanzania, Pakistan and Afghanistan, whom I have met, are trying to increase the quota of women MPs from 30% to 50%. Thirty per cent. is not enough in Tanzania. Parliament has celebrated Aung San Suu Kyi, who must daily stand up to those who try to take away human rights and progress made by democracy. We must highlight and support those women.

I have mentioned action around the world, but more importantly, what about the action through the generations, from our mothers, who sometimes did two jobs—working in the home and outside—to the suffragettes and suffragists, who gave us the vote, and the women in the peace camps at Greenham Common. All those women here and around the world have stood up. On this day, we recognise and celebrate their courage.